Oscar Roles: Field, Sally in Norma Rae

In the late 1970s, screen women also began to show strong interest in the public and political domains. In the past, heroines were confined to their domestic lives, exhibiting little interest in what was happening in the “outside” world. But in the late 1970s, several new movies dealt with women's gaining political consciousness.

At the center of Martin Ritt's biopic “Norma Rae” (1979), for which Sally Field received her first Best Actress Oscar, is the politicization of a Southern working-class woman in a small dormant town after meeting a Jewish labor-organizer (Ron Liebman) from New York.

The movie describes Norma's feisty struggle to unionize a mill, which involves the organization of a strike. What is innovative from a gender point of view is that her relationship with the Jewish intellectual is not romantic or sexual, but based on mutual respect. At the end, they part with a friendly handshake rather than the cliched kiss. Such camaraderie between unlikely partners (a simple, uneducated woman and a smart urban Jew) would have been impossible in years past, but in