Friday, September 19, 2008

Movie Makes History

Interestingly, the film Norma Rae not only recorded history but changed it. At the time the film was released, in 1979, the workers at the textile mill, represented in the film, were in the midst of a union protest against low wages and working conditions. Thus, although the union was voted in, their demands were yet to be met.

The film informed the public of the horrendous working conditions at the J.P. Stevens textile operation, disguised as the O.P. Henley mill in movie, and other textile mills, and helped propel management in due time to acknowledge union demands. It's possible that if the film were not made, the workers at Stevens would have slaved under hazardous, unhealthy working conditions for phenomenally low wages if they wanted to remain employed. The film catapulted a nationwide boycott of J.P. Stevens. Once the film was out, union organizers found Sally Field and Crystal Lee Jordan, the real woman behind the vote to start the union, and brought the two together in a gala event in Los Angeles. This moment along with a tour that both did on behalf of the workers galvanized national support, eventually leading management to consent to union demands. The efforts of these two women also helped to buoy other labor union movements.

Today, we wonder if the public can be arose by movies about social injustice, and if people would flock to a movie about working-class oppression. In an era when moviegoers idolize glitz, do films like Norma Rae have staying power?

To learn more about the efforts of Crystal Lee Jordan (today, Crystal Lee Sutton), check this article "
The Real 'Norma Rae' Donates Papers." What is your response to knowing that the film changed history for factory workers? Do films about social injustice and the working class appeal to moviegoers today? What motivates people today to stand behind the oppressed and help them fight for their rights? When you think of movies today, which ones come to mind as stories of heroes fighting for social justice in the name of underclassed?

Photo of Crystal Lee Sutton accepting recognition for donating her labor papers to a college library. Photo credit: Sam Roberts / Times-News

Information for this post obtained from the article “Remembering Norma Rae” that appeared online in The Nation January 27, 2007.


Alyssa said...

It's great that a film could inspire such a huge social revolution in the way factories work and the conditions in those factories. Films about social injustice still appeal to audiences today, but I can't recall hearing about any films that have inspired any huge social changes to the scale of Norma Rae. One film that comes to mind that brings awareness to social issues in our world is Hotel Rwanda, about the genocide and tribal wars in modern-day Rwanda. The film raised international awareness of a problem many people hadn't heard about and began drawing in support to help victims of the tragic happenings.

Kelly said...

In this day it's rare that we see such inspiring films. Most are action-packed and very "Hollywood." But I think Alyssa's example of Hotel Rwanda is a great one. It brought a new awareness of the terrible events going on in Africa to the forefront of the minds of movie-goers. I think people have become so conditioned to having movies put them at the edges of their seats and leaving them in suspense and wanting more, and though Norma Rae doesn't really do that, I feel it has another attraction- it's real. It pulled at my emotions becaused it LACKED all the extra movie fluff. It obviously contained certain things to keep the audience engaged, but for the most part it was just very real, as though you could relate to the characters without even living in that time period.

Hannah said...

The film Norma Rae was very effective in evoking a reponse from the public about the terrible working conditions in textile mills.More movies should be made about prevalent detrimental issues in society to inspire social change for the greater good.

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