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The Movie “Norma Rae” by Martin Ritt Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Feb 2nd, 2022

The movie “Norma Rae” by Martin Ritt can be acclaimed as one of the most successful dramas released in 1979. This is no wonder as the film features outstanding play by actors, an interesting and thought-provoking layout, and good quality of its accomplishment. “Norma Rae” won two Academy Awards and was also nominated in the other categories. Overall, the film appears to be a great piece of film-making art representing the themes of tackling ethical issues at work and striving for the triumph of democracy within a collective body of workers.

What is the plot of the movie? What is the original release date of the film?

The film “Norma Rae” relates the story of a woman who can be called a modern-day heroine. Initially, Norma Rae is shown as a modest worker in the mill with a small salary, and little or no chances in her life. Just as the other workers of the mill, Norma suffers from terrible working conditions created by the employer. The woman has no choice, but to suffer just as so many of her fellow workers. The mill is the only opportunity for her to be employed and get a small salary that would help her provide for the family. The luxury of quitting this dangerous job and finding a better place is not available for Norma and hundreds of the other workers. However, one day Norma becomes inspired by the ideas of Reuben. Reuben is a union organizer from New York who encourages workers to fight for their rights and do not permit the rich owners of the company where they work to oppress and tyrannize them. Norma begins to think that she is strong enough to help her fellow workers and herself to organize a working unit in the mill to fight for their right to safety and security at work. After many sleepless nights and hard battles, Norma manages to succeed. She creates the union of workers. Thus, the hope for a better future appears. However, great achievements are still ahead because the woman has to spend the next ten years in her strife for better working conditions. All these years, she, her companion Reuben and the other employees of the mill live with their hopes to affect the mill’s owner and make him create new working conditions in the mill. Eventually, they succeed.

The main idea of the film’s plot is in showing that combined efforts of oppressed people will certainly help them improve their situation for the better. The film shows that people of strong will like Norma Rae can achieve mind-blowing results if they are devoted to the ideas of liberation and democracy. Norma Rae is shown as an example of a person having outstandingly strong character and unshakable faith in the possibility of good future. Her way of thinking is something that modern-day human rights activists including women rights activists should study and try to cultivate in their minds and hearts.

The film’s original release date is March 2, 1979. This period in the history of the United States is especially characterized by the activity of the feminist movements and human rights defenders. Thus, “Norma Rae” can be descried as a well-timed address to the matters critically important in American society those days. In addition, speaking about the historical context of the film under consideration, it should be stated that the events described in it have their reflection in the real historical developments. The film’s story is a story of a real woman Crystal Lee Sutton. This courageous woman became the symbol of free spirit and strong will enabling common people of modest origin to have enough strength to fearlessly fight with the high and mighties for their rights and freedoms. The data in the film is presented thoroughly, carefully and veraciously enabling the audience to have a deep understanding of what actually occurred during those days.

What are the major ethical issues/dilemmas in this story?

The major ethical issues shown in “Norma Rae” are the unwillingness by the mill’s owners to improve the working conditions for their employees, and their desire to punish those who struggle for their own rights using legal means. The workers of the mill must suffer terrible noise which goes on without an end, long hours of work, having no breaks of sufficient duration, abnormally high temperatures, physical and psychological stress, inhumane attitude of the mill’s management. Working in such conditions, people soon developed serious health problems. They went to the mill doctor but could not find any help there because the doctor was a part of a scheme by the mill’s owners and top managers.

Such way of thinking by the mill’s owners is outrageous because they act against human rights and freedoms, and against the federal law as well. Their thirst for riches and egoism make them think only about themselves and their welfare. The ideas promoted by the owners of the mill are inhumane; they reject all the good foundations that made the progress of humanity possible. In addition, the film addresses the ethical issues connected to the interaction between the mill’s management and the workers including unfair labor practices, and the violation of the unionization process.

Who are the stakeholders that are affected by these issues/dilemmas?

The stakeholders that are affected by the above-mentioned moral issues are the owners of the mill who are bad players in this conflict, the top management of the mill, and the workers of the mill who are the victims in the conflict.

Who is responsible for resolving the ethical issues/dilemmas in the story?

