LOS ANGELES — “Made in L.A.,” a documentary that focuses on the successful three-year effort of immigrant garment workers here to win basic labor protections, had its West Coast premiere at the annual Los Angeles Film Festival last week. The film is to be broadcast on PBS in September.
The workers, illegal immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador, were employed by subcontractors of fast-fashion chain Forever 21. They worked 12- to 15-hour days for around $200 a week at factories in Los Angeles’ fashion district. The three women who are the focus of the film sought help from the Garment Worker Center, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, seeking safer working conditions, an eight-hour work day and California’s $7.50 hourly minimum wage.
The documentary follows the women as they organize their first protest in 2001 and until Forever 21 settled a state lawsuit with the Garment Worker Center and two co-plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount in 2004. In addition, Forever 21 said it would no longer contract from factories that perpetuated sweatshop conditions.
In a letter issued at the time of the settlement, Forever 21 said it would seek “to promote greater worker protection in the local garment industry,” adding that the resolution of the case was “a positive and symbolic step forward in demonstrating respect and appreciation for garment workers.” The company declined to comment on the documentary.
The film also delves into the women’s personal stories: Maria Pineda supported her three children and an alcoholic husband in a ramshackle apartment in East Los Angeles by sewing almost 20 hours a day. Maura Colorado left her three children in Mexico about 20 years ago intending to make enough money to send for them, but never succeeded. The film also profiles Lupe Hernandez, who got a temporary job at the Garment Worker Center.
Director Almudena Carracedo said she was drawn to the subject after reading a newspaper story about local sweatshops.
The featured workers attended the screening and said they still are employed in the garment district, but for eight hours a day, earning minimum wage or more.
“Film can humanize issues. That’s what happened here,” said Robert Bahar, who coproduced the documentary with Carracedo.