‘The Corporation’ Sequel Is Just as Good as the Original

In 2003, I attended the closing night of the award-winning documentary The Corporation, co-directed by Canadians Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar, and written by Joel Bakan. When I arrived at the L.A. arthouse theater I was surprised to find a long line stretched down the block to see a nonfiction film. The audience at the Nuart included Dustin Hoffman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Danny DeVito, and Rhea Perlman, plus hundreds of rank-and-file ticket buyers.

While it offers a scathing critique of the capitalist system, The New Corporation expresses optimism that these elected officials and movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Black Lives Matter are the hope of the world. 

The Corporation cleverly applied the “Personality Diagnostic Checklist” of the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association’s “Manual of Mental Disorders” to corporations. It found that if they were human beings, these insatiably profit-driven business entities would be “pathologically self-interested” psychopaths.

Now, as we find ourselves mired in the midst of an even deeper crisis years after the 2008 financial meltdown, Abbott and Bakan are back with an even better picture. The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel is being screened at film festivals like the thirty-fourth annual AFI Fest in Los Angeles, where the production had its U.S. premiere, and will run November 6 through 10 at the Scottsdale International Film Festival in Arizona. 

The 106-minute film opens with Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown musing, “What did the Enlightenment promise us?” Later on, Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel comments that we’ve moved “from a market economy to a market society, where everything is for sale,” and under this system of “commodification” Sandel ponders if we are “citizens” or “consumers”? Chris Hedges adds that capitalism is “upending American values with corporate values.”

The New Corporation suggests that today’s deregulated, dehumanizing capitalism combined with predatory social media surveillance is undoing the Age of Reason. It’s almost as if seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes theorized: “I maximize profit, therefore I am.”

In this topnotch documentary critique of globalization, the filmmakers are globetrotters who go to the ends of the Earth to tell their engaging story. Co-directors Abbott and Bakkan (who wrote the film) tackle a breathtaking range of topics: rising inequality, oil spills, climate change, Indigenous struggles from Australia to Standing Rock, water rights, “rightwing anger,” racism, cost-cutting that causes aviation calamities, the opioid crisis, healthcare shortages, high tech’s role, the pandemic, the post-George Floyd protests, and much more.

The film zooms in on a planet-wide push to privatize education. Globally, for-profit institutions are replacing public schools with classes conducted by non-certified, lower paid, non-union instructors, including at such venues as Bridge International Academies, the largest chain of private schools in Africa. 

The New Corporation’s “jet-setting” crew flew to Kenya to shoot a classroom where a teacher reads a script written by overseas experts on a mobile device and his students (charged monthly fees to attend this African version of charter schools) respond in unison, by rote. Public schools advocate Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, derides this pedagogic technique as “colonialism, pure and simple” intended to “remove the teacher—the most expensive part of education—from the equation.”

Democracy Now! co-host Juan González characterizes the movements to privatize education, health care and war as, “How do we [corporations] get more money out of the commons?” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Okanagan Nation in Canada calls schemes to privatize water  “insidious.”


The New Corporation is creatively made in a highly cinematic way, using onscreen titles, archival footage, news clips and a myriad of mostly original interviews with canny commentators that’s a veritable who’s who of the Left. Standouts include the pithy Anand Giridharadas, who is cut in the Gore Vidal mode, with acidic observations such as: “Silicon Valley is the new Rome of our time.” 

Giridharadas is the author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. This is especially apropos because part of The New Corporation takes place at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where charter members of the international elite annually meet.

The film skewers the bourgeois blab-fest as being “a major charm offensive” where CEOs and bankers including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jamie Dimon pose as problem solvers. However, Giridharadas asserts, “on the surface [Davos] seems noble—but it benefits the winners.” He goes on to charge that this “plutocratic group” really “cloak profiteering in virtue” but “obliterated certain communities . . . and then have the gall to market yourself as their Christ.”

We see Forum founder Klaus Schwab thank President Trump, who is onstage at Davos in person, “for giant tax cuts.” Subsequently, Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman denounces the Forum during a Davos debate because “no one raises the real issue, of tax avoidance” at this den of inequality, capitalists who stash their ill-gotten gains at tax havens, bankrupting the public sector, while touting their own piety with the gospel of “corporate responsibility.”

Another one of The New Corporation’s most prominent talking heads is socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who exemplifies a new breed of progressive politicians which, as the film puts it, “combines grass roots activism with electoral politics.” 

Journalist Juan González calls this left-leaning trend “the start of an urban Renaissance.” Noting that Sawant won a third term in office, the outspoken member of the Socialist Alternative organization says, “You don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to know that your life sucks under capitalism and that you have to fight.” Sawant also decries that since the pandemic’s start, “$1 trillion went to 500 individuals,” as the 1 percent gets richer and the 99 percent gets poorer.

We get glimpses of similar lefty officeholders, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Ada Colau, an activist with the anti-eviction PAH (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages) and the first woman elected mayor of Barcelona, Spain. (Tellingly, the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket isn’t even mentioned in this film.)

While it offers a scathing critique of the capitalist system, The New Corporation expresses optimism that these elected officials and movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Black Lives Matter are the hope of the world. 

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel is currently on the film festival circuit and can be seen online (depending on your geographical location) by logging on to the festival websites and purchasing tickets to view it during the dates listed below:

Monadnock International Film Festival (MONIFF) (https://www.moniff.org/), November 5-14, 2020

Scottsdale International Film Festival (https://scottsdalefilmfestival.com/), November 6-10, 2020

Revelation – Perth International Film Festival (https://www.revelationfilmfest.org/), December 9-20, 2020

Sonoma International Film Festival (http://www.sonomafilmfest.org/), January 1-30, 2021 and March 25-29, 2021

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