Family National University Introduction For movie audiences of the 21st century, it is difficult to imagine that there were ever movies produced that the Congress of the United States would officially ban. Modern audiences have become accustomed to attitudes, language, and stories that are political, graphic, violent, and more than just a little bit avant garde. Obviously, such was not the case in the blacklisting days of the 1950s! “Salt of the Earth” violated every aspect of the white, middle-America, conservative mindset of 1954.
As a political statement, it demonstrated the inter-connection that exists between working class, feminist, environmental and Latino concerns, and yet it was denounced for its “communist overtones” and banned from the public until the late 1960s. It did receive a wide distribution throughout Europe where it was praised for the story, as well as the courage illustrated by its making. In fact, it won an award as the “Best Film Exhibited in France in 1955. ” In the ultimate vindication for the movie and its makers, it is orth noting that it in 1992 it became part of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Written by Michael Biberman and Michael Wilson, produced by Paul Jarico and directed by Herbert J. Biberman. Each of which had been “blacklisted” by Senator Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. Biberman was also one of the infamous “Hollywood 10. ” In fact, information included in the DVD release of the film explains that Biberman was arrested while filming the movie and had to give scene directions by letter and telephone while in prison.
The film barely got made once the powerful and conservative figures of Hollywood and Washington began attacking it. Members of the miners’ union received death threats from local vigilantes, who set fire to the union’s headquarters in Silver City, New Mexico, and the filmmakers were supposedly warned to “get out of town... or go out in black boxes. ” In addition, the makers of the movie were concerned that film technicians in development labs would try to destroy the footage as an act of anti-communism. As a result, the film stock had to be worked on in secret and smuggled into trusted development labs.
Another important aspect of the movie is that there are very few “real” actors in it. Instead, the filmmakers used the people of New Mexico who actually experienced the events portrayed. The film was also made in cooperation with the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The Actual Story The movie tells the story of a strike among Hispanic mine workers at the Empire Zinc Corporation in New Mexico. A Mexican American family finds itself in the middle of the bitterness caused by the strike.
Ramon and Esperanza Quintero (Juan Chacon and the Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas) have to deal with much more than a hostile work setting. They are also confronted by the painful realities of poverty and racism. The character of Esperanza has to also deal with the same unyielding gender roles and stereotypes as working class women of all races faced in the 1950s. Esperanza had to also face the fact that it was her own grandfather who once owned the mines, even though it had been taken over by greedy Americans determined to make a profit regardless of the human cost.
Tragically, Rosaura Revueltas was labeled as a communist, deported before the movie was even completed. And the filmmakers had to use a double for the remainder of the movie. She was repatriated and prohibited from working “in Hollywood” or her homeland again. Conditions in the mines are intolerable, and after a death occurs as the result of deliberately inadequate safety procedures, the workers go on a strike that stretches on for months.
When the “authorities” personified by the corrupt sheriff (played by Will Geer who was also blacklisted) try to break the strike by banning striker picketing, the local women step in and replace them with the “Ladies Auxiliary Strike Committee ”and added their demands to the mining company. The women stand up to the authorities governing the mine and its workers but they are also standing up to the patriarchy dominating their lives as rural, New Mexican housewives. An essential story within the story is the fact that even though the union connects workers’ rights with racial fairness, the men in the story do not xtend such issues of equality to “their” women. In fact, by the time a compromise solution was negotiated between the mine and the workers, the strain between the men and the women had built up as the strikers found they had to deal with women who started making their own decisions and acting on them. It had become a war on two fronts
And yet, the movie is also the story of a woman as surely as Sally Fields’ portrayal of “Norma Rae” was also the story of a woman coming to understand her own power. Esperanza is a relatively ubmissive housewife who, as the result of the events confronting her, is transformed into an activist, a woman equal to men, and someone with a voice, with the right to be heard, and with a powerful role. The Law of the Land Once again referring to the perspective of the 21st century, one has to wonder how such events could transpire. Obviously, the movie was made in a time in which even a discussion, much less a movie, of equal rights for women or immigrants was thought to be subversive. The laws enacted and taken advantage of in the film demonstrated how the government had evolved to assure that dissent could be contained.
For example, when the miners’ picket lines kept away “scab” laborers, the mining company and public authorities claimed that such picketing infringed on the Taft-Hartley Act and would result in significant and virtually un-payable fines with jail sentences if the debt was not paid. But the legislation applied solely to miners, not to their wives and girlfriends. The other laws that allowed for the events of the movie to take place were those in which McCarthyism-inspired restrictions were added to existing legislation related to espionage and treason.
Many of them were hastily drafted and approved but were then repealed or allowed to die quiet deaths without then repealed or allowed to die quiet deaths without enforcement. Rosaura Revueltas Prior to her role in “Salt of the Earth,” Rosaura Revueltas had had roles in the Mexican movies “Maria’s Island” and “Girls in Uniform” After having been labeled a communist “subversive” and her return to Mexico, she was also banned from acting there and did not acted again in Mexico in the mid-1970s.
Instead, she studied drama and wrote plays. From 1957 to 1960 she lived in Germany and worked with the noted playwright Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble. Later in life, she became a yoga and dance teacher in Cuernavaca (south of Mexico City) and wrote a book about her artistic family “The Revueltas” (her brothers included composer Silvestre, writer Jose, and painter Fermin). She died of lung cancer in 1996 at the age of 86.