1954 March 14

“Salt of the Earth” Film Released, Widely Banned for Left-Wing Perspective


Salt of the Earth, a film about striking zinc miners in New Mexico, which was based on a real strike in 1951, was released on this day. Because of its left-wing perspective on the struggles of the miners, and the participation of left-wing activists, it was widely banned in the U.S. It won a wide audience in Europe and other parts of the world, however.

The film was produced by Paul Jarrico, written by Michael Wilson, and directed by Herbert J. Biberman, all of whom had been blacklisted by the Hollywood film industry for their left-wing views and refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Biberman had been one of the Hollywood Ten, who refused to testify before HUAC in stormy hearings in 1947. Along with the others, he was convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison.

The cast of Salt of the Earth included only five professional actors. Other cast members included local residents of Grant County, New Mexico or members of the International Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The union had been expelled from the CIO in 1950 (along with ten other unions) because of its alleged pro-Communist leadership.

The American Legion called for a boycott of the film, the FBI investigated its finances, and the House of Representatives denounced the film. The leading lady, Rosaura Revueltas, was deported after the film’s release.

Because of the active participation of women in the strike, as portrayed in the film, many critics regard Salt of the Earth as an early feminist film.

Screenwriter Michael Wilson moved to England because of the blacklist and continued to work uncredited on several Americans films. In the midst of a publicized controversy, his name was removed from the credits of the highly praised Friendly Persuasion (February 24, 1957). Most famously, he was the uncredited co-screenwriter of the acclaimed Bridge Over the River Kwai, which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1957.

As the Cold War faded, the film achieved steadily growing recognition. In 1992 the Library of Congress, for example, added it to its National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Learn more: Herbert J. Biberman, Salt of the Earth: The Story of a Film (originally 1965; reissued 2004)

And more: James J. Lorence, The Suppression of Salt of the Earth. How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America, (1999)

Still more:  Michael Freedland, with Barbara Paskin, Witch-Hunt in Hollywood: McCarthyism’s War on Tinseltown  (2009)

And even more: Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–1960 (1980)

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