Norma Rae

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Norma Rae
Norma rae ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Tamara Asseyev
Alex Rose
Written by Harriet Frank, Jr.
Irving Ravetch
Starring Sally Field
Beau Bridges
Ron Leibman
Music by David Shire
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Edited by Sidney Levin
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 2, 1979 (1979-03-02)[1]
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.5 million[2]
Box office $22,228,000[3]

Norma Rae is a 1979 American drama film about a factory worker from a small town in North Carolina who becomes involved in the labor union activities at the textile factory where she works after the health of her and her co-workers is compromised.[4] The film stars Sally Field in the title role, Beau Bridges as Norma Rae's husband, Sonny, and Ron Leibman as union organizer Reuben Warshowsky.

The movie was written by Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch, and was directed by Martin Ritt. It is based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton,[5][6] which was told in the 1975 book Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance by New York Times reporter Henry P. Leifermann.[7]

Sally Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal as Norma Rae Webster. Norma Rae also won an Oscar award for best song plus six other nominations.[1] The film was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2011.


Norma Rae Webster is a minimum-wage worker in a cotton mill that has taken too much of a toll on the health of her family for her to ignore their poor working conditions. After hearing a speech by a New York union organizer, Reuben Warshowsky, Norma Rae decides to join the effort to unionize her shop. This causes conflict at home when Norma Rae's husband, Sonny, says she's not spending enough time in the home.

Despite being pressured by management, when confronted, Norma Rae takes a piece of cardboard, writes the word "UNION" on it, stands on her work table, and slowly turns to show the sign around the room. One by one, the other workers stop their mill machines, and eventually, the entire room becomes silent. After all the machines have been switched off, Norma Rae is taken to jail but is freed by Reuben.

She then decides to talk to her children and tell them the story of her life. After discussing it with Reuben, Sonny tells Norma there's no other woman in his mind and he will always remain with her. Norma Rae then successfully orchestrates an election to unionize the factory, resulting in a victory for the union. Finally, Reuben says goodbye to Norma; despite his being smitten with her throughout the movie, they only shake hands because he knows she is married and loves her husband, and Reuben heads back to New York.


The story is based on Crystal Lee Sutton's life as a textile worker in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, where the battle for the workers' union took place against a J.P. Stevens Textiles mill. Her actual protest in the mill is the scene in the film where she writes the sign "UNION" and stands on her worktable until all machines are silent. Although Sutton was fired from her job, the mill was unionized, and she later went to work as an organizer for the textile union.[8]


Production notes[edit]

Norma Rae was filmed on location in Opelika, Alabama. The mill scenes were shot at the Opelika Manufacturing Corp., and the motel scenes were filmed at The Golden Cherry Motel.[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film Norma Rae won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Field) and Best Original Song (for David Shire and Norman Gimbel for "It Goes Like It Goes"). It was also nominated for Best Picture and for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. The film was also nominated to the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and Field was awarded Best Actress, in Cannes, for her performance.

In 2011, Norma Rae was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[10]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ a b See film's entry at
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p259
  3. ^ "Norma Rae, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Norma Rae". Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  5. ^ Obituary New York Times, September 15, 2009.
  6. ^ Obituary Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2009.
  7. ^ Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance, Henry P. Leifermann, Macmillan (1975), ISBN 0-02-570220-3.
  8. ^ Eric Leif Davin, "Crystal Lee," In These Times, March 5–18, 1980, pp. 16-17.
  9. ^ Rhodes, Guy (April 23, 2009). "When Norma Rae came to town". Retrieved June 2, 2013. 
  10. ^ "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 29, 2011. 
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  13. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 

External links[edit]