Coming from a labor based family with my mom slaving for 23 years in a shoe factory, her highest rate of pay $1.65 per hour, I had no trouble identifying with this movie. Watching mom open her bleak $65.00 a week paycheck and still manage to raise three children and support a home, maybe she WAS Norma Rae.
Perhaps what hit the hardest with this movie is the fact it was released one year after this union based shoe factory closed its doors, forced into bankruptcy by the embezzling owner. The union offered no compensation to these people, some of whom had worked there for 30+ years for pitiful wages and even worse working conditions. In fact, to this day, my mother has received nothing from this union although her lungs have crystalized from the combination of leather dust and cement she was subject to each day.
Even with all my knowledge of unions and their failing, I still applaud this movie as probably one of the greatest works for some time. Maybe it was because of my background I could see into this movie further than some. I could identify with Norma Rae and the very wrenching tragedies in the story. Of course, since my moms union was an already established part of the company I can not visualize Norma's fights for her rights on a personal level. However, my mom was a union steward for years so I was fully aware of the battle lines drawn between union workers and management.
We were never confronted with opposing voices from my grandfather or my dad, as was Norma, as she fought for equality in the workplace for herself and fellow workers, since my grandfather belonged to the Coal Miners Union and my dad the Carpenters Union. My brothers, as well, belonged to unions as truck driver and tool and die maker. I have remained, for generations, the only hold out in organized labor. Yet I still firmly stand in line with the values portrayed in this movie.
Sally Fields gave a flawless and remarkable performance and deserved the Oscar she was rewarded. I can't tell you how many times we picked up my mom from work and she walked out looking like Fields did standing on that table - exhausted, beaten, sweaty, tired but with a glimmer or hope in her eyes. Like Norma Rae, mom believed things could and would be better.
I realize I have strayed from the story line of the movie but I believe firmly in the fact that everyone should see this movie and draw their own conclusions. It is well written and directed and the actors really out did themselves in this production.
Unfortunately - or fortunately - there are too few of these factories available today for American youth to realize what a truthful impact this movie made. However, in 1979, when released, many of the working poor were still bombarded with these atrocities every day. Starring Sally Fields, Beau Bridges, Ron Liebman and Pat Hingle.
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Susi Dawson (SusiDee34)
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Set in the industrial South and based on a true story, Martin Ritt's NORMA RAE is a moving portrait of a woman's fight to improve both her own life and the deplorable conditions that exist in the mill where she works. Norma Rae (Sally Field) has worked at the textile mill for years, but when a union organizer from New York comes to town, Norma takes on the hostility of the mill's management and the apathy of her coworkers to try to unionize the mill. Field plays Norma Rae as a passionate woman who realizes her own potential and her need to rebel against the status quo. She is also infuriated by the conditions at the mill. When Norma, uneducated and poor, finally expresses her disgust with life at the mill, it is an electrifying moment, and Field radiates this energy for the rest of the film, providing an emotional core and drive that gives the picture its power.