Wal-Mart Documentary Analysis

Emily Dohrman


Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is a 2005 film by Robert Greenwald that portrays a negative image of the company Wal-Mart. The documentary highlights the unethical business practices, unfair wages, and shameful treatment of employees both nationally and internationally. The video urges everyday people to take up the fight against the Wal-Mart monopoly and stop the deleterious practices employed by them.
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Lee Scott, CEO of Walmart 2000-2009


The purpose of this documentary is to inform the public about how harmful the corporation Wal-Mart is on both national and international levels. By showing the injustices committed by Wal-Mart on an everyday basis the director hoped to both convince everyday people to fight against the installation of these stores in their community and to force Wal-Mart to change their corrupt and destructive business practices.


The mode most used in this documentary is expository. Evidence of this is shown through the fact that all interviews are used in support of the film's argument and that the narrator directly addresses the viewers. For example, all interviews conducted worked in favor of the directors point of view. The interview of Don Hunter worked to show how Wal-Mart forces out hardworking small businesses and the interview of Princess worked to show how horrible Wal-Mart was to foreign workers in factories (1:05-1:07). Also this documentary's mode is seen through how there is a direct relationship between images and the voice-over.


This documentary is targeted towards many groups of people. The most obvious is American shoppers of Wal-Mart. The director uses sad statistics and dysmal interviews to gain the interest of American shoppers and get them to boycott these stores. Also this documentary is targeted at anyone who has been abused by Wal-Mart's business practices or is going to be. This group includes past and future employees, small business owners, and victims of Wal-Mart parking lot assaults. The video however is also targeted for Wal-Mart themselves. The director hopes that if enough people become enraged at the horrible things the company is doing and getting away with, the company might change their ways


The multi-million dollar company Wal-Mart has been at the center of many scandals that proclaim their unsafe and problematic business practices including payment of unlivable wages, unfair treatment of workers, and race and sex discrimination.


Logos: The director of the documentary knew that he would not convince anyone of their point of view without having some facts to back up their claims. The statistics periodically displayed on the screen were used to provide logical evidence to prove their points. One example of this is when the video showed the number of stores that had had assaults happen on their premises.

Pathos: The director of the documentary used appeals to emotion to get the audience emotionally invested in the film and to create a sense of injustice. Examples of this is when the former Wal-Mart employees were interviewed about the troubles they experienced while working for Wal-Mart and when Laura Tanaka was interviewed about the assault she experienced in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Ethos: Influential people in the world were also brought in to provide credibility for the director's claims. For example Bill Gates’ philanthropy was broached to show how little the Walton family gave to charities and help out communities.

Types of Evidence

There are many types of evidence used by the director throughout the Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price documentary to communicate his point to the audience. Facts and statistics shown on the screen through text to show records that would be damaging to Wal-Mart credibility. For instance records of Wal-Mart parking lot assaults and the company's reputation with the environment are shown. Personal experience is possibly the used method by the documentary to provide evidence. Numerous interviews of past Wal-Mart employees are used in the film to show injustice of how they treat their workers. For example the Chinese worker Princess was interviewed to report the experience of workers in overseas factories. Expert testimony was also brought in when Jim Bill Lynn, a manager of overseas factories, was interviewed about how he lied for Wal-Mart about the standards being met at overseas factories.

Visual Style/Tools

Audio: Audio is a very important part of this documentary. Narration along with dialogue and interviews between people in the film is how the information and point of view the author is trying to portray is explained to the audience. Along with that there are many instances where music is used to emphasize a point. An example of this is when the documentary shows a series of shots of abandoned stores with "This Land Is Your Land" by Bruce Springsteen playing in the background (0:16-0:18). Another example is when the victory song is played at the end of the film after many people banded together to keep Wal-Mart out of their town.

Graphic Text: Graphic text is used a lot in this film to help communicate information to the viewers. Its main function is to identify the past employees of Wal-Mart or the protesters being interviewed. Another important function of the text is to emphasize certain facts and statistics about the company. For example after the clip of the actual Wal-Mart commercial about environmental responsibility, text is used to spell out all the scandals involving Wal-Mart's environmental policy since 1999.

Visual Techniques: When filming interviews, the camera focuses fully on the face of the person being interviewed and does not switch to other pictures so that the viewer of the documentary can fully focus on what the person being interviewed is saying. The film is set up so that every time there is a clip off of an actual Wal-Mart commercial, the next scene juxtaposes what was said. For example, after the commercial about how Wal-Mart was great for town, on the screen flashed text that proclaimed that Wal-Mart drives down retail wages every year.

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Cover Art for Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price

Strengths, Weaknesses, and Fallacies

One fallacy that is very clear in this documentary is the fallacy of hasty generalization. One example is when the film highlights sad stories about how small business cannot attract business like Wal-Mart can which leads the audience to conclude that Wal-Mart is bad for small business. However this is a hasty generalization because not all businesses have trouble competing with Wal-Mart and there are almost always other factors contributing to the closures. A specific technique used by the director in this video could both be a weakness or a strength depending on the point of view. This technique is how the director seemingly never compares Wal-Mart statistics, like parking lot rape or wages, to other chain companies. This could be a strength because the lack of comparison helps to further the directors point. However this could be a weakness if a critic happens to notice the lack of comparison. This critic could use it to poke holes in the validity of the information.


The counterargument of the view of the director is addressed in this film in a rather ingenious way. First, clips from speeches of people high up in the Wal-Mart corporation are present in the film. Right after however is a stream of interviews or testimonials to counter what was just shown. For example, the first scene in the documentary is a speech by Lee Scott, the then CEO (0:00-0:05). For this specific example, the entire film is a juxtaposition of what Scott talks about in his speech. Another way the counterargument is addressed is with clips from actually Wal-Mart commercials. After these clips though, is usually big text that proves what was said in the commercials, wrong. For Example, after the commercial about how much Wal-Mart cares for families, there is text that shows how many Wal-Mart employees have children enrolled in Medicaid because they don't make enough money to afford Wal-Mart insurance.


I think the point of view of the documentary was very successfully argued. The director used many different ways to move his argument and it was really easy for viewers to comprehend. The success of the argument depended mostly on the directors ability to back up his claims with evidence and he did a great job with that. The text on the screen portraying facts, combined with the testimonials of national and international employees left a huge impact on viewers and made it hard to argue against his evidence.