“Laws are useless in China,” a frustrated citizen declares, out loud and out in the streets, in the epic documentary We the Workers. Exploitation flourishes, as anyone familiar with labor history (or anyone who’s ever worked) knows, when employees lack leverage and recourse and the government doesn’t have their back. Huang Wenhai’s 2017 film catalogs the exploitation while recording the struggles of China’s nascent union movement against the official and unofficial forces of injustice.
We the Workers plays the opening weekend of "Turn It On: China On Film 2000-2017," a three-week documentary series screening at SFMOMA Jan. 10–27 and streaming on Kanopy starting Jan. 10 in conjunction with the ongoing exhibition Art and China after 1989. Artist and activist Ai Weiwei and filmmaker Wang Fen curated the film program, and it’s a monument of investigative journalism and painful introspection.