Americonned: The Biggest Lie of All

Directed by Sean Claffey, the new documentary Americonned highlights the struggles created by the American economy. With the death of the ‘middle class’, the gap between the top 1% continues to grow at an alarming rate, destabilizing the economy as compensation for the average American remains stagnant. One of these deeply affected workers is Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee fighting for the rights of his fellow disaffected co-workers. Americonned follows Smalls as he attempts to lead a movement to unionize Amazon staff in the hopes of bringing back some equity to those who are being left behind.

Americonned is a harrowing film that is unafraid to look at the roots of the motivations that drive the broken American economy and the toll that it takes upon the average person. By telling the story of Smalls, Claffey has found a protagonist that the viewer can truly get behind. Fighting for the rights of his fellow Amazon employees, Smalls shows tremendous courage as he begins his battle against the giants of the corporate world. By focusing on his story, Claffey taps into Smalls’ natural charisma to connect with the viewer. Yet, at the same time, there’s a fire within him that makes him admirable. His fury may stem from his own experience but so too does he use that to help others.

However, while the fight is obviously personal for Smalls, Claffey uses his story to examine the issue of poverty on a broader scale. In Americonned, it becomes apparent that the problems within the American economy lie far deeper than the widening gap between rich and poor. Instead, the problem seems to be that the system is predicated on the lie that change is impossible.

Some of the most surprising revelations in Claffey’s film are rooted in the psychology of economics as opposed to the policies themselves. This is a system that has been established to convince lower income families that any form of financial gain threatens to destroy the heart of the system for everyone. (“The evil part is the belief that, when poor people get richer, it will harm the economy,” we’re told.) In essence, the US economy manages to justify a system that empowers the empowered. Families that can’t afford to make ends meet outnumber the wealthy yet they have been convinced that ‘that’s just how things have to be’. 

To these families, the American Dream is dead. Or so they have been told.

In this way, Americonned does an excellent job exploring the socially constructed concepts of who’s ‘deserving or undeserving’. Whereas there are a great many people in need, Claffey’s film highlights the notion that who’s ‘deserving’ of help is constantly shifting. Whether it’s single mothers or those affected due to racial inequality, these groups can be perceived as worthy of assistance in one moment but dismissed just as quickly the next. For various reasons, they matter only for a moment. But, by deconstructing the popular narratives of economic shame, Americonned points out that everyone has value. Smalls may only be one man but his story helps shine a spotlight on countless others who have been tossed away by major corporations. This is a story that focuses primarily on one person but affects everyone.

Smartly written and well-executed, Americonned is more than the average ‘social justice’ doc. By delving into the underlying psychological issues at play within the system, Claffey makes a convincing argument that the most toxic aspects are the lies that it seems to be built upon. Once people have been Americonned, they are more easily convinced of their role in the economy—and kept there as well.

Americonned is available in theatres on Friday, June 9th, 2023 and on VOD on Tuesday, June 13th, 2023.

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