Alas, somethings rotten in the state of North Carolina. And it’s not just the pig waste.
Directed by Shawn Bannon, The Smell of Money takes the viewer into the depths of the American pork industry. Processing tens of thousands of pigs per day, Smithfield Foods remains the lead powerhouse in the North American pork industry. However, through their willingness to ignore the waste created by their own farmers, they have also become a toxic influence on the local communities. From the unbearable smell to health risks such as pfiesteria, Smithfield’s negligence has resulted in massive environmental damage that threatens the viability of its community and reveals their willingness to sacrifice the living conditions of the average person for their own gain.
Powerful and moving, The Smell of Money is a shocking look at the neglect of big business and the lengths that they will take to secure their investment. (Not to mention the fact that Bannon’s journey into the world of the pork industry is far more harrowing than one might expect.) Through brutal corporate tactics, Smithfield Foods continues to show a total disregard for the health and well-being of those around them. While they’re more than willing to hire those to create their product, the pig waste they produce is not their problem. With an eye on their financial returns, Smithfield Foods does everything they can to maintain business-as-usual while absolving themselves of responsibility for those in the local community.
In other words, profit outweighs people.
Interestingly, however, what sets Money apart is the way that it moves beyond mere corporate neglect to explore its undercurrents of race and abject poverty. With a neighbourhood consisting mostly of people from the Black community, Smithfield’s recklessness shows little care for the people of the area as most of them too poor to stand up against them. (In fact, one judge even suggests that, ‘if these conditions affected areas of affluence, they would’ve been dealt with much more quickly than they have been.’)
Remarkably though, the community bands together to fight back. With every legal battle and victory, residents such as Elsie Herring and her fellow activists send a message that their lives matter. Despite the terrifying pressure that Smithfield applies, this community refuses to submit to their corporate bullying. Powerful and empowering, Money serves as an encouragement to the oppressed and challenges them to fight for their rights, even if the odds remain stacked against them.
The Smell of Money is now playing at HotDocs ’22. For screening information, click here.