What is the controversy with Nomadland?

Answered by Edward Huber

The controversy surrounding Nomadland stems from the perception that the film glosses over the harsher realities of the modern gig economy, which are more extensively explored in Jessica Bruder’s book. While the film has received critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, there has been some backlash from those who argue that it romanticizes the nomadic lifestyle and fails to fully address the systemic issues faced by gig workers.

One of the main criticisms is that the film downplays the financial struggles and precariousness that many gig workers experience. In Bruder’s book, she delves into the economic precarity faced by older Americans who have been forced into a mobile lifestyle due to the loss of their jobs, homes, or retirement savings. She highlights the challenges they face in finding work, earning a livable wage, and accessing basic necessities such as healthcare. However, some argue that the film focuses more on the freedom and sense of community that can be found in the nomadic lifestyle, creating a somewhat idealized portrayal.

Another point of contention is the portrayal of Amazon as an employer in the film. In Bruder’s book, she extensively investigates the experiences of nomads who work seasonal jobs at Amazon fulfillment centers, highlighting the physically demanding nature of the work, the low pay, and the lack of job security. However, in the film, Amazon is depicted more positively, with the protagonist, Fern, finding temporary work at an Amazon warehouse and seemingly enjoying her time there. This has been seen by some as a missed opportunity to shed light on the exploitative practices that have been associated with the company.

Furthermore, some argue that the film fails to address the structural issues that contribute to the rise of the gig economy and the displacement of workers. It does not delve into the broader economic forces, such as the decline of traditional industries or the erosion of workers’ rights, that have pushed many into these precarious forms of employment. By focusing primarily on the personal stories of the characters, the film may have missed an opportunity to provide a more critical examination of the gig economy and its impact on individuals and communities.

It is important to note that the controversy surrounding Nomadland is not about the film being inherently bad or lacking artistic merit. Many people appreciate the film’s cinematography, performances, and its portrayal of human resilience. However, the criticism stems from the belief that the film does not fully capture the harsh realities and systemic issues faced by gig workers, as extensively documented in Bruder’s book.

The controversy surrounding Nomadland revolves around the perception that the film romanticizes the nomadic lifestyle and downplays the harsh realities of the modern gig economy. The criticism primarily centers on the film’s portrayal of economic precarity, its depiction of Amazon as an employer, and its failure to address the broader structural issues contributing to the rise of the gig economy. While the film has been praised for its artistic merits, some argue that it missed an opportunity to provide a more critical examination of the challenges faced by gig workers in contemporary America.