Lesson Plan February 1, 2018

Weaving Connections Documentary Film: Prep (1 of 3)


A young girl works the spinning machines, Lewis Hine, Cherryville, NC, 1908.
A young girl works the spinning machines. Lewis Hine. United States, 1908.


Brainstorm what images come to mind when you think of the following words and phases:

  1. Factory
  2. Textiles Factory
  3. Collapse

Today's lesson examines how two photojournalists use images to visualize the lives of people working in factories that make clothes. Predict:

  1. What do you think a day in the life of a factory worker looks like?
  2. What might be some of the challenges facing factory workers?
  3. If you were telling the story of challenges facing factory workers, what kinds of pictures would you take?

Introducing Resource 1: "The Ghosts of Rana Plaza" by Jason Motlagh

Rana Plaza in Bangladesh is the site of world's largest garment manufacturing disaster in history. When the 8-story building collapsed in 2013, more than 1100 people died and 2500 people were seriously injured. The building's owner, Sohel Rana, and 11 others are charged with murder. They face the death penalty.

1. Read the following excerpt from "The Ghosts of Rana Plaza"
Virginia Quarterly Review / Spring 2014
Author: Jason Motlagh

Four Days in April
On the morning of Thursday, April 24, 2013, traffic on the Dhaka–Aricha Highway was lighter than usual. On most days, the industrial artery that connects the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to suburbs in the northwest is choked with Suzuki hatchbacks, scooters, and banged-​up buses that honk and belch incessantly as they carry commuters to construction sites and factories in towns like Dhamrai, Gakulnagor, and Savar, a subdistrict of the capital dominated by garment makers. But on that morning, they were in the third day of another nationwide hartal, or strike, called by opponents of the ruling Awami League party, the latest in a never-​ending cycle of political brinkmanship that had paralyzed the country on and off for years. Like power outages and flash floods, strikes are a fact of life in Bangladesh. In Savar and other manufacturing hubs, the protocol among working-​class people generally is to heed them or be prepared for trouble.

Rana Plaza, a hulking commercial complex that fronts the highway, was an exception that day. The building's owner, Sohel Rana, insisted that employees report for work as usual, in defiance of the opposition, with plans to mobilize them for a possible street protest. This was not an empty gesture: On any given day, the plaza's eight stories held as many as five thousand people, most of whom were employed by garment-​making companies linked to well-​known Western brands.

At his pastry shop across the street from the plaza, Saiful Islam was reading about the strike in the morning paper when he heard a shriek of breaking glass cut the air. He looked up to see shards of blue glass from the building that adjoined the plaza raining onto the far sidewalk, cutting several people waiting at the bus stand below. For a moment Islam assumed it was sabotage, a brick through a window, until the ground started to quake. Rana Plaza seemed to be imploding.

As the quake intensified, more panels blasted out onto the street, and several workers jumped to their deaths. Then the upper floors fell in quick succession, one after another, causing the bottom half of the building to pancake under their weight. In a matter of seconds, the eight-​story building was reduced to a heap of slabs and iron.

As the cloud of concrete dust began to settle on the rubble, Islam and others bolted across the street to look for survivors. Police and the fire brigade were called to the scene, but word of the collapse spread even faster through nearby bastis—​dense neighborhoods of concrete and tin barracks where poor garment-​making families live. By the time fire-​brigade officers showed up ten minutes later, an agitated crowd of hundreds had already gathered and was quickly swelling into a crowd of thousands, hindering authorities' ability to access the site. "It was a human sea," says Islam.


2. Answer the following questions:

  • How would you visually describe the section of Dhaka where Rana Plaza is located, based on the information given to you by the article?
  • What specific information adds context to the disaster he describes?

Introducing Resource 2: "Rana Plaza, Three Years Later: Who Has Paid?" by Jason Motlagh

Predict: Before reading the following short essay by photojournalist Jason Motlagh about his reporting on the collapse of Rana Plaza, speculate about what the answer might be to the main question: Who has paid?

  1. Who do you think has paid as a result of the factory's collapse? The victim? The employer? The brand?
  2. What issues do you imagine will come into play?
  3. Is there more than one meaning behind the question "who has paid?"

Read "Rana Plaza, Three Years Later: Who Has Paid?" 
Al Jazeera / 07 Sept 2016
Opinion Piece by Pulitzer Grantee Jason Motlagh

Answer the following questions:

  1. Who is Sohel Rana?
  2. How does the community in Bangladesh regard him? Cite specific details.
  3. Explain his connection to the incident.
  4. What exactly is at stake for Sohel Rana?


Explore Jason Motlagh's Photographs:

Click on the link to Jason Motlagh's website and look at the photo tab. Select one close-up shot and one establishing shot that speak to you.

Answer the following questions about each image:

  1. What emotion(s) is the image trying to convey?
  2. How does the composition of the image (close up vs. wide angle; colors used; position of subjects in frame; etc.) contribute to the mood?

Weaving Connections:
Journalists witnessing working conditions, then and now. Lewis Hine was like Jason Motlagh in that he also exposed the horrific reality of textile manufacturing. His powerful work, however, came 110 years earlier and focused on child labor in the United States.

