VPAM screens previously banned film ‘Salt of the Earth’

WOMEN UNITED—The wives of the mine workers stand together in the picket line after a court order forbids their husbands from picketing. Courtesy of independent productions corporation

By Luis Castilla

The Vincent Price Art Museum held a film screening for the radical film, “Salt of the Earth” Thursday.

“Salt of the Earth” was previously banned in the United States for its communist symbolism of worker unity and feminist ideals.

The film centers around Esperanza Quintero, played by Rosaura Revuelta, and her husband Ramon, played by Juan Chacón,  a Mexican-American couple who live in a mining town in New Mexico with their two children. Ramon is a mine worker who is fed up with the poor conditions he and his co-workers are forced to work in.

One day, a miner is injured in an explosion, catalyzing a lengthy and difficult strike against Delaware Zinc Inc. by Ramon and the rest of the miners’ union.The plot is based on the real-life 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico.

Throughout the strike, the police tried numerous times to break the will of the miners.

At one point, a miner named Sebastian betrays the union, angering Ramon, who spits in Sebastian’s face. Ramon is then arrested and stabbed in the gut by two police officers in the back of their car.

Meanwhile, Esperanza, who was pregnant at the time, is forced to give birth at the site of the picket line because the police will not allow her to call an ambulance.

The miners’ union is given a court order forcing all miners them to stop their strike or face heavy fines and jail time.

The miners’ wives continue the strike, as they are not miners and do not need to comply to the court order.

The film ends with a scene in which the Quinteros’ family is being evicted by the court. Hundreds of townspeople who support the strike immediately head to the Quinteros’ home, intimidating the three men who are evicting Esperanza and Ramon. “Together, we can push everything up with us as we go,” said Ramon.

The name of the film is explained in the last seconds of the film. Esperanza says that because of the efforts of the union,  their actions will lead to a better future for her children, who she calls the salt of the earth.

“Salt of the Earth” was released in 1954 during the Red Scare, which was the fear of communism that blanketed the United States in the 1950s.

The film’s writer, Michael Wilson and director, Herbert Biberman and producer Paul Jarrico were all blacklisted for their involvement in the film.

Biberman was one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of 10 Hollywood filmmakers that were blacklisted after accusations of being communists by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1943.

The House Un-American Activities Committee was an investigative committee formed in 1938 dedicated to weeding out individuals who may be associated with the communist party. Those who were accused of being communists were heavily scrutinized and often blacklisted.

After the film was released, everyone involved with its production was barred and the lead actress, Revueltas, was deported because of a supposed issue with her passport, said VPAM director Pilar Tompkins Rivas.

The film screening was hosted as part of VPAM’s exhibit, Regeneración: Three Generations of Revolutionary Ideology.

Francisca Flores, who founded the Regeneración newspaper in 1970 and was also targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee because of her radical ideologies, kept a copy of “Salt of the Earth” in a safe and would hold clandestine screenings for women, said Rivas.

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