The Killing Floor
Directed by Bill Duke • 1984 • United States
Starring Damien Leake, Alfre Woodard, Moses Gunn
Originally broadcast on PBS’s “American Playhouse” in 1984, the stirring first feature from actor and filmmaker Bill Duke explores the little-known story of an African American migrant’s struggle to build an interracial union in the Chicago Stockyards. Based on actual characters and events, the screenplay by Leslie Lee, from a story by producer Elsa Rassbach, follows the journey of Frank Custer (Damien Leake), a young Black sharecropper from Mississippi who, in the aftermath of World War I, travels to Chicago for a job on the “killing floor” of a meatpacking plant and the promise of greater racial equality in the industrial North. There, he must navigate the seething ethnic and class conflicts—stoked by management and culminating in the Chicago race riot of 1919—as he attempts to unite his fellow workers in a fight for fair treatment.