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March 10: The Salt of the Earth

March 10, 2015

1954posterHerbert Biberman’s film, The Salt of the Earth, opened on this date in 1954. Biberman (1900-1971) was one of the “Hollywood Ten,” a group of leftwing directors and screenwriters blacklisted and jailed (Biberman for six months) for contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions posed by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities in 1947. Salt of the Earth, which he directed, told the story of a long miners’ strike, modeled on a 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico. Actual miners and their families were cast in the movie, along with five professional actors. The film’s strongly feminist, anti-racist, and class-conscious perspective on labor struggle got it blacklisted in Hollywood, investigated by the FBI, boycotted by the American Legion, and declined by distributors and movie projectionists. After its opening night in New York, only twelve theaters, nationwide, agreed to show it. But the film became popular in progressive circles in the 1960s and found its way into the archive of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1992, it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. You can see the entire movie by looking below.

“[A] strong pro-labor film with a particularly sympathetic interest in the Mexican-Americans with whom it deals... But the real dramatic crux of the picture is the... issue of whether the women shall have equality of expression and of strike participation with the men.” —Bosley Crowther, New York Times