It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
If you work in a building with janitors, how much do they get paid? Is it enough to decently support a family? Have you given any thought to the question? I haven't. Ken Loach's "Bread and Roses," a drama about a janitorial strike in Los Angeles, made me think. It suggests that the people who manage your building pay the janitors as little as they possibly can, and pass the savings on to your employers. Here is a statistic: In 1982, union janitors in Los Angeles were paid $8.50 an hour. In 1999, non-union janitors were paid $5.75. Do they have a health plan? Don't make me laugh.
Under the trickle-down theory, if the boss makes millions and the janitor makes $5.75, in the long run we all benefit. How does this work in practice? A simple illustration will suffice. When both parents have to moonlight in underpaid jobs, that gives their children an opportunity to get in trouble on the streets, leading to arrests, convictions and millions of dollars pumped into the economy through the construction of new prisons and salaries for their guards. Right now America has a larger percentage of its population in prison than any other Western nation, but that is not good enough.
"Bread and Roses" tells its story through the eyes of Maya (Pilar Padilla), an illegal immigrant newly arrived in Los Angeles. Her sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) gets her a job in a sleazy bar, but Maya is a good girl and doesn't like it: "I want to work with you cleaning the offices." Rosa gets Maya hired in a high-rise, where she has to kick back her first month's salary. Maya meets Sam (Adrien Brody), an organizer for the janitors' union, who is trying to sign up the workers in the building.
For some of my readers, the key words in the previous paragraph are "illegal immigrant." Why, they are thinking, should such a person have a job in America at all, let alone complain about the low wages? This attitude is admirable in its idealism, but overlooks the fact that the economy depends on workers who will accept substandard wages. The man who hires Maya certainly knows she is illegal. That man's boss, as they say, "knows but doesn't know." The man above him doesn't know and doesn't care--he's only interested in delivering janitorial services to the building management at the lowest possible price.