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Norma Rae is a southern textile worker employed in a factory with intolerable working conditions. This concern about the situation gives her the gumption to be the key associate to a visiting labor union organizer. Together, they undertake the difficult, and possibly dangerous, struggle to unionize her factory.
Norma Rae is a 1979 American drama film about a factory worker from a small town in North Carolina who becomes involved in the labor union activities at the textile factory where she works after the health of her and her co-workers is compromised. The film stars Sally Field in the title role, Beau Bridges as Norma Rae’s husband, Sonny, and Ron Leibman as union organizer Reuben Warshowsky.
The movie was written by Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch, and was directed by Martin Ritt. It is based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, which was told in the 1975 book Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance by New York Times reporter Henry P. Leifermann.
Sally Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal as Norma Rae Webster. Norma Rae won a total of two awards, plus six other nominations. The film was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2011.
About the Story
Norma Rae Webster is a minimum-wage worker in a cotton mill that has taken too much of a toll on the health of her family for her to ignore their poor working conditions. After hearing a speech by a New York union organizer, Reuben Warshowsky, Norma Rae decides to join the effort to unionize her shop. This causes conflict at home when Norma Rae’s husband, Sonny, says she’s not spending enough time in the home.
Despite being pressured by management, when confronted, Norma Rae takes a piece of cardboard, writes the word “UNION” on it, stands on her work table, and slowly turns to show the sign around the room. One by one, the other workers stop their mill machines, and eventually, the entire room becomes silent. After all the machines have been switched off, Norma Rae is taken to jail but is freed by Reuben.
She then decides to talk to her children and tell them the story of her life. After discussing it with Reuben, Sonny tells Norma there’s no other woman in his mind and he will always remain with her. Norma Rae then successfully orchestrates an election to unionize the factory, resulting in a victory for the union. Finally, Reuben says goodbye to Norma; despite his being smitten with her throughout the movie, they only shake hands because he knows she is married and loves her husband, and Reuben heads back to New York.
Norma Rae (1979)
Directed by: Martin Ritt
Starring: Sally Field, Beau Bridges, Ron Leibman, Pat Hingle, Barbara Baxley, Gail Strickland, Morgan Paull, Robert Broyles
Screenplay by: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr.
Production Design by: Walter Scott Herndon
Cinematography by: John A. Alonzo
Film Editing by: Sidney Levin
Set Decoration by: Gregory Garrison
Art Direction by: Tracy Bousman
Music by: David Shire
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: March 2, 1979