"Salt of the Earth" portrays the story of the Empire Zinc Mine strike in 1951. Directed by Herbert Biberman ("Meet Nero Wolfe"), Produced by Paul Jarrico ("Tom, Dick and Harry") and written by Michael Wilson ("Lawrence of Arabia," "Planet of the Apes") the film employed a handful of professional actors, but mostly utilized mine workers and their families who were involved in the actual strike.
In New Mexico (where the strike originally took place) a largely Hispanic union is trying to achieve wage parity and improve working and living conditions for the laborers who live in poverty. This results in a strike by the men, yet the men are ultimately beaten and broken. Interestingly, the women fight for the right to carry on the strike (and do so), resulting in a film that not only made bold statements about labor relations for the time, but also was one of the first films to portray a feminist social and political viewpoint.
During filming, threats of vigilante violence against the production were common. The US House of Representatives denounced the film, the FBI investigated its production, and The American Legion called for a nationwide boycott of it. Post-production facilities were told not to work on it (creating a massive delay and headache in finishing it and forced the film to be edited in secret locations), and theaters and projectionists were instructed not to screen it. When initially released, only a dozen theaters in the US would run it. Through the 1960s and beyond, "Salt of the Earth" gained a following via college campuses, labor activists, Mexican Americans, film historians and professors, First Amendment advocates, and feminists.
"H'wood Reds are shooting a feature-length anti-American racial propaganda movie at Silver City..." - Hollywood Reporter, ca. 1953
"Completely un-American propaganda." - Screen Actors Guild statement on "Salt of the Earth," 1953.
"As clear a piece of Communist propaganda as we have had for many years... extremely shrewd propaganda for the urgent business of the U.S.S.R." - Pauline Kael, Sight & Sound. 1954
"A good, highly dramatic and emotion-charged piece of work that tells its story straight. It is, however, a propaganda picture which belongs in union halls rather than theatres." - Variety, Dec 31, 1953
"In the light of this agitated history, it is somewhat surprising to find that 'Salt of the Earth' is, in substance, simply a strong pro-labor film with a particularly sympathetic interest in the Mexican-Americans with whom it deals.." - New York Times, 1954