Citizen Action Monitor

“Poor Us” — Brilliant animated film reveals how poverty has changed over the centuries

Explains what forces are at work, and what lessons we can learn from the past to fight poverty today

No 968 Posted by fw, February 05, 2014

NOTEWhy Poverty? the production company of Poor Us, has produced a series of excellent films about poverty that are now all free to view online and download.

Poor Us: The Animated History of Poverty, written and directed by Ben Lewis, The Netherlands, 2012


How is it possible that while as a society we’re all getting richer and richer, there are still people who have to live in extreme poverty – especially when history teaches us that we’ve been trying to eradicate poverty for the last 2,500 years? In this documentary packed with animation, various historians and economists discuss key moments in our history that explain something fundamental about poverty and wealth. We are transported from prehistory (when nobody was actually “poor”) by way of medieval Italy to 18th-century China, the Industrial Revolution and the colonization of parts of Africa and South America. The questions discussed in the film are accompanied by humorous and colorful animations – some involving dream characters who try to survive in different eras, and others featuring manipulated ancient illustrations. These sequences are intercut with clear, factual explanations by the experts, making us think about what we have – and haven’t – accomplished in all those centuries. Who has an interest in other people’s poverty? What forces are at work, and what lessons can we learn from the past to fight poverty today?

A glowing Guardian newspaper review of the film appears below the following complete, embedded 58-minute video.

But first, here’s the 1:33-minute trailer of Poor Us —

And here is the complete 58-minute version —

Guardian review of Poor Us

TV review: Poor Us – An Animated History of Poverty by Lucy Mangan, The Guardian, November 28, 2012

From hunter-gatherers to the modern-day underclass, this animated look at poverty through the ages was a miracle of clarity and compassion

How do you animate a concept like poverty for viewers? Well, it turns out you literally … animate it. The latest event in the Why Poverty? BBC project – which comprises eight documentaries, screened across 180 countries, attempting to answer the question of why there are, in 2012, a billion people around the world still living in desperate penury – was Poor Us – An Animated History of Poverty (BBC4). It took us, via a cartoon figure framed as a dream by affluent westerners falling asleep in front of their plasma screen televisions or in their comfortable beds, across time and space to outline a history of poverty from Neolithic to modern times. It was wonderful.

The animated figure swooped and flew and mutated from hunter-gatherer to early farmer to Inca ruler to African native to 18th-century Chinese peasant to ceaseless labourer in the dark satanic mills thrown up by the industrial revolution, to starving victim of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, to recipient of western aid (and repayer of western loans) to member of the increasingly poor and frustrated underclass in the European city of your choice.

The silhouetted figure’s travels were interspersed with appearances by assorted impossibly well-informed and articulate experts on poverty such as Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Columbia University Joseph Stiglitz. They supplied stark facts, limned social and economic theories and practices and filled in the backstory for each animated scene with small, sinewy explanations of the damage colonialism and slavery have wrought, and continue down the generations to wreak, on the economy of a nation as well as on the bodies and souls of individuals.

It’s not a story that Europeans come out of well. The Spanish and Portuguese grab Latin American land, forcing the displaced populations to work themselves to death on the new plantations. The Victorians build railways in India and use them to export grain while the workers starve. Thriving African economies are destroyed when their cowrie-shell currencies are outlawed and rendered worthless at the stroke of a conqueror’s pen. Gone are the days of hunter-gatherer equality (you could, after all, only be so much better than the next man at picking berries and grubbing up grub). Divisions between rich and poor appear first within and then between countries, until we arrive today at our first, second and third world split.

Despite the history it had to relate, the programme acknowledged that progress has been made. The move has been, overall, from more to less poverty. In 1800, 80% of the world’s population was poor. Now estimates say it is between 15 and 20%. That is a good thing. The fact that today the poorer 50% of the global population earn less than 3% of global household income is not. And the fact that a re-organisation of the systems that have induced and entrenched such poverty, and a redistribution of wealth so that if 3% was raised to just 5%, would eradicate extreme poverty entirely, is good and bad and astonishing whatever way you look at it.

Poor Us was a miracle of clarity and compression. It wore its learning lightly and deployed it well, informing the ignorant (among which I count myself) without – I imagine – insulting the intelligence of those better acquainted with the subject. If I may speak for my fellow ignoramuses, it was as if someone was reaching into your brain in every scene and briskly dusting off broken fragments of books and articles read, uniting disparate thoughts, supplementing others, planting new ones and oiling the rusting machinery at your cerebral centre that would allow you, once the new, knowledge-salve had worked its way thoroughly round, to cogitate further at your leisure. This is not a feeling you get often from television. You were richer for watching it.


Why Poverty?  — The production company of Poor Us as part of a series of educational films about poverty. The documentaries are now all free to view online and download.  Why Poverty? uses film to get people talking about poverty. They commissioned eight documentaries from award-winning film makers and 30 shorts from new and emerging talents. The films are moving, subtle and thought-provoking stories, but they also tackle big issues and pose difficult questions. The films were shown around the world in November 2012 on more than 70 national broadcasters. The documentaries are now all free to view online and download.  They’re currently available in Spanish and English – we’ll be adding other languages as we get them. Why Poverty? is not a campaigning organisation. They don’t want money. They’re not pushing for a single, specific solution to global poverty. They want people to think and ask questions. What is it like to live in poverty? How does it shape you? Why are people still hungry? Why does it matter? What can I do to change the situation?

FAIR USE NOTICE – Click on above tab for details

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on February 5, 2014 by in creative protest, evidence based counterpower, information counterpower, NGO counterpower and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: