Mardis Gras is the Catholic celebration preceding Lent and links revellers from all across the world. What once began as a period of abandon foreshadowing 40 days of penance has swiftly transformed into a nondenominational cause for debauchery. Even though many other countries partake in the holiday, New Orleans is the most notorious for its beads, breasts, and hedonistic excess.
Entirely consumed with the festivities, few partygoers stop to wonder about anything else, least of all corporate globalization or the exploitation of foreign workers. Director David Redmon's film, Mardi Gras: Made in China, explores the cultural divide between those creating the beads and those clamouring for them.
Without preaching or over-personalizing, Redmon presents several vignettes from workers at Tai Kuen Bead Factory in Fujian, China. Mostly female, the workers detail their working conditions, wages, living situations, and most rousing of all, their personal hopes and thoughts. Making approximately $1.20 US an hour and working 10-14 hour shifts, Redmon doesn't have to pander Michael Moore-style for viewers' sympathy.
Globalization presents its best and worst face in this film. After China's explosive shift to a free-market economy, the Tai Kuen workers are at the factory because they choose to be, although they are faced with lateral, rather than vertical choices. Redmon displays the limited opportunities and rampant exploitation which occur in China, as in most places, when money and education are scarce.
Redmon sharply constrasts the young bead workers in China with carefree Americans caught in several expected shots in the midst of Mardi Gras. When asked where he thinks the beads come from, a young American redneck responds with: "Don't know... I don't care. Beads for boobs!" What is less typical is the obvious discomfort and remorse some feel when shown pictures of the Chinese factory's conditions. More interestingly still, the young Chinese women have no idea at all where the beads go and what they are used for. After finding out, all giggle, embarrassed that women would undress for such ugly things.
Not strictly a dissertation on globalization nor a sad tale of human struggle, Redmon manages to strike a balance between presenting his findings from China to Mardi Gras and asking the audience to think more deeply about working conditions overseas. He sums up his message at the end of the film through the sober display of discarded beads in the garbage-filled streets after the celebration.
Deserving of its nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Mardi Gras: Made in China is a thoughtful and even-handed presentation of conditions many are aware of, but few choose to contemplate.