Screen Survivor Stories: Summary of Fast Food Nation

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The 2006 film Fast Food Nation follows multiple characters at the fictitious fast-food burger chain Mickey’s. Sylvia, Raúl, and Coco are three Mexican immigrants who come to the United States in search of a better future. Initially smuggled into Colorado, they find jobs at the Uni-Globe meat packing plant, Mickey’s main meat supplier. Raúl is a cleaner, and Coco works on the meat processing conveyor belt. Sylvia, disgusted by the poor treatment of the workers and the unsanitary conditions at Uni-Globe, quickly leaves to find a job at a local hotel.

As they continue to work at the plant, Coco and Raúl experience frequent abuse at the hands of Mike, the cruel supervisor. Mike screams at the workers, threatens their safety and the safety of their families, sexually harasses or assaults many of the women, and retaliates aggressively against those who talk back. Quick production is prioritized, while safety and sanitary regulations are disregarded. To cope with the daily horrors they experience, Raúl and Coco both begin abusing drugs. Tragically, a coworker falls into a large machine that begins to tear his legs to shreds. In an attempt to save the life of his coworker, Raúl falls and injures himself. At the hospital, drugs are found in his system. Because of this, Raúl is no longer able to work and is blamed for the injury. Sylvia, in desperate need of more money to support Raúl’s recovery, has sex with Mike to regain a job at Uni-Globe. As she returns to the plant, Sylvia becomes overwhelmed by the horrific scent and bloody visuals of cows being slaughtered on the “kill floor.” Recognizing she is out of options, she tearfully begins to work.

As a side story in the film, we watch Mickey’s top marketing executive, Don Anderson, visit the Uni-Globe plant as they arrange to launch a new burger product to the public. As he prepares to leave, he is told about research into Mickey’s hamburgers that shows a considerable amount of fecal matter in the meat. During his trip to the plant, Don is only shown the cleanest areas. However, after talking with locals, he discovers that unsafe production speeds frequently cause meat contamination. When he approaches Mickey’s Vice President about his safety and cleanliness concerns, Don is brushed aside. It is clear to the viewer that all these storylines are interconnected, and the conditions throughout the corporation and its supply chains are being pushed at the very top. At this moment, Don decides to turn a blind eye to the egregious issues at the Uni-Globe plant and continues to push the marketing of new products.

This film demonstrates many facets of abuse that can lead to human trafficking. Sylvia, Raúl, and Coco all endure threats and acts of violence in their workplace. Mike and other employee’s manipulation keeps them in the dark about their rights. The fear, lying, and withholding of information that they experience prevents them from feeling able to leave Uni-Globe. These are direct elements of force, fraud, or coercion – the necessary components of human trafficking. Looking deeper at Don’s story, we see how corporations are often complicit in exploiting their workers and ignoring forced labor in their supply chain. If we want to stop this horrific crime, corporations must take responsibility for their workers and the products or services they produce. We must prioritize the safety and well-being of workers above all else.

There is so much that we can learn about human trafficking from this film. See it now.

Discussion Questions

  1. At the end of the film, Mickey’s Executive, Don, learns that the safety of the production line will not change, and he turns a blind eye. How does this small choice have a larger rippling effect, and what could he have chosen to do differently?
  2. Sylvia is clearly uncomfortable working at Mickey’s production plant. She ultimately leaves to work at a hotel. What circumstances made it necessary for her to return to the plant following Raúl’s accident?
  3. How does fear affect Sylvia, Coco, and Raúl’s decision-making power?