At one point in the documentary The End Of Poverty?, a former government operative confides that his job used to entail visiting leaders in Third World countries and telling them they could either become fabulously wealthy by playing ball with American political and economic interests, or be murdered by economic hitmen. It should be a moment of incredible drama, but it’s conveyed in such a dry, academic fashion that it barely registers. Nor does anything else. The End Of Poverty? boasts a message that’s simultaneously dispiriting and inspiring: Colonialism and capitalism are destroying the world and terrorizing indigenous cultures, but it would take a mere $20 billion to cut global poverty in half—a suspicious, preposterously paltry sum that casts many of the film’s other assertions in doubt.
Narrated by Martin Sheen, The End Of Poverty? offers simplistic answers to many of the most pressing questions of our time. In a world so rich in resources, why do so many go hungry? Why are there such massive financial and social iniquities between the rich and the poor? Why does the United States consume such a disproportionate percentage of the world’s oil? Why do Americans light cigars with $100 bills and subsist exclusively on filet mignon and Cristal, while South America devolves into permanent poverty? The answer—according to the filmmakers, at least—is that the U.S. actively works to suppress growth and development in the Southern hemisphere through political, economic, and illegal methods.
The End Of Poverty? alternates between static footage of bloodless talking heads and interviews with the exploited Third World masses, all of whom agree that living in dire poverty and being exploited by capitalist parasites sucks. Dull and didactic, the film plays like an extended op-ed piece, delivering its points with the dour, self-important earnestness of a college professor everyone knows to avoid. The film ends by challenging audiences to do their part to ease global suffering. But first, it dares audiences to stay awake.