Mardi Gras: Made In China

The DIY look of David Redmon's slyly devastating documentary is deceptive; his examination of the human cost of globalization acknowledges hard economic facts while undermining preconceived notions about exploited workers, venal businessmen and naively oblivious American consumers, finding a slim ray of hope in the possibility of international conscious-raising,...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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The DIY look of David Redmon's slyly devastating documentary is deceptive; his examination of the human cost of globalization acknowledges hard economic facts while undermining preconceived notions about exploited workers, venal businessmen and naively oblivious American consumers, finding a slim ray of hope in the possibility of international conscious-raising, one person at a time.

His subject: The unnatural history of shiny, brightly colored Mardi Gras beads, which bridge the lives of Chinese factory workers and American consumers. Redmon shies away from one-sided polemic: Even Roger Wong, whose Tai Kuen factory in the Fuzhou province manufactures beads and other novelties (including a teddy bear that squawks "Hail to the dictator!"), isn't as one-dimensional a villain as he at first appears. To be sure, his factory compound looks like a cross between a Dickensian boarding school and a prison work program, and it's hard to empathize with someone who mouths platitudes about treating workers fairly then blithely enumerates the onerous financial penalties for such infractions as talking on the line, fraternizing with opposite-sex workers and failing to meet production quotas. He also observes that his workforce is 95 percent female because "the lady workers" are easier to control. But he knows his success is as fragile as his relationship with American importer Dom Carlone, the owner of Accent Annex and Mardi Gras Madness, and that when Deng Xiaoping swept away Chairman Mao's brutal Cultural Revolution in favor of a free-market economy, he also swept away traditional ideas about loyalty and honor among business associates. And Wong isn't the only one seduced by the gospel of global economy: Redmon tags along on teenage worker Qui Bia's annual visit to her poor rural family, and her dad is a true believer as well. And for every New Orleans party animal who neither knows nor cares where the beads come from, there's another who has a pretty fair idea but doesn't want to ruin his or her fun by thinking about teenagers with burned hands and dye-discolored skin.

The ironies are easy, but that doesn't invalidate them. American girls feel sorry for Chinese workers who sweat for pennies, who in turn laugh with embarrassment at the foolishness of Americans stripping for beads. It's hard to say which sight is more depressing: That of Chinese girls mortgaging their futures in the hopes of helping their families, or drunken American girls, surrounded by privilege and opportunity most of the world can barely imagine, arguing that it's fun to degrade themselves for cheap baubles. (In English and subtitled Mandarin)

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The DIY look of David Redmon's slyly devastating documentary is deceptive; his examination of the human cost of globalization acknowledges hard economic facts while undermining preconceived notions about exploited workers, venal businessmen and naively obl… (more)

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