TV Eye

All Work, Little Pay

<i>Los Trabajadores </i>
Los Trabajadores

Telecommuting may be the way to work for many, but there's still a segment of the labor pool that depends on the strength of their backs to make a living. And as local filmmaker Heather Courtney's documentary Los Trabajadores (The Workers) reminds us, those tied to their desks and Internet connections may depend on the sweat of those laborers more than we think. Filmed during Austin's construction boom in 1999, Los Trabajadores follows the development of Austin's day labor program and the opposition it faced along the way. It airs on PBS this Tuesday as part of the Independent Lens series.

The winner of an Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival and Best of Show in the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival, both in 2001, Los Trabajadores focuses a highly sympathetic eye to the invisible labor that helps build Austin -- invisible, that is, until they turn up in one Austin neighborhood's back yard. When the city decides to court high tech industry wanting valuable downtown Austin real estate, the Day Labor facility is moved from downtown First Street (Cesar Chavez) to 51st and I-35. The result is an uncomfortable tension between local residents fearing for their safety and workers who want to earn an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

Los Trabajadores skips over the kiss-and-slap history of the larger U.S.-Mexico Bracero Programs, though key statistics are offered to show the need for immigrant labor -- documented or not. Instead, the film leans toward the human side of the issue.

"What I did was come here illegally," says Ramon Castillo, one of two undocumented day laborers profiled in Los Trabajadores. "Even if they're American, they can't tell me, 'You can't work to support your family.' That's the right I have, to make sure my family is OK. It's my right ... my responsibility." Putting a human face on what is usually understood through statistics or outright xenophobia moves the issue beyond an us vs. them debate. Los Trabajadores may not change opinions on undocumented labor in the U.S., but it does provide another level of understanding.

Accompanying Los Trabajadores is an experimental short, "Why Cybraceros?" The Alex Rivera film uses 1940s U.S. government films to satirize the United States' contradictory treatment of immigrant labor.

Los Trabajadores and "Why Cybraceros?" air Tuesday, March 25, at 9pm, on PBS.

Bits and Pieces

Chandler Bing goes to Washington: Make that Matthew Perry of Friends. Perry will play a Republican lawyer looking for work in the White House on back-to-back episodes of The West Wing airing April 23 and April 30.

Man of Steel news: Casting for an actor to replace Christopher Reeve as Superman has reportedly come down to Brendan Fraser and soap actor Matthew Bomer (Guiding Light). Former Felicity star Keri Russell is reportedly a shoo-in to play Lois Lane.

Plays well with children: The former king of socially conscious comedy, Norman Lear, is returning to TV -- as a collaborator on upcoming episodes of Comedy Central's South Park, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Lear became a fan of the show watching it with his 14-year-old son. He met South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone at conferences where the three appeared on panels discussing censorship. South Park's new season began Wednesday.

Having her say: Take-no-prisoners comedian Wanda Sykes stars in a new sitcom, Wanda at Large. Sykes plays an outspoken correspondent on a Washington TV show who takes shots at any foolishness that crosses her path. Phil Morris -- who played the ambulance-chasing lawyer Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld -- co-stars as one of Wanda's co-workers and presumed victims. Wanda at Large premieres Wednesday, 8:30pm, on Fox.

And finally: Hollywood celebrates its own at the 75th annual Academy Awards Ceremony on Sunday. A red-carpet pre-show begins at 7pm, followed by the ceremony at 7:30pm, both on ABC. Post-Oscar coverage of Hollywood's ritziest parties, including the Governor's Ball, airs on E! And don't count Melissa and Joan out yet: The Rivers women will still troll the red carpet. This year, their tiresome chats air after the post-Oscar festivities.

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Los Trabajadores, Heather Courtney, 75th annual Academy Awards Ceremony, Wanda Sykes, Wanda at Large, Jackie Chiles, Norman Lear, South Park, Keri Russell, Brendan Fraser, Matthew Bomer, The West Wing, Matthew Perry, Why Cybraceros?, Alex Rivera

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