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.
- ► 2012 (19)
- ► 2011 (73)
- ► 2010 (44)
- ► 2009 (81)
- ▼ September (8)