Amid record profits in the 1980s, a series of decisions approved by General Motors CEO Roger Smith led to the closing of several GM plants in Flint, Michigan. Smith intended to take advantage of cheap labor in Mexico. Michael Moore documented the shuttering of the plants, starting in 1986, in his film Roger & Me, which debuted on this day in 1989. It chronicled the impact of General Motors leaving the Flint community, which left 30,000 people suddenly unemployed. Ultimately, Moore wished to bring Smith to Flint to show him how his actions affected people GM previously employed.
Throughout the film, Moore, originally from Flint, speaks with assembly workers and residents, many of whom share a strong disdain for Smith. He also connects with GM executives and celebrities to gain perspective on the culture and workforce of Flint. The film details the economic fallout of the closures and how it devastated the community. A skyrocketing crime rate gripped the city, highlighted in the film by an ABC News van being stolen during a live broadcast.
Moore does have a brief interaction with Smith, but fails to bring him to Flint to bare witness to what was happening in the city. After the credits of the film the screen reads, “This film cannot be shown within the city of Flint.” This is followed by “All the movie theaters have closed.”
As of August 2015, conservative estimates put the number of GM employees in the Flint area at 7,200. Since Roger & Me offers a core commentary on the life and history of the people living and working in the auto industry, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation.