The Killing Floor


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1984 • dir Bill Duke w/Damien Leake, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Farina, Ernest Rayford, Moses Gunn, Clarence Felder • 118 min

You may remember Bill Duke as an actor in such genre classics as Predator and Mandy but he is also an accomplished director with over 60 credits to his name (including Deep Cover and A Rage in Harlem). In this recently-restored, rarely-seen American Playhouse production, Frank Custer (Leake), a Black man from the South travels north to Chicago during WWI to pursue a better life for himself and his family. He finds work in one of the area’s many slaughterhouses – on the killing floor mopping up blood – and quickly becomes involved in the birth of a union. THE KILLING FLOOR is a character driven historical drama that depicts the events leading up to the horrific Chicago Race Riots of 1919 which were partially fomented by the anti-union stockyards. The film does a remarkable job of examining major true-life events through the eyes of the regular people in the heart of the conflict.

Winner of the Special Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival, 1985

Content Advisory: This film is set in the slaughterhouses of Chicago in the early 20th century. As such, there is, especially early in the film, scenes of animal butchery both documentary and simulated that some may find disturbing. Additionally, as a period piece that addresses race and class relations during this period, there is plentiful use of the “N word” and other racial slurs.

New 4K restoration. Preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive, laboratory services and DCP by UCLA Film & Television Archive Digital Media Lab. Special thanks to Elsa Rassbach, Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive.

“The Killing Floor reveals itself to be an intrinsically American historical epic.”
– Jake Mulligan, Dig Boston

“A powerful personal drama… THE KILLING FLOOR is part of our nation’s history.”
Chicago Tribune

“A revelatory historical drama that offers a powerful template for social analysis in fiction.”
– Richard Brody, New Yorker