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American Issues in Film: Norma Rae

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Mikayla Cleary-Hammarstedt

on 14 April 2013

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Transcript of American Issues in Film: Norma Rae

By: Mikayla Cleary-Hammarstedt American Issues in Film:
Norma Rae The Issues Summary Resolution It's titled Norma Rae.

It was released in 1979 by director Martin Ritt.

Sally Field starred as Norma Rae, Beau Bridges as Sonny, and Ron Leibman as Reuben. My Movie The film mainly centered around the issues of the American Labor Movement, portraying the struggle people faced to unionize factories during the 1970s.

However it also focused on the growing independence of women socially as well as economically as they continued to work, even after the war.

Lastly it portrayed the continued divisions that existed between blacks and whites during this time in the South. The movie tells the tale of main protagonist: Norma Rae, lively, but dependable wife and mother in an Alabama mill town. Like her father, mother and most of her friends, she worked at the Henley mill, spinning and weaving cloth, with not much purpose in her life until she met Reuben. A devoted and audacious labor organizer from New York, he came to town to begin a union in a place where owners, as well as workers thought “union” was synonymous with “trouble”- for joining could mean the end of a job and livelihood. Norma Rae joined up and developed an intense friendship with him despite the threat it posed to her job. She became, along side Reuben, the leading union activist of the county, protesting against the horrible unfair working conditions of the mill.

The movie made a point of focusing on this and her development as an independent woman. At every turn she met hardship, from the company, other union men and even her husband. The men generally could not accept the life she was leading as strong and outspoken to the wrongs of society. At first mainly the African- American people of the mill joined the cause with her, for they were the only ones who were willing to stand up against the crooked bosses. The bosses in turn, intentionally withheld the information of the worker’s rights and discriminated against anyone who spoke up, especially against those who were black. Finally, the factory owners had enough with Norma Rae and fired her. But, before leaving she artfully incited a strike of the workers.

At the end of the movie, the bosses were forced to hold a vote. After a long labored tally, the issue of the existence of a union in the small southern town won, in favor of the union vote.

Although the American Labor Movement emerged victorious, the divisions of blacks and whites did not end. Lastly according to women’s positions in society- Norma Rae embraced herself and stayed true to her convictions- to stand up for what she believed was right.

But not much changed with society’s apprehension toward her forward, liberal independence.

Although Norma Rae's goal was not women equality, her speaking up, combined with the fact that she was a woman, showed the changing position of women during the time. Recomendation? I would definitely advise you to see Norma Rae. It was a truly inspiring portrayal of the struggle of the American Labor Movement. Many don’t know, but the movie was actually based off the woman Crystal Lee Sutton, and her true story of organizing a union at a J.P. Stevens Mill in North Carolina. The film made it clear how unionization was literally a fight for the lives of the factory working people.

Also you have to keep in mind this was not a long time ago as we generally associate with labor strikes, this was during the Cold War! It brought to life the hardships of the deafening mills, the meager pay, the dangerous machinery, the long sweaty hours, and the clouded air that many did not know still existed. But also, the film was quite funny at times, as the actors did an amazing job of maintaining the characters as actual people- not just determined activists. In fact, Sally Field’s performance was so great, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1979.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed watching Norma Rae, it left viewers with so much to contemplate about society in the 1970s: the stigmas society had against strong women and unions, as well as the continued differences between the North and South and blacks and whites. I hope you all go out an watch it someday! Critques: Review 1: I completely agree with Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. They did a great job of summarizing Norma Rae however I also loved the focus they put on Norma Rae and Reuben as individuals. They both clearly had a lot behind their characters that were very admirable characteristics. And although their relationship wasn’t one of love it sure was one of commitment to each other.

I would also add to the review that without the devotion they had together, the mill probably would never have never been unionized. Review 2:Wow great review by Vincent Canby. With his superior language use, he sure knew how to entice other viewers into seeing the film.

I loved his point that although the uphill struggle of unionization in the south is won, the main appeal of the film was rather the “emotional reserves and the complex feelings” of the characters. For although the movie presented many great American issues, what made it so great was the people they were shown through. Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. “Film Review- Norma Rae”. Spirituality Practice: 1979. Web. 6 April 2013.

Canby, Vincent. “Norma Rae (1979) Film”. The New York Times: 2 March 1979. Web. 6 April 2013.

Norma Rae. Dir. Martin Ritt. Perf Sally Fields, Beau Bridges, and Ron Leibman. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1979. Film. Works Cited
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