Could ‘Dunkirk”s use of prison labour disqualify it from the Oscars?

Christopher Nolan's revered film has been nominated in eight categories at March's Academy Awards

Dunkirk‘s use of prison labour has been criticised by a prominent humans rights campaigner, who has said that the film should be disqualified from the Oscars.

The acclaimed Christopher Nolan film – which starred Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy in an ensemble cast – has been nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Production Design.

Dunkirk set decorator Gary Fettis first disclosed the use of prison labour in the film’s companion book, Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture.


“The amount of work needed led to some interesting collaborations,” the book’s author Josh Levin writes, before quoting Fettis: “The big fenders on the ships, they use giant rubber balls nowadays, but back then they were made out of rope, woven in thick hemp. We had to make about ten of them.”

After they came across a local man who had re-rigged a ship for a local museum, Fettis said that they utilised his know-how as he was able to weave the bumpers they desired.

“And he employed prison labour to make them. First-time offenders, kids, they weren’t hardcore criminals,” Fettis said. “I hope the producers know because we saved a lot of money that way.”

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Dunkirk‘s use of prison labour has now come in for fresh criticism, with Human Rights Defense Center Director Paul Wright declaring that “prison slave labour… needs to be denounced as the human rights abuse it is.”


“As far as whether it should disqualify the film from getting an Oscar, I think it should,” Wright told Payday Report.  “No one would reward the costume designers who used child slave labour in making the costumes for a movie.”

Wright said it would be fitting if Dunkirk was especially overlooked for the Oscar for Best Production Design – much like, as Wright pointed out, James Franco has seemingly been for Best Actor following allegations of sexual misconduct.

“It would seem that, in a consistent world, human rights abusers and exploiters would not be regarded so highly,” he said.

However, Wright added that he wasn’t optimistic about the chances of that stance being adopted by the Academy.

“Since we live in America, I suspect that no one will miss a beat on this because pretty much everybody in a position of power is down with prison slavery,” he remarked. “Unless [the prison labour] is being exploited by the Chinese government.”