The Killing Floor

Director: Bill Duke
Screenwriters: Leslie Lee

Institute History

  • 1985 Sundance Film Festival


The Killing Floor is about an illiterate black sharecropper, Frank Custer, and his journey from the rural south to Chicago stockyards. The year is 1917 and the first World War is in full swing, leaving good paying jobs (21 cents an hour) for the men left behind, mostly immigrants and southern blacks.

The film portrays the pioneering attempt of Custer and other stockyard workers to bring together other blacks, Poles, Lithuanian, Irish and German workers to form an interracial union in the face of growing racial conflict in Chicago, the culmination of which eventually led to the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. The Killing Floor is based on actual characters and event and the tension expressed one of the great themes of American history: the conflict between class and race. It is explored with dignity, style and compassion. These were courageous men now remembered and revered, for it was not until the 1930’s that the vision of a strong interracial union was realized. A strong script and performances making The Killing Floor an honorable, rich and revealing film.

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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