Movie Review: Class Divide (2016)

Posted: October 21, 2016 in Documentary

class-divide

The gentrification of West Chelsea in Manhattan began in 2006, with the High Line project, the repurposing of an abandoned rail line.  Architects built a park around the elevated rail yard and new buildings sprang up all over the High Line.  Most of the rents in these new buildings skyrocketed into the millions of dollars. Avenues, a private school with a 40,000 dollar tuition opened in 2012, right across the street from the Chelsea Elliot housing project, where some of the poorest people in New York live.  Do students from the ritzy private school ever interact with the people who live in the Chelsea-Elliot projects?  Are developers trying to push poor people out of this part of Manhattan?  Are there opportunities for the poorer residents to live in these million dollar condos?

This is a very interesting documentary, lots of people talk about income inequality, but it’s very rare that people can actually see income inequality shown in such stark relief, from one side of a street to another.  The documentary also does a good job of detailing West Chelsea’s history, it started out as an industrial area with lots of corporate clients.  The movie interviews an early developer who owns land all over Chelsea.

The star of the documentary is undoubtedly Rosa, a chatty Latina pre-teen girl, with an opinion about everything. She is fun to listen to, with an engaging and bubbly personality.  Yasmeen is a Turkish-American student, also stands out in the documentary, because of her burgeoning social conscience.  There is sadness on both sides of the class divide, among the rich students of Avenues, and the poor people of the projects, pressure, and guilt for the rich kids, poverty for the poor kids.. There is happiness on both sides too, none of the poorer young people interviewed seemed to want to stay poor, and some of the rich kids seem to want to improve the lives of the impoverished people around them, so there is hope.  But will the hard work of poor people slam headlong into rising rents? The kids seem more open to change than the rich adults in West Chelsea, time will tell if any positive change comes to the poorer residents of West Chelsea.

The director, Mark Levin, seems to be pushing the theme that it’s class that separates rich and poor, and not race. Both black and white people attest that it’s class in the film, but I don’t necessarily agree with that conclusion. In one scene in the documentary, a doorman, who won a lottery to live in an expensive building, reports still getting dirty looks, and slammed doors in his face.  That is racism. On the whole, this documentary shows both sides of the hyper gentrification issue, and small steps being taken toward solving the problems that go along with the class divide.

Class Divide:  A classy coumentary.

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