Co-presented by Cine Las Americas
Written by Michael Wilson
Cast includes Will Geer, David Wolfe, Rosaura Revueltas, and Juan Chacón
USA, 1954, Black and White, DVD courtesy of Organa, 94 min.
Banned for a decade from American screens, this unique narrative film chronicles the struggles of striking Mexican-American mining families in New Mexico.
In 1951 Mexican American miners and a few Anglo allies went on strike for safer working conditions and for equal pay for equal work at the Empire Zinc Mine & Mill in Grant County, New Mexico. As the strike dragged on, the miners’ wives took over the picket lines to avoid the injunctions allowed under the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act. The women had their own list of demands – primarily better sanitation and health care, as well as respect and equality in the homes. While the women walked the picket line, the men learned a lot about housekeeping and childcare. Together, husbands, wives, and children suffered from many months of food rationing, evictions, police brutality, trumped up jail sentences, poor health, strained home life, and struggles with non-union laborers. But through persistence and community strength, they finally wore down the bosses and won their demands.
This inspiring true story became the basis for the film SALT OF THE EARTH. A group of progressive Hollywood professionals, blacklisted by film industry executives because of their stance before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, came together to make this independent narrative film on location in New Mexico. Drawing on both style and content from films of the Epoca de Oro (Golden Age) of Mexican cinema, as well as on the look and political views of Italian Neo-realism of the postwar era, SALT OF THE EARTH is like no other film being made in America during the ultra-conservative 1950s, a period of Cold War paranoia, fear, and socio-political repression. Joining together professional and non-professional actors – many of the latter from among the mining families – this necessarily didactic film dealt with real issues of labor inequalities and discrimination based on ethnicity and gender. Fifteen years before the second wave of feminism, SALT OF THE EARTH depicted valiant, unbending women fighting for their rights. This film could have had a major impact on American life – had it been seen. But after exhibition only a few times and places in the U.S. upon its completion, the film was condemned by the US House of Representatives, harassed by FBI investigations, boycotted by the American Legion, and effectively banned from American screens for a decade. With the rising socio-political movements of the 1960s, SALT OF THE EARTH was rediscovered and finally recognized as a landmark film in the on-going struggle for civil and human rights. In 1992 this remarkable film was selected for inclusion in the prestigious National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It had come a long way from being banned from American movie screens.