Answer the following questions about each image:

  1. How is the photograph framed? Vertical? Horizontal. How does that composition help tell a story? Where does your eye focus first?
  2. How does the caption inform your understanding of the photograph? Without words, would these images provide enough context to know what's happening in the frame?
 A young girl works the spinning machines, Lewis Hine, Cherryville, NC, 1908.
A young girl works the spinning machines, Lewis Hine, Cherryville, NC, 1908.
Lewis Hine photographing children in a slum c. 1910
Lewis Hine photographing children in a slum c. 1910

Explore this final photograph with a classmate. What does it show you? What question do you most want answered as you look at this?

A policeman stands in the street, observing charred rubble and corpses of workers following the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City on March 25, 1911.
A policeman stands in the street, observing charred rubble and corpses of workers following the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City on March 25, 1911.

Further context: In the late 19th century, New York City emerged as the nation's garment-making center. Well over 60% of all clothes made in the U.S. were made in the city. One in every three wage workers in New York City worked in garment making. Millions of immigrants, mostly Italians and Jews from Eastern Europe, came to the city to find work in the clothing industry. Young women predominated the industry, which was cutthroat and competitive. Modern factories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were ruthless in their pursuit of increased productivity.

For more information about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, see the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the Washington Post.

Interviewing a Vistor to Get What You Want:
Subject matter experts such as journalists have a wealth of information and experience about a given topic. As such, it can be overwhelming to interview them. The best questions are pointed, articulate and specific to both the experiences of the visitor and to what you're trying to get out of them.

  1. Research. Research. Research. Who is this person? How can we use their expertise to tell our story?
  2. What is your narrative goal? How do you ask questions that lead to that end?
    • Take these three examples from R.J. Reynolds High School journalism student interviews with Jason Motlagh. Notice how, given the right prompt, he can touch on a myriad of topics.
      • When a group of students from R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC asked Motlagh about labor protocols in Bangladesh, here is how he responded.
      • He also talked about how American retailers influence the global textile market…

        Quote from Jason Motlagh

      • And the humanity behind the labor and the intimate connections he made to families affected by the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh...

        Quote from Jason Motlagh

The bottom line: Interview with a goal in mind. What do you as writers want to include in a story? Consumer Activism? Labor? Language? Cultural practices? Wage requirements?

Building a solid research base about the garment factory disaster at Rana Plaza (for example) before interviewing Jason Motlagh will help you formulate informed questions. A good question, in turn, can solicit a strong and vivid answer - something useful for the script you are going to write.

Activity: Identify 3-5 questions you would like to ask Jason Motlagh about his reporting from the factory at Rana Plaza.

Putting It All Together:
Watch this story by high school students in Winston-Salem, NC to see how they incorporated what they learned from Jason Motlagh's visit with their field trip to visit a modern day factory plant in North Carolina to see for themselves how things look. The shooting script, which includes what images and text the students planned to use in the film, is attached below. As you watch, consider the following:

  1. What connections do the student filmmakers make between the UNIFI factory in their community, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory and the textile factories in Bangladesh?
  2. How do you think the students' interviews with Jason Motlagh contributed to the development of this section of their film, Weaving Connections?
  3. How might you have approached the interviews at UNIFI differently? Based on Jason's responses when interviewed by the R.J. Reynolds High School students, what other angles could the students have used when connecting Rana Plaza to UNIFI?

A Short Film: UNIFI: How Automation + Innovation Kept Textiles Home (in NC)
Students from Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC wrote, filmed and produced this script using what they learned in Writing to Video.


Shot from bus taking UNIFI exit, approaching plant, etc. (Stan 00012)

Subtitle: REPREVE Plant, UNIFI, Yadkinville, NC

Voiceover: Unifi's textile mill in Yadkinville is one of the most advanced recycling facilities in the US.  This plant has processed more than 5 billion plastic bottles into REPREVE fiber used in various name brand products such as
Patagonia, Levi, and Ford.

Insert pictures of Patagonia, Levi, and Ford.

Shot of machines operating during the tour from MAC/ANSON folder (14:50-15:15ish)

Voiceover: Unifi has been able to remain competitive in the United States without outsourcing by automating their processes.

Voiceover: Charlie King was another key factor in UNIFI competing with outsourced companies.  King developed the REPREVE process of using recycled plastics to create polyester yarns. King is often credited with saving the company from the brink of collapse.

Charlie King: (00051 19:41-20:03)May 10 2017
"You see on the news our great politicians say that for the U.S. to get competitive we've got to get into more automation. Well, where have they been? You've seen forever auto-plants have robots doing everything robots can do today."

Automation shot (15:10)

Voiceover:  Aside from outsourced labor costs being nearly equivalent to automated plants, there are several other significant benefits of automation.

Charlie King:(00051 22:47-23:07)
"There's other benefits for sure, and quality. Visualize picking up this 40 pound package of yarn-you can't do it manually. You at least have to have some kind of assist to put it in there and move it. You can't pick it up without messing up that yarn. I can buy a robot, but I can't hire 20 people, they won't come to work and stay."

Shot of aisles of machinery, but no workers (25:12-25:34)

Voiceover: But, these adaptations have come with a cost. Extensive automation is the price American factories have to pay in order to survive the largely outsourced textile industry.

Final Reflection:

Compare these two images and write a short paragraph on what you see now that you're well informed about the facts and context behind each image. How are the lives of the workers alike and/or different?


A young Bangladeshi boy works in garment factory.


A worker at the Unifi Repreve Plant in Yadkinville, NC, 2017.

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teal halftone illustration of a construction worker holding a helmet under their arm


Labor Rights

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