Spotlight on HBO Documentary: “Mann v. Ford”

A new documentary that recently debuted on HBO illustrates how, once again, large corporations can take advantage of the “little guy” and, unfortunately, get away with it.  

Maro Chermayeff and Micah Fink’s documentary, Mann v. Ford, follows in a line of other like documentaries such as The Last Mountain, Inside Job, and many others.  This particular story, however, focuses on the Ford Motor Company and the Ramapough Native American tribe living in the woods of Ringwood, New Jersey.

As it turns out, this particular story begins in 1955, when the Ford Motor Company began working at a newly erected factory located in Mahwah, New Jersey (just a short drive away from the city of Manhattan).  Because of the company’s size and the power it held, many of the company’s dirty little secrets went unmonitored.  An example of such would be the car company’s knack for producing (and disposal of) large of amounts of toxic materials.  These materials included dioxin, arsenic, lead, Freon, and automotive spray paint runoff. 

By 1967, the Ringwood forested areas had become the elected dumping ground for the now truckloads of waste leaving the facility.  As for the native Ramapough tribe…they were left as victims to decisions that were out of their hands.

While the poisonous grime quickly infiltrated the tribe’s every day lives and dealings, the declining health of the community began to take its toll.  By the time 1971 rolled around, the dumping had stopped—but not because of the sudden emergence of the Ford Company’s conscience, instead it was because the plant had to be shut down. 

Where Ford got to pick up their bags and head out of town, the people still living in the area were left contaminated and unable to give up the land they held for multiple generations. Due to a collective low income rate and health issues, the natives were left to stew in all sorts of un-pleasantries like cancers, kidney problems, skin conditions and rashes, missing teeth, and diabetes.

It became such an issue that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became involved with the site.

Gathering behind an important member of the Ramapough populations, a gentleman named Wayne Mann, the filmmakers show how the Ramapough people gathered around their newly erected hero.  Mann emerged as their go-to representative to help lead their fight through the tough court system.  

Mann, it is noted by prosecutor Vicki Gilliam, was also chosen not only for his charisma and standing within the community, but also because of the stylistic “man vs. large corporation” feel that his surname added to the mix.

And according to Chermayeff, Mann also viewed the crimes as more than just simple negligence of their operations—but rather as a meditated attack against his people.  In other words—a hate crime.

“He feels there was an intentional disregard for his community,” states Chermayeff in an interview to HBO.  “They were selected. Ford didn’t dump on a middle class community down the road.  They chose where they were going to dump and did so continuously: mines, rivers, even on people’s lawns.  And they did so because it was a powerless community—Native American, poor, and lacking any political clout.  That’s the basis for environmental racism.”

Over the five years that the documentary covers, it eventually finds its ways into the courtrooms.  However—where it may be expected that in some Hollywood-like style, the judge would rule in favor of Mann and his peers, sparking explosions of jubilance throughout the courtroom and the streets—this is, sadly, not the ending that they all got. 

Instead, the case was lightly brushed off, with the judge urging the two sides to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom.

Although the turn of events seem clearly unsuccessful on the part of the prosecuting team, it just shows that once again those with the deeper pockets beat out those with the louder voices.  

Even so, Chermayeff hopes that at the very least, the case will inspire many other people to become educated on the things that are taking place within their own communities and what they, as citizens, can do to make their environment better.

For more information on the film, visit the documentary’s site on the HBO homepage: http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/mann-v-ford/index.html.

Photo Credit: starpulse.com/news/HBO/2011/07/17/hbo_summer_series_presents_mann_v_for

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