In 2001, a Walmart greeter named Betty Dukes brought a class lawsuit against her employer, on behalf of 1.5 million of her fellow employees.
Dukes had started at Walmart in 1994, making $5.50 an hour. Later, armed with a college degree and ordained as a Baptist minister, she accused her employer of discriminating against female workers, and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ultimately, she lost the case in a 5-to-4 decision, although as The New York Times put it, her decade-long legal fight "helped draw attention to the working conditions of low-paid workers in so-called big-box stores."
I'm an attorney and a writer, and I still believe in our legal system -- or, at least, its ability to give ordinary citizens a fair shot at justice. So, I'm also a sucker for these kinds of stories.
Now, Netflix is apparently betting on the idea that a lot of other people are too, since it decided this week to acquire Kings of America, a limited-run series about Dukes and her lawsuit that will star Amy Adams and be directed (at least the first episode) by Adam McKay.
This isn't the first movie about Walmart to appear on Netflix. But, given the subject matter, I sat and stared at my phone when I first saw the news.
Let's just say that it's not everyday that a $200 billion-plus company like Netflix decides to go ahead with a multiple-part series about a $350 billion-plus sometime-competitor, in which the competitor is almost certain to be portrayed as the villain.
Talk about a shot across the bow.
I reached out to both Netflix and Walmart for statements or further comments about the show, but I did not hear anything back by the time this story went to publish.
Still, it's intriguing to try to untangle the many threads here. And it's all left me wondering if this is simply a programming decision on Netflix's part, or possibly something deeper.
Most consumers probably don't think of Netflix and Walmart as current direct competitors -- except perhaps in the dwindling consumer DVD market. Yet there have certainly been rumblings over the years that Walmart planned to launch a "Netflix-killer" video streaming service.
I'd actually be more surprised if it didn't launch one at some point, given the sheer number of other streaming services that have launched or been announced by other companies.
Beyond that, Walmart has been working on the launch of a "Walmart+" competitor to Amazon Prime.
Although it's been delayed multiple times, the core of that offering is a subscription-based physical products and grocery service. But to compete on the same terms as Prime, one would assume Walmart would also have to include a plan for a video-streaming component.
Setting aside whether Netflix and Walmart are or will be direct competitors, there is another interesting point of analysis: Would other media companies have hesitated to run a series like this about Walmart-as-villain, simply because Walmart is such a huge media advertiser?
(As much as $2.75 billion in the U.S. last year, according to one estimate.)
I should point out this is different from a media company's news division deciding whether to run a story about a potential competitor -- or about its own parent company for that matter.
Anyway, it's a moot point, since Netflix doesn't run ads -- which illustrates the second- and third-order effects that choosing a different kind of business model can have on your businsess's future choices.
There is no public on air date yet for Kings of America, and this isn't a review. I can't tell you if it will be an entertaining series and a big hit, or just another show on your list that people never get around to watching.
But as the kind of news story that can leave business owners thinking through the ramifications for days afterward, it's kind of fascinating.
Who are your true competitors? And what's the unexpected way one of them might open up a new front against your efforts?
Because, in our current era of oligopolist big players and smaller businesses fighting for a market share, everything can turn in an instant.
Just ask Netflix and Walmart.