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70 word discussion(answers to questions)Salt of the Earth discussion and video responseWhat made the movie so controversial ?How does the movie illustrate the Mexican American workers struggle?Should this movie be banned? (it was the 1st movie banned in the U.S.)How do you feel about the movie?Is the Mexican American worker the Salt of the Earth?
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Salt of the Earth
Basic background
Salt of the Earth
• Esperanza Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas) is a miner’s wife in Zinc Town,
New Mexico, a community which is essentially run and owned by
Delaware Zinc Inc. Esperanza is thirty-five years old, pregnant with her
third child and emotionally dominated by her husband, Ramon Quintero
(Juan Chacón).
• The majority of the miners are Mexican-Americans and want decent
working conditions equal to those of white, or “Anglo” miners. The
unionized workers go on strike, but the company refuses to negotiate
and the impasse continues for months. Esperanza gives birth and,
simultaneously, Ramon is jailed for assaulting a union worker who
betrayed his fellows. When Ramon is released, Esperanza tells him that
he’s no good to her in jail. He counters that if the strike succeeds they
will not only get better conditions right now but also win hope for their
children’s futures.
• The company presents a Taft- Hartley Act injunction to the union,
meaning any miners who picket will be arrested. Taking advantage of a
loophole, the wives picket in their husbands’ places. Some men dislike
this, seeing it as improper and dangerous. Esperanza is forbidden to
picket by Ramon at first, but she eventually joins the line while carrying
her baby.
• The sheriff, by company orders, arrests the leading women of the strike.
Esperanza is among those taken to jail. When she returns home, Ramon
tells her the strike is hopeless, as the company will easily outlast the
miners. She insists that the union is stronger than ever and asks Ramon
why he can’t accept her as an equal in their marriage. Both angry, they
sleep separately that night.
• The next day the company evicts the Quintero family from their house.
The union men and women arrive to protest the eviction. Ramon tells
Esperanza that they can all fight together. The mass of workers and
their families proves successful in saving the Quinteros’ home. The
company admits defeat and plans to negotiate. Esperanza believes that
the community has won something no company can ever take away and
it will be inherited by her children.
• The film was called subversive and blacklisted because the International Union
of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers sponsored it and many blacklisted
Hollywood professionals helped produce it. The union had been expelled from
the CIO in 1950 for its alleged communist-dominated leadership.
• Director Herbert Biberman was one of the Hollywood screenwriters and
directors who refused to answer the House Committee on Un-American
Activities on questions of CPUSA affiliation in 1947. The Hollywood Ten were
cited and convicted for contempt of Congress and jailed. Biberman was
imprisoned in the Federal Correctional Institution at Texarkana for six months.
After his release he directed this film. Other participants who made the film
and were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios include: Paul Jarrico, Will Geer,
Rosaura Revueltas, and Michael Wilson.
• The producers cast only five professional actors. The rest were locals from
Grant County, New Mexico, or members of the International Union of Mine,
Mill and Smelter Workers, Local 890, many of whom were part of the strike that
inspired the plot. Juan Chacón, for example, was a real-life Union Local
president. In the film he plays the protagonist, who has trouble dealing with
women as equals. The director was reluctant to cast him at first, thinking he
was too “gentle,” but both Revueltas and his sister-in-law, Sonja Dahl Biberman,
wife of Biberman’s brother Edward, urged him to cast Chacón as Ramon.
• The film was denounced by the United States House of
Representatives for its communist sympathies, and
the FBI investigated the film’s financing. The American
Legion called for a nationwide boycott of the film. Filmprocessing labs were told not to work on Salt of the Earth and
unionized projectionists were instructed not to show it. After its
opening night in New York City, the film languished for 10 years
because all but 12 theaters in the country refused to screen it.
• By one journalist’s account: “During the course of production
in New Mexico in 1953, the trade press denounced it as a
subversive plot, anti-Communist vigilantes fired rifle shots at
the set, the film’s leading lady Rosaura Revueltas was deported
to Mexico, and from time to time a small airplane buzzed noisily
overhead … The film, edited in secret, was stored for
safekeeping in an anonymous wooden shack in Los Angeles.”
Critical response
• The Hollywood establishment did not embrace the film at the time of its release,
when McCarthyism was in full force. The Hollywood Reporter charged at the time
that it was made “under direct orders of the Kremlin.”[
• Pauline Kael, who reviewed the film for Sight and Sound in 1954, panned it as a
simplistic left-wing “morality play” and said it was “as clear a piece of
Communist propaganda as we have had in many years.”
• New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther reviewed the picture favorably, both
the screenplay and the direction, writing: “In the light of this agitated history, it is
somewhat surprising to find that Salt of the Earth is, in substance, simply 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 stern and
bitter conflict within the membership of the union. It is the issue of whether the
women shall have equality of expression and of strike participation with the men.
And it is along this line of contention that Michael Wilson’s tautly muscled script
develops considerable personal drama, raw emotion and power.” Crowther called
the film “a calculated social document.”
• The film found a wide audience in both Western and Eastern Europe in the 1950s.
• The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the
film a positive review, based on eleven reviews.[
• The story of the film’s suppression, as well as the events it depicted, inspired
an underground audience of unionists, leftists, feminists, Mexican-Americans,
and film historians. The film found a new life in the 1960s and gradually
reached wider audiences through union halls, women’s centers, and film
schools. The 50th anniversary of the film saw a number of commemorative
conferences held across the United States.
• The “Salt of the Earth Labor College” located in Tucson, Arizona is named after
the film. The pro-labor institution (not a college, per se) holds various lectures
and forums related to unionism and economic justice. The film is screened on a
frequent basis.
• Around 1993, Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor and
political commentator Noam Chomsky praised the film because of the way
people were portrayed doing the real work of unions. He said, “[T]he real work
is being done by people who are not known, that’s always been true in every
popular movement in history…I don’t know how you get that across in a film.
Actually, come to think of it, there are some films that have done it. I mean, I
don’t see a lot of visual stuff, so I’m not the best commentator, but I
thought Salt of the Earth really did it. It was a long time ago, but at the time I
thought that it was one of the really great movies—and of course it was killed, I
think it was almost never shown

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