Communist Controversy over Film Salt of the Earth Essay

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Communist Controversy over Film Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth was released in 1954, during the anticommunist McCarthy era by a collection of blacklisted individuals, including screenwriter Michael Wilson, producer Paul Jarrico, and Hollywood 10 director Herbert J. Biberman. Salt is based on the Empire Zinc strike of Local 890 in Bayard County, New Mexico that took place from 1950-1952. In many ways, Salt of the Earth resembles the archetypal American dream by presenting the triumph of ordinary, working class Americans over the forces of discrimination, inequality, and injustice. Salt enjoyed widespread acclaim in Europe, and won prestigious awards in Czechoslovakia and France. Yet in the United States, its production encountered
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In addition, producer Paul Jarrico critiqued Kael's opinion as a "one dimensional charge of propagandist intent" that lacked a "historical approach” (Lorence 195). In order to better understand why Salt was deemed subversive it will be necessary to adopt the historical approach, which Kael’s criticisms lack. By doing so one will be able to understand that within the context of the McCarthy era, the themes of labor, minority and women’s rights were labeled as inherently communist.

There have been a variety of interpretations as to why HUAC and critics such as Kael interpreted Salt as, in the nature of things, communist and subversive. Some have suggested that the production's proximity to New Mexico indicated that Biberman, Wilson and Jarrico had direct orders from the Kremlin to build a secret Russian weapon (Boisson 47). Other less imaginative interpretations have simply noted that Salt is subversive and communist because blacklisted individuals produced the film. The complexity of the context and the question, however, demands a more thorough response.

In applying a historically nuanced reading of Salt, one finds that Salt was an expression of social criticism and political activism, designed to challenge and undermine HUAC and fundamental capitalist values. The function of Salt of the Earth therefore is more aptly described by the verb subvert, meaning to "undermine"(OED). Kael and HUAC denounced Salt as subversive and communist because it

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