“Where all men are created equal“- In the early 1900s, more than a hundred years after these words became the foundation of the United States of America, women in the country continued to be less equal than me. Iron Jawed Angels (2004) is the story of two women (Alice Paul played by Hillary Swank and Lucy Burns played by Frances O’Connor) who led the struggle for the passage of the 19th amendment to the constitution which gave women the right to vote. The name ‘iron jawed angels’ was the nickname given to some of these women when they resisted being force-fed after they went on a hunger strike to protest against being imprisoned for demanding equal voting rights (‘political prisoners’) for men and women. Their hunger strike made headline news and ultimately forced President Woodrow Wilson to accept their demand to give women the right to vote.
This movie is about organizational leadership and institutional entrepreneurship. It effectively depicts how the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement saw different opportunities and threats in the environment (“Is the first world war a good time to demand that women be given the right to vote?”) and how political intrigue is inevitable in any organization, no matter how noble the cause (women’s suffrage!). I don’t come across many movies about strong and effective women leaders. This is a great movie about different women in leadership roles, and how each women defined her role in her own unique way!
The Insider (1999) is based on the true story of a man Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) who works as a senior scientist in a big tobacco company (Brown and Wlliamson) who decides to reveal the information he has about how the top executives of the tobacco industry had known (and concealed) research evidence about the effects of nicotine on smokers’ health. In his professional capacity as the head of Research and Development for Brown and Williamson Wigand comes across research that he believes is jeopardizing public health. However, the top management at B&W ignore his concerns, fire him from his job, and try to shackle him using an elaborate non-disclosure agreement. Ultimately, Wigand meets Lowell Bergmann (played by Al Pacino) who is able to get his interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes and have him testify about the ill effects of tobacco and smoking in Mississipi. In the end, the efforts of Wigand, Bergmann, and others who staked their careers and lives bear fruit and the tobacco industry had to pay a $246B to settle a lawsuit brought against it by the state of Mississipi and others.
This movie is primarily about corporate whistle-blowers and how when one person in a company decides to speak up against unethical or illegal behavior, his (or her) life and the life of others around him (or her) is drastically affected. But the movie is not just about one whistle-blower, it is about two men who knew they had to stand up against the unacceptable behavior of the top executives in their company- Wigand and Bergmann. Wigand can not accept that the CEOs of the seven big tobacco company (“the seven dwarfs” he calls them) lied on oath to the Congress about the evidence related to the effects of tobacco. Bergmann is unable to accept that CBS will not air the tell-all interview Wigand gave about how big tobacco ruined his life to prevent him from speaking about what tobacco companies were hiding. In the end, both men did what they thought was right, but they paid a heavy price for doing the right thing.
The movie is long, but worth watching!
(If anybody who is reading this was involved in any of the incidents presented in the movie, we would love to hear from you!)
Rashomon (1950) is a critically acclaimed popular Japanese movie. It is the story of a woman’s rape and the murder of a man told from four different perspectives: The woman, the rapist, the dead man, and a witness to the crime. The four accounts are narrated in flashback and contradict each other in several ways. None of the accounts can be fully true, yet the four characters in the story seem to believe in their own story.
The movie is slow, but engaging. It is interesting to watch four people offer such varied accounts of what is apparently the same event. The business world (and organizational life in general) is full of such multi-perspective stories. A number of scholars have written about business as sense-making, i.e. our recollection of any incident is influenced by how we make sense of it. Consider, the recent Microsoft-Yahoo-Google ‘love triangle’. We all know that Microsoft bid for Yahoo, which Yahoo refused and Google opposed. But what happened behind the scenes, why did Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo behave the way they did, who finally won and who lost are questions whose answers will be different based on who is answering them and what his or her vantage point is.
In all, a classic movie to talk about sense-making and narratives (Of course, it needs to be remembered that the movie is in Japanese!)
