Finding one's voice can make a difference.
The ladies lead out when a textile mill is finally brought to a stop in the pro-union movie Norma Rae. Released in 1979, the film garnered a Best Actress Oscar for Sally Field, who plays the title character, as well as a nomination for Best Picture.
Norma Rae has a reputation in the small Southern community where she works in the factory by day and spends many of her evenings keeping the men in town happy. She sees herself as a “no one” with nothing to look forward to but more days in the stifling heat of the noisy, dirty factory.
Then a fast-talking, New York union organizer named Reuben Warshowsky (Ron Liebmana) shows up in town. He is hell-bent on pressuring the locals into forming a labor alliance. Unfortunately unions are about as popular in this rural village as Communists are.
Not to be deterred, he begins handing out flyers with a call for action. Still, most of the workers and mill owners are suspicious of Reuben and his big city ideals. Many are worried about putting their jobs on the line in favor of change. Norma Rae however is inspired by his rousing speech in a local hall. She has seen what the grueling labor has done to her parents (Pat Hingle, Barbara Baxley) and friends. She finally agrees to work along side Rueben to convince people to vote for a union.
Inevitably, her endless hours in Rueben’s office/hotel room impacts her family life. Neglecting her new husband Sonny (Beau Bridges) and their children, her cause puts pressure on their relationship especially as she begins to experience feelings for Rueben. And although Norma Rae’s efforts to unionize turn many of her friends and coworkers against her, she begins to see herself as someone with a voice.
Whether or not you are a supporter of unions, this film, based on the true life of Crystal Lee Sutton, is an inspiring story of standing up against the odds. Unfortunately the film has frequent crude sexual dialogue and implied depictions of sexual activity that may be disappointing for family viewers. The script also contains frequent mild and moderate profanities and some scenes of drinking that lead to inebriation.
While the crux of the plot is the formation of a union, it is the people that move the story along. None of them are perfect. Yet the characters are much more than the poor, uneducated factory workers they appear to be. Their lives are shaped by a lack of opportunity and vision that keeps them mired in a barely sustainable lifestyle. Only as Norma Rae catches a glimpse of what could be does she become a type of Moses that leads her people to freedom.