Mann v. Ford: Shocking New Doc Exposes Deadly Corporate Greed
Corporations get away with murder in America. Think that’s just bleeding heart liberal socialist hysteria? Well, watch “Mann v. Ford,” the shocking new documentary now airing on HBO, and then we’ll talk.
The film chronicles the decades’ long plight of the Ramapough Mountain Indians fight against the Ford Motor Company. Living in the hills and forests of northern New Jersey, less than 40 miles from midtown Manhattan,for hundreds of years, the close knit, economically disadvantaged community’s way of life has been threatened since the late 1960s, when Ford, which had a plant in nearby Mahwah, bought their land and began dumping toxic waste in the woods and abandoned iron mines surrounding their homes.
In the 1980s, the Ramapough’s homeland was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of federally monitored Superfund sites – and supposedly cleaned up by Ford. However, thousands of tons of toxic waste were left behind. Where was the EPA? That question is answered by one of the newspaper reporters who broke the story with two choices. Corruption or incompetence. No one will ever know, and it really doesn’t matter. But your ire will certainly rage as you watch the residents suffer a range of mysterious ailments, including deadly cancers, skin rashes and high rates of miscarriage. And you’ll ask–along with the community and lawyers–where are all the old people? There are few people in Upper Ringwood who make it past 60.
In 2006 the residents filed a class action lawsuit seeking millions of dollars from Ford as compensation for their suffering. Ford denied all responsibility for the illnesses devastating the community and claimed its flawed cleanup had fully complied with all EPA rules.
The film by Maro Chermayeff and Micah Finks is a compelling doc that plays like a drama. It even features its own Erin Brockovich in lead attorney Vicki Gilliam, a southern firecracker with a social conscience who was forced to leave the case before the resolution. The images of Ford’s vintage cherry red paint bleeding into the land and kids playing in the polluted stream and mud, eating neon bright toxic paint chips are powerfully heartbreaking. A portrait of Americana gone awry. The memos and internal documents Ford actually wrote ( and audaciously filed) labeling the residents marginal and essentially expendable, are as shocking as they are deplorable.
But there would be no “Erin Brockovich” happy ending. With the economy sputtering and Ford on the brink of bankruptcy, the lawyers–who toiled for years and spent millions on the case–feared the plaintiffs would come away empty handed. And so they settled for a settlement that, while certainly better than nothing, left each of the over 600 plaintiffs with a meager pittance barely enough to cover a fraction of any medical bills.
Ford, by the way, survived in the auto bail-out and has posted record profits in the years following the settlement. Oh, and in case, you’re keeping score, the company managed to walk away with the gift settlement without ever taking any responsibility.
So many families suffered. So many people endured long grueling illnesses before dying young. And yet, no one went to jail. The company didn’t even pay all that much. Or accept any responsibility. Ain’t that America?
“MANN v. FORD” tells the story of a small community’s epic battle against two American giants. It’s an important film that raises questions about corporate responsibility and social injustice. Just don’t expect any easy answers. Or a Hollywood ending.
Please follow Amy Beth Arkawy on Twitter.