Not Exactly What Democracy Looks Like
Kind of remembering the WTO protests
by Suzi Steffen
BATTLE IN SEATTLE: Written and directed by Stuart Townsend. Cinematography, Barry Ackroyd. Starring André Benjamin, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta, Charlize Theron. Insight Film Studios, 2007. R. 98 minutes.
|Django (André Benjamin) and the Seattle PD|
Battle in Seattle is a cheeseball movie, laden with hackneyed situations and one outrageously manipulative plotline involving Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson, but Eugeneans will want to see it anyway. Despite its faults, the movie reminds viewers of the time when organized hope met repressive chaos — and won.
The 1999 World Trade Organization protests inspired (and infuriated) thousands of activists across the globe; proved that labor and environmental activists could make a common cause; provided glorious reminders about Emma Goldman’s statement, “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things”; focused media attention on issues of global trade; and helped shut down the trade talks that year.
Of course, the protests also brought down the force of a police state at later WTO talks and touched off further infiltration of protest groups — and didn’t end up harming the WTO much at all. You’ll know this from a montage at the end of the movie, but the joy, the affinity groups, the intensive training in nonviolent tactics? Not here.
The movie focuses instead on the individual concerns of four activists: Jay (Martin Henderson), Lou (Michelle Rodriguez), Django (André Benjamin, one of the best parts of the movie) and Sam the lawyer (Jennifer Carpenter). There’s also poor Seattle Mayor Jim Tobin (an excellent, understated Ray Liotta), who’s trying to get his police officers to treat the protesters with respect. You know what happens next: The protests, far larger than the Seattle police and mayor expect, succeed at blocking delegates from getting to the Seattle Convention Center. That’s a problem, but then the black bloc anarchists (or agents provocateurs, the movie suggests) start breaking the windows of stores like Nike and Starbucks. Things go south.
Pieces of actual footage, especially of police overreaction, strengthen the movie, and the crowd scenes outside of the prison work well. Even as goofy individual romances drain the plot, it’s great to be reminded of the energy, hope and collective action of the ongoing battle for our better natures and for a better planet.