Film review: “The Disrupted”

Allison Harris

“I’m not sure what the American dream is anymore, to be honest,” says Cheryl, a woman with dark hair and sunglasses as she looks out over the road from her driver’s seat. She clicks her turn signal on. 

“The Disrupted,” a documentary by Sarah Colt and co-director Josh Gleason, follows three Americans navigating a world of work damaged by corporations. Cheryl, an Uber and Lyft driver; Pete, a laid-off union plant worker; and Donn, a fifth-generation family farmer, take the viewer through their everyday struggles and triumphs. 

The film is an artful and scathing indictment of our heavily corporatized industry. Since the documentary’s filming in 2017, it seems nothing has changed for the laborers of America. “The Disrupted” is beautifully shot and edited, weaving the stories of three different workers to create a central theme. It is sad at times, but the characters create a sense of hope throughout the film.

In the beginning of the film, a 3M plant ceases operations, causing Pete to trade his $23-an-hour wage for unemployment benefits. Dreaming of self-employment, he begins working studiously to get his HVAC certification. In the end, after graduating from his program and getting a new job, Pete still makes less than he did at 3M. 

In the first few scenes of the documentary, Donn is up early bringing in his cattle, a cigar in his mouth, creating hazy smoke in the dewy morning air. Soon after, he’s in a hotel room in D.C. getting dressed to testify in front of the Department of Agriculture in Congress about the effects of falling crop prices and factory farming on the family farmer. One of the most moving scenes of the film is when Donn tells the committee with a shaky voice, clearly approaching tears, of how family farmers’ wives often call him in the middle of the night, hoping he will talk their husbands down from suicide. The crushing debt of the average farmer threatens to stamp them out. 

The most interesting arc of the movie is that of Cheryl, the Lyft and Uber driver. She becomes a true community organizer, familiar with the struggles of her fellow drivers and set on making a change. She warns a new Uber driver that someday she will be making less and less money, while driving longer and longer hours. Cheryl helps to organize a protest against Uber and Lyft for slicing wages, encouraging her fellow drivers to shut their apps off for a few hours. Some tell her they simply can’t lose out on that money. She scoffs at one driver, asking how much could he possibly make in two hours when rates are being cut. 

In the end, the stories of these three workers converge as they are able to spend some time off for the Fourth of July with their families. Following a hard conversation with his sons about taking over the ranch (and his debt) someday, Donn shoots off fireworks with his grandsons. Pete watches fireworks in Lorain, Ohio, recalling when he used to watch fireworks from behind bars during his prison sentence. Cheryl rocks one of her young grandkids in her arms as she pulls up the Uber app on her phone, obsessed with searching the ride requests even as fireworks go off around her. 

Uber and Lyft are still fighting against paying their drivers a living wage and giving them benefits, keeping them stuck in limbo as contractors. Congress passed a federal agriculture aid package, but many family farmers continue to struggle. It is tough to imagine that Donn, Cheryl or Pete have fared any better amongst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The Disrupted” is an enjoyable, if emotional, watch. The film tugs at the heartstrings, brings forgotten voices to light, and carefully explores the ever-shrinking middle class in the richest country in the world. It shows that the people of the U.S. are becoming increasingly fed up with the status quo. Stories like these are going to be incredibly valuable throughout the next few years, as Americans, old and young, begin to radicalize to fight the effects of late-stage capitalism.

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U-News had incorrectly reported that “The Disrupted” was directed by John Gleason, the film is by Sarah Colt and is co-directed by Josh Gleason.