WTO In Theaters Now

Global Women's Project | Thu, Sep 18, 2008

By Kristin Sampson

Battle in Seattle is a new film by Stuart Townsend that tells the stories of a dozen fictional characters whose lives intersect over the course of the 1999 WTO Ministerial in Seattle. Today, as then, the WTO represents the very economic model that is collapsing before our eyes. The crisis in the housing and finance sectors are but the latest example of an economy based on the wrong values. As the protest signs read, it's time to put "People Before Profits."

The film is a reminder that these failings aren't new. Workers, the poor, the Global South, and the environment have all carried the burden for some time.

The film stars some of the biggest names in Hollywood: Andre Benjamin, Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Ray Liotta, Michelle Rodriquez and others.Although the film is not a documentary, it weaves in scenes from the actual demonstrations and features signs and actions of various protest groups.

The film is thoughtful and entertaining, but for someone who is passionate about trade justice the film doesn’t go far enough on the issues. As such, I've highlighted a few background resources below. Additionally, the film overlooks the critical, peaceful presence of the faith community in the Seattle civil demonstrations. For a lengthy critique of the film by one of the Seattle activists, see

Interestingly, while I find the film depicts the WTO and the devastating consequences of unregulated commercial activity as little more than a backdrop to the intersecting paths of the main characters, the big Hollywood moguls don’t want you to see it. It opens in limited release this weekend. If it does well, the film will get national distribution. If not, it goes straight to DVD. You can check out the film and learn how to screen it in your town at

I plan on seeing the film again with friends in Washington, DC this weekend. And see it as an opportunity for offering a more nuanced portrait of the diverse citizens across the globe who see the WTO and free trade in general as a threat to livelihoods, the environment, health, human dignity, and community. Hopefully it will spark conversation on the real issues at the WTO:

  • Loss of decent, well-paying jobs;
  • The inability of developing countries to access life-saving medicines;
  • Environmental destruction by large corporations;
  • Persistent poverty in developing countries;
  • Reduced access to essential services like water, sanitation, and health-care;
  • Constraints on government’s ability to promote economic and social opportunity.

For more information on what a just trading system could look like and the issues at stake in Seattle, please check out the below resources:

If you were in Seattle and would like to tell your story, please post your story/reflection, photos or video to the Seattle WTO Peoples History site: You can also post it below in the comments. If you weren’t in Seattle, but are passionate about trade justice, please share your motivation in the comments section on this blog.

Posted by Kristin Sampson, Global Women's Project

Battle in Seattle opens Sept. 19 in Minneapolis; New York; San Francisco; San Rafael, Calif.; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. On Sept. 26, it begins playing in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Sacramento, Calif. On Oct. 3, it hits Denver; Nashville, Tenn.; Philadelphia; Plano, Texas; and Santa Barbara, Calif. On Oct. 10, it opens in Olympia, Wash. To find out what theater in your area is showing the movie, click here or call 1-866-758-1258. To demand that the movie come to your town, click here.