by Jennifer McKenna
Norma Rae is a 1979 film starring Sally Fields in the eponymous role. Norma Rae is a wife, a mother, and an employee of the O.J. Henley textile plant. The factory has been a part of the community for years; most families seem to have someone who works there. Norma Rae seems somewhat restless within the roles she plays. She seems especially frustrated with the working conditions at the mill and the toll taken on the workers there. It's little wonder that when union organizer Reuben Warshovsky shows up the two of them connect. Warshvsky's message and methods are both vehemently opposed by Norma Rae's controlling father. Norma Rae's relationship with Reuben is a source of conflict between Norma Rae and her husband, Sonny. Though the management at the mill opposes the unionization, even throwing Norma Rae into jail, the workers are eventually won over and vote to unionize. What I found most interesting about this film is that is based on a true story about a worker named Crystal Lee Sutton.
This film portrays gender issues very realistically. It portrays a lot of the sexism and racism one might expect in a Southern town in the 1970's. Norma Rae's father is very dominant, particularly at the beginning of the movie when she and her two children are living with him. Norma Rae's relationship with Warshovsky is repeatedly called into question. It's hard for people to believe that it's appropriate. When the union sends down some officials to speak to Warshovsky, they express some qualms about how her reputation of promiscuity, her illegitimate child, and the relationship she has with him will affect the union's credibility. Her husband is uncomfortable with his wife being as close as she is to another man, but they do seem to work past that at the end.
I would consider this film to be feminist. Norma Rae is courageous and forward-thinking. She tells her children that she is fighting so that, if they ever end up working at the same factory, things will be better for them. She does not back down from the challenge and fights for the rights of everyone at the mill, male and female, black and white.
I enjoyed the film. I'd heard of it before, but had never seen it. I think it was very inspiring -- sometimes one voice can change things. It was very exciting to see the character go from seeming disenchanted with the world to feeling that she had the power and the responsibility to change it.