Working Girl (1988) is a movie about a young women’s efforts to succeed in the brokerage industry where men are bosses and women are secretaries. Melanie Griffith plays a secretary who has the ambition and drive to succeed, but finds all the cards stacked up against her. Her male bosses don’t take her seriously, and things don’t improve even when she is assigned to a female boss. She has a good idea for an acquisition, which her new boss steals and tries to pitch as her own. Of course, like with all Hollywood movies the good wins over the evil, the hard-working people succeed and the dishonest and unethical find themselves defeated.
Most people like to think that if you work hard, success will come. The movie does a realistic job portraying how most people usually remain trapped in the socio-economic strata in which they were born. It is really hard to break free and move up when most other forces are working to keep you where you were. Of course, Hollywood movies do an efficient and effective job of taking you from you are to where you want to be.
The movie is definitely worth watching!
View from the Top (2003) is a movie about flight attendants. Donna (Gwyneth Paltrow), a small-town girl, dreams of escaping the dead-end life in her town and wishes to get out of it to see the world. She reads a book by a popular flight attendant Sally Weston who writes about her free travels around the world. Donna becomes a flight attendant at a small commuter airlines, hoping to transfer to a bitter international airline later. However, her personal life and professional rivalries keep her from fulfilling her dream. She eventually does fly international to the destinations she had been dreaming of, only to realize that happiness was to be found in other things than just counting the number of countries you get to fly to. The movie was not very liked by critics. I did like it though for two reasons- One, it accurately potrays that becoming a flight attendant is a dream for many young small-town girls. Second, it does a good job of communicating that when it comes to professional work “all that glitters is not gold”. The movie does a decent job of presenting the flight attendant profession, the training, the challenges, and the politics in the job.
There are parts of the movie that can be effectively used in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior classes. Of course, it is a good movie for flight attendant training classes. And, for a more general audience, the DVD may be worthwhile to buy simply for a useful bonus feature on the history of the flight attendant profession.
(I am certainly curious as to what actual flight attendants think about this movie. So, if you are a flight attendant reading this blog, I would love to hear from you).
Most entrepreneurial activity is context-specific. But if there is one entrepreneurship movie that students from all across the world can find interesting it is Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999). This movie is a fictionalized account of the early professional lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two men who made the technology world what it is today. The movie presents their struggles during college, the humble beginnings of their companies (Microsoft and Apple respectively) and the ingenuity that took them from where they were to where they are now.
Both Gates and Jobs started their companies with very little investment, but tons of passion for what they were interested in- Computers. The movie is a good watch for many different types of audience- entrepreneurship, information technology, innovation, engineering, computers, new product development etc. What is even more remarkable is that because of the global stature of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, this movie can be used in classrooms around the world. I used it when I taught at Institute of Management Technology (India), and the students loved it. I regularly use it in my teaching in the U.S. where, of course, students know these two men, their businesses, and the context in which the movie is set in much more than people in other parts of the world.
The People versus Larry Flynt (1996) is an entrepreneurship movie, but it not a movie for everybody. This movie is the story of Larry Flynt, an ambitious, hard-working, driven self-made entrepreneur. He (with his wife and brother) started publishing a girlie magazine that challenged society’s moral values. This magazine- Hustler- becomes the success story the Flynts were dreaming of. Even though he has to fight numerous legal battles with people who were opposed to his business, he was able to assert his constitutional right to continue publishing his magazine. The movie is a fictional account of the life of a real-world financially successfully entrepreneur.
Because the movie is about an entrepreneur who acheived his success in the pornographic publishing industry, it is full of nudity and sex. Despite doing a great job of presenting the struggle between an upstart entrepreneur and the establishment, this is not a movie you can watch with your family or relatives. I personally think the movie could have presented Larry Flynt’s story without so many nude and explicit scenes.
The U.S. (as well as many other countries around the world) have many entrepreneurs like Larry Flynt (Hugh Hefner, Joe Francis etc.) whose success comes from exploring the dark side of the business world. The stories of these entrepreneurs as well as the fascination with them in the media and the public make them great examples to discuss the ethical side of entrepreneurship.
I enjoyed the entrepreneurial theme of the movie, but had a very tough time making a positive decision to include it in my entrepreneurship course as one of the choices (and I tell them about the nudity and explicit scenes so they can make an informed decision). I am curious to see what my students think about it.