As a theatre company, Crowded Room have an impressive track record for compelling true stories that have a verbatim core and universal relatability. During 2020, when the Covid lockdown was at its height, Crowded Room corresponded with nine Latin American migrant cleaners (online and in person) about their experiences living in the UK. These conversations and workshops became the backbone of the short film that was ultimately directed by Mark Knightley.
Despite the range of ages, the nine women in question have many things in common, as well as experiences that are particular to themselves. This key point was discussed in the early online meetings (which are shown), leading to the personal anecdotes and re-enactments later.
In this documentary-style narrative, even the process of collaboration during lockdown hits obstacles, as two of the cleaners flee the country after being attacked at work. Of course, this development only serves to show the precarious position the women are still in.
So why come to the UK when it is beset with many problems? The answers vary: moving away from abusive partners, corrupt political regimes, moving to somewhere that has a stable economy and so on. In all the cases, the chance to start over and have a better future with their children are mentioned. But while these women do find cleaning work, there are those who try to prey on them, taking advantage of their precarious labour rights.
But while the plight of the women, and all their negative experiences and hardships are explored, the positive aspects of their lives are highlighted too. Having left countries where having trade union membership automatically led to being perceived by the authorities as “troublemakers”, the women find in Britain that unions exist for many walks of life. And while there have been times that others have looked down on them and been abusive, it is precisely their vocation in the UK that has finally allowed them to obtain a hitherto unknown level of representation as women.
© Michael Davis 2021
La Lucha is one of many short films that can be viewed for free until 8th December at: https://www.migrationcollective.com/lmff-online-program-2021