“Erin Brockovich” “ (2000) Starring Julia Roberts, this is the true story of a single mother who lands a clerical job in a law firm, then stumbles upon a giant power company’s systematic cover-up of how its toxic emissions poisoned a town’s water supply.
“ “Frozen River” “ (2008) The story of two seemingly different women, one white and middle aged, one Mohawk and young, who are struggling against the same problems — mainly poverty and the cold shoulder given to women and children by our society. Set on the Canadian border in the bitter cold of winter, somehow issues of racism, immigrant rights, the power of bosses, the problems of relationships between men and women and the love of mothers for children all come together not neatly, but perfectly.
“ “Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl” “ (1993) Produced by the American Social History Project, this documentary deals with the organizing struggles of women workers in the early 20th century and this country’s most notorious incident involving women workers, the horrific 1912 Triangle Shirt Waist factory fire in New York City.
“ “Iron Jawed Angels” “ (2004) This HBO movie starring Hillary Swank tells the story of two suffragists in their fight for the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
“ “Mother Jones: America’s Most Dangerous Woman” “ (2007) A gritty 23-minute documentary about the union organizer whom Upton Sinclair called the “living wrath of God” contains the only existing “live” footage of Mother Jones, showing her, on her deathbed, proclaiming: “You know I am considered a Bolshevik, and a red, and an IWW [International Workers of the World], and a radical, and I admit to being all they’ve charged me with. I’m anything that would change this moneyed civilization to a higher and grander civilization. …”
“ “My Brilliant Career” “ (1979) An Australian woman rejects an aristocratic marriage for an independent, hardworking life. Starring Judy Davis. Directed by Gillian Armstrong
“ “Norma Rae” “ (1979) Sally Field won an Academy Award for her starring role in this wonderful film as a minimum-wage cotton mill worker in the South who becomes a leader in organizing a union at her plant. Based on the real-life Crystal Lee Sutton who joined up with the Textile Workers Union to battle textile corporation J.P. Stevens.
“ “North Country” “ (2005) Starring Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson, a dramatic fictionalized account of the first successful sexual harassment class action lawsuit in the U.S. — Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a group of women stood up to abuse and won, at great cost to themselves. Based on the excellent book “Class Action,” by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler.
“Pride and Prejudice” (2005) British film version of Jane Austen’s novel of gender, class and love in 1800s England. Enjoyable to watch Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet with Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy.
“ “Ruby in Paradise” “ (1993): A young woman tries to find a living and a new life in a Florida tourist town. Starring Ashley Judd. Directed by Victor Nunez.
“ “Rosa Luxemburg” “ (1987) This German biographical film, with English subtitles, is very much worth seeing.
“ “Salt of the Earth” “ (1954) Women take center stage in this landmark film depicting a real-life strike by Mexican American workers against the Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico. Most of the cast were participants in the actual events, including Juan Chacon and Lorenzo and Anita Torrez, who became leaders of the Communist Party. As contemporary as ever today in its portrayal of the intertwined fight for the working class and women’s equality.
“ “The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter” “ (1980) Documentary about women in the workforce during World War II.
“ “The Rebel Girl” “ (1993) Short documentary on Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the legendary labor organizer and Communist Party leader, produced by the University of California.
“ “Trouble the Water” “ (2008) Kimberly Roberts, an aspiring rap artist, armed with a video camera during one of the world’s most historic moments, documents the terror of Hurricane Katrina from the front row of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. Not only does she record the frightening onslaught that destroyed so many homes and ended so many lives, but in the process she displays her courage and humanism: warning people of the danger, dragging people to safety, and finding shelter for victims while writing rap songs and filming the whole thing.
“ “Union Maids” “ (1976) A very valuable documentary about three women union activists of the 1930s. It is not stated in the film that all three were Communists, including Sylvia Woods, who remained a lifelong party activist.
The James Agee Cinema Circle Progie Awards have a category for women: La Passionaria Award for the most positive female images in a movie, and in light of the historically demeaning portrayal of women in movies. 2009 nominees were: “ “Changeling,” “Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Trouble The Water,” “Nothing But The Truth,” “ and the winner “Frozen River.”
Other films this year that contain strong women roles are “Wendy and Lucy” and “The Garden.” And don’t forget these from past years: “Silkwood,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Under the Tuscan Sun,” and “Dogma.”
— Teresa Albano, D.L. Lecano, Beatrice Lumpkin, Norman Markowitz, Bill Meyer, Elena Mora, Rosemarie Rieger, Gail Ryall, Sue Smorodin, Susan Webb