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: House committee’s first-ever documentary taps into ‘immense power’ of personal stories to spotlight economic disparity


U.S. lawmakers tasked with examining economic inequality will premiere a first-of-its-kind documentary film Tuesday evening in Washington, D.C., featuring three American stories from across the country.

Alicia Villanueva, a small-business owner and Mexican immigrant who long ago used to sell her homemade tamales door to door in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the subjects of “Grit & Grace: The Fight for the American Dream.” The filmmakers interviewed nearly 150 families nationwide, but ultimately had to pick three to highlight.

As the Bay Area-based businesswoman prepared to fly to the nation’s capital for the first time to attend the premiere at the National Archives, she told MarketWatch on Monday that she hopes her story resonates with other entrepreneurs.

“I really want to inspire everybody,” she said, adding that she especially wants to inspire other immigrants and women. “Any dream that they have, if they really work hard for it, it’s going to happen.”

The documentary shows Villanueva’s factory in Hayward, Calif., where she and her staff of about two dozen people produce tamales and other Mexican food to be sold at places like Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors; cater to nearby businesses and schools; and fill online orders from shoppers on Williams-Sonoma’s website.

In the film, she talks about how she got her start with help from organizations that nurture female or Latino entrepreneurs, and how her business survived the coronavirus pandemic because of government aid such as the Paycheck Protection Program.

The 30-minute documentary, a product of the bipartisan U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, is narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker. The actor said her involvement was personal; she says in her narration that when she was growing up, her family “sometimes couldn’t pay the bills.”

“There is immense power and wisdom in personal stories,” committee chair Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a news release. “Only so much can be learned from the dense jargon and obscure statistics inundating Capitol Hill.”

The select committee was established last year by outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and has since consulted with experts and spoken with Americans in different communities. It’s releasing the film in conjunction with a report that contains policy recommendations on how to address growing economic disparities.

“The goal of the documentary was to build empathy, connection and mutual understanding among Americans during this polarized time,” said Eric Harris, senior advisor and communications director for the committee and co-creator of the film with Himes. “We want the public to identify with the families featured in this project and recognize their shared humanity as they strive to achieve a prosperous and secure economic future.”

The documentary makers wanted to ensure the first film ever produced by the House would be accessible to all, so they are choosing to post it on YouTube, Harris said. He envisions the film as something educators, local civic leaders and organizations and Congress can use to help teach about the economy, disparity, entrepreneurship and more, he added.

The stories of Joseph Graham Jr., a Black man in North Carolina who completed his college degrees later in life, and Jeremy and Wendy Cook, a white couple in West Virginia who have two autistic sons, are also featured in the film.

Harris told MarketWatch that he interviewed Americans around the country over the past year.

“Every story we heard was worthy of being uplifted and amplified, but with limited time and resources, we had to do our best to prioritize diversity in all its forms, from the regions and communities our families call home to the various challenges they face on their road to economic security,” he said.

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