Salt of the Earth (1954) is based on the real-life 1951 strike that Mexican-American mine workers in Grant County, New Mexico held against Empire Zinc (called “Delaware Zinc” in the film), the company that owned the mine where they worked. The filmmakers cast many real local miners and their families (only five in the cast were professional actors) who had been involved in the actual strike to cast the film. The miners were striking for fair wages (i.e., equal to those of their fellow Anglo, or white, workers) and better health and safety.
Filmed in the heart of the Red Scare and the McCarthy Era, 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 nation-wide boycott of the film: film-processing labs were told not to work on it and unionized projectionists were instructed not to show it. After its opening night in New York City, all but 12 theaters in the country refused to screen it. During filming, anti-Communist vigilantes fired rifle shots at the set and Rosaura Revueltas was deported to Mexico in an attempt to disrupt filming. Many years later, the film found a new life and an appreciative audience in the 1960s and gradually reached wider viewership through screenings held at union halls, women’s centers, and film schools. It is still often shown today.
Homework: Watch the film for Monday’s class and consider the discussion questions on your handout.
SALT OF THE EARTH