Norma Rae (1979)

Two women rose in triumph from this hit drama. The title character, based on real-life union organizer Crystal Lee Sutton, waged a difficult battle to unionize the mill where most of her family worked in unsafe, minimum wage jobs. For Sally Field, the film’s leading lady, it marked her transition from sitcom star to dramatic actress, bringing her the first of her two Academy Awards. Director Martin Ritt came across Sutton’s story in a The New York Times article by Henry P. Leifermann but even with the support of Twentieth Century-Fox, the budget was so low he could not afford to pay box-office stars like Faye Dunaway or Jane Fonda. Fortunately, he remembered being impressed by Field at an anti-nuclear weapons rally and took a chance on her. He then had to fight to find a location: he wanted to shoot in Georgia, but no factory there would let him do location work. He finally found a plant in Alabama, partly because of Governor George Wallace’s efforts to attract film production, and produced a stirring drama about labor that critics have compared favorably to The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

(d. Martin Ritt, 110m, Digital)

In Attendance: President Emeritus of Workers United, SEIU, Bruce Raynor.