Movie Review: Salt of The Earth (1954)
Herbert Biberman directs this film, and it stars Rosaura Revueltas, Juan Chacon, Will Geer, Henrietta Williams, Clinton Jenks, Joe T. Morales, and Clorinda Alderette.
This movie is based on real events of zinc miners strike based in New Mexico and focuses on the Quintero family. Ramon Quintero (Juan Chacon) is a miner, who organizes a strike seeking better working conditions and equal pay. Esperanza (Rosaura Revueltas), Ramon’s wife, finds herself in a tough position trying to raise their kids while living with the little income they receive. The strike is soon ordered (by the court) to stop or face the consequences.
As many may know, I’m currently working on my Film and Media Studies degree, and this was a film I had to watch. This is the first movie in film history to have Mexican Americans as protagonists having their struggles portrayed in a film. This film must be seen not only because it has Mexican Americans in it, but because its overall story is remarkable and deserves to be known. This movie was independently made, and it addresses many non-traditional themes and issues. It was made with professional and non-professional actors (the leads) and showcased the discrimination Mexican Americans faced (not only racially but gender-wise too). The film industry and many major studios did everything possible to stop the production, distribution, and exhibition of this movie. Immigration officials harassed the lead actress, Rosaura Revueltas, and deported her before the movie finished filming. The close-ups of her at the end of the film were shot in Mexico. This film wasn’t well-received since it was considered communist propaganda because the majority of the filmmakers behind this film were blacklisted. I’d like to inform, anyone who wants to watch this film, that it’s available in its entirety on YouTube and also on Amazon Prime.
I usually don’t do spoilers reviews, but this will be the exception. So here is your last warning there will be spoilers in this review.
I went into this film without reading the synopsis and knowing that it was controversial due to its blacklisted filmmakers. I love this movie! I was expecting a movie about Mexican American miners protesting for better working conditions and better pay, but this film exceeded my expectations! This movie starts with Esperanza (7 months pregnant) being concerned for her family. Her frustration is such that in a moment of desperation, she prays to the Virgin Mary for her unborn child to be born dead. Ramon soon comes home, also concerned and frustrated with the situation, and takes his frustration out on Esperanza accusing her of being selfish. Esperanza replies, “I have to think of myself because you don’t,” which made me smile. Ramon goes to have a few drinks with his co-workers after a hard day at work. They all speak of a possible strike and discuss the pros and cons of doing so. Ironically Ramon is tired of the mistreatment at work, yet he goes home and treats his wife similarly unfair. It’s well known that women in those days had only one purpose; to create and take care of their family. I wasn’t expecting this movie to be as feminist as it is, but boy was I pleasantly surprised while it was unfolding. The miners’ wives begin to discuss possibly voicing, to the union, their concerns over sanitary conditions. Esperanza only silently agrees as she is well aware that being vocal won’t go well with Ramon. A miner is severely injured after an accident occurs, which leads to the strike.
The mineworkers are at the picket line, and the wives go out to support them by taking them food and such. The injunction will force the men to stop protesting; otherwise, they will have to suffer the consequences. One of the wives of the miners reads the order carefully and notices that the rule states “men” and says nothing about women. The women begin speaking up their demands to stop the strike and also seek to have a vote in the union. Now the women are at the picket line, and the men are on the side, just looking. Eventually, the men would take over the house chores and parenting. This part of the film is when I completely fell in love with it. The men have to do the laundry and cook for the family, and they experience first hand why the women are demanding for sanitation and commodity. The mine owners and police officers are now faced with a new dilemma; they arrest some of the women, particularly the wives of the men leading the strike. Esperanza gets arrested carrying her newborn baby and youngest child. The women detained continue to protest (within the cell) as they’re all placed in the same cell and have no bed, food, and no moving space. The women are released and begin to have their meetings to discuss what to do next.
Ramon continues to disagree with the women being involved and argues with Esperanza. He nearly hits her and stops himself after seeing Esperanza strong and fearless. Mine owners and police officers resort to evicting the Quintero family, as their last resort, but the community gets together preventing eviction. I loved that the film ends with this scene sending the message of unity and working together towards the same goal will end with a positive result (majority of the time). This film isn’t only about a minority group asking for better wages and humane working conditions; it’s also about family being able to function with the gender roles reversed.
Please feel free to DM me on any social media platform (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @Rosasreviews) if you’d like to discuss this film further or if you’d like to give any constructive feedback on this review.