Norma Rae

Movie Information

Norma Rae will be shown by Traveling Bonfires Saturday Movies at Eaties Saturday, Sept. 22, at 6 p.m. at Eaties Cereal Bar, 48 Commerce St. in Asheville. Info: 545-3539 or 505-0476.
Genre: Drama
Director: Martin Ritt
Starring: Sally Field, Beau Bridges, Ron Leibman, Pat Hingle
Rated: PG

It’s strangely apt that I should find myself writing about the movie that garnered Sally Field an Oscar on the same evening that she snagged an Emmy—and found her acceptance speech censored by Fox when she made some antiwar comments. Certainly, it’s an interesting turn of events for a woman who rode to Oscar victory on an outspokenly political film. That’s something people tend to forget today, owing to the fact that the Oscars and the ridiculously chipper photo of Field used to promote the film have tended to make Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae look a little too respectably mainstream to take completely seriously.

The fact, of course, is that it’s a piece of pro-union agitprop helmed by a filmmaker who spent some time on Sen. McCarthy’s blacklist in the 1950s. What better credentials can you ask for? And the truth is that it’s a beautifully made, splendidly acted film that more than achieves its aims, since it strays outside the realm of mere propaganda to become a tale as much about personal empowerment—through the realization that poverty and ignorance create a unique trap—as it is a political screed. Looked at anew, without the baggage of popularity, it’s a case where mainstream isn’t a pejorative term.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Norma Rae

  1. Dionysis

    I caught an obscure independent film on IFC the other night that was something like a more contemporary take on this theme. It’s called ‘Bread and Roses’ with Adrienne Brody about organizing the illegal Mexican immigrants dominating the janitorial services in L.A.

    While I thought this film was pretty good, and Sally Field turned in a good performance, I’ve always had a hard time warming up to Ron Leibman. Still, the film does deserve its praise.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I think the thing about Field’s performance is that its actual quality has been so brushed aside because everyone tends to remember her gushy Oscar speech more than her acting.

  3. mike weber

    My family moved south from Cleveland to Greenville SC, which was, at the time, pretty literally the center of the world textile industry, in 1955 – just about the time that the events fictionalised in this film were taking place, with J.P.Stevens closing three mills when the workers voted for the union, as much as a warning to workers in other mills as to avoid having to deal with the union.

    Two years later, we moved to Simpsonville, where i grew up, which was a typical mill town, undergoing the typical economic dislocations of the Fifties as the big shift in the industry and its ways of doing business peaked..

    Ironically, i’ve never seen this film, but form what i’ve seen and read, it’s a pretty good view of what the times and the events looked like.

    There once was a Union Maid…

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