Of course, the resolving of the ethical issues in the story should be done by the mill owners themselves and the top management of the mill responsible to them as these people are guilty in all the problems that their employees have. The mill’s owners are informed about all the sadness of the real state of affairs in the mill, but they are unwilling to exercise their authority for the good of their working personnel. Thus, the other people should occupy their position in this story.

Norma Rae becomes one of the honest-hearted people who want to help others. She assists her fellow-employees and in fighting against the despotism of the mill owners. Along with her faithful partner Reuben, she organizes a movement at the mill aiming to create a working union that will help the mill’s employees protect their rights and have a hope for a better future. Norma’s example inspires the other people in the mill to take the position of responsibility for resolving the moral dilemmas existing in the mill, and they join her.

How did the responsible individuals resolve the issues/dilemmas?

The responsible individuals put a lot of efforts into defending their interests and resolving the ethical issues that they are faced with. Initially, they join into a working union that will have them protect their rights legally. This was a very difficult project because the mill’s employees were constantly stopped by the top managers. Eventually, the union was created. However, though it was the main step on their way to the victory, this step was only the first step.

For ten years Norma and her companions strived to approach the mill’s owner to force him to improve the working conditions. After these long years, the coalition from the working union headed by Norma Rae managed to meet the mill’s owner, and made him sign up the documents regulating the conditions in the mill. All these long years, Norma and her fellow-workers lived with their hopes in mind and heart, but they managed to realize their American dream.

What recommendations would you make to produce a better/more effective resolution of the ethical issues/dilemmas?

Evaluating the efforts made by the defenders of ethical standards, and their achievements, I should say that they are considerable. Thus, it is not easy to offer my piece of advice about producing a better resolution of the ethical dilemmas shown in the movie. Actually, Norma, Reuben, and the other leaders of the working union did their best and managed to achieve mind-blowing results.

Reflecting on Norma’s actions, I can only add that the other effective idea that she could utilize was in attracting the government to the problem. She could write to the representatives of authority with a petition of interfering into the situation and punishing those people who are guilty in inhumane practices that took place in the mill.

The other good idea to utilize in such a situation is to attract the mass media to the problem. The journalists may make a running commentary in the news about the situation in the mill, and the terrible facts of violating basic human right for safety at work. The journalists should show that employees had to suffer unbearable sufferings at work for long hours that is banned by the law. In addition, interviews with the employees who developed health problems can be shown along with the medical tests proving the facts of acquiring terrible diseases at work. Besides, the interviews with medical doctors testing the patients from the mill may be shown. Thus, the wide public will learn about the terrible facts of violating basic human rights. Such resonance of the case will force the top managers and the owner of the mill to change their policies to avoid the punishment form the government and public disapproval that may affect the opinion of the mill’s clients, and may cause them choose the other team to make business with.

Besides, the employees of the mill may engage in picketing local or federal buildings of the government, and may organize actions of protest in which they may block federal roads or railways. Again, picketing attracts the attention of the wide public to the problem which inevitably causes the pressure on the mill’s owner. The actions of protesters will be seen as an obstacle of a normal work of the government, and the functioning of the state communication systems. Thus, the situation will be created that will require urgent development and implementation of measures that would stop it. Thus, the mill’s employees will find a way to defend their interests and achieve the results they wanted.


In conclusion, it should be stated that the film “Norma Rae” can be mentioned among the most successful drama films of 1979. The film relates the themes of tackling ethical issues at work, and striving for the triumph of democracy by a collective body of workers. “Norma Rae” impresses greatly and can be evaluated as very engaging; it is mainly explained by the team of professionals busy in it; especially, the director’s cut and the incredible play by its cast including inimitable Sally Filed and Beau Bridges. Besides, the value of the film is also supported by the fact that it was made on the basis if real events that took place in the United Sates in the beginning of the 1970s. Reflecting on the film’s value, it appears that this drama can be marked as a strong address to a number of critical issues such as injustice, the abuse of power, the violation of democratic standards and norms, and exploitation which are timely during the period when the film was shot and even nowadays. This film impels thinking about such important questions as what is to be done in order to stop inhumane practices by business owners who oppress their employees and make them work in conditions that are dangerous for their lives. The film also encourages meditating about the examples of outstanding people such as Norma Rae who managed to succeed in their strife for good against all odds.

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