1. Norma Rae
Sally Field won an Oscar for her role as a minimum-wage cotton mill worker who risks everything in order to improve working conditions for her friends and family. After hearing a union organizer speak, she realizes this is the only way she can force the mill to take better care of its workers. But people are afraid of change in this company town and even her own husband pressures her to give up the cause. Does she give up? Of course not!
In the movie's most dramatic scene, little Norma stands up on a table in the middle of the factory and holds up a union sign because she can't be heard over the noise of the machines. One by one, her co-workers shut down their stations in a show of solidarity and it's the first step to a big win.
Karen Silkwood was another union activist who put her life on the line for the health and welfare of her co-workers, this time at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant. The movie is based on a true story that ended in tragedy when Karen was killed in a car accident. But given that she was gathering evidence against the plant for falsifying safety reports just before it happened, many believe that she was murdered as part of a cover-up. Watch Silkwood with Meryl Streep and Cher and decide for yourself.
3. The China Syndrome
Nuclear plant safety is also at the center of this 1979 movie when a news reporter ends up in the wrong place at the right time. Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) witness a near meltdown at the plant and rush to put the story on the air but are shut down at every turn. Determined to alert the public to the danger, Wells convinces an inside man (Jack Lemmon) to tell all but the interview she gets has consequences she never imagined.
This thriller was released in theaters just 12 days before the real life meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. A horrible coincidence that makes this movie even more chilling.
4. Erin Brockovitch
While doing the legwork for a routine legal case, uneducated, single mom Brockovitch (Julia Roberts) discovers a disturbing number of serious medical problems in a very small town. It turns out that the local energy company has contaminated the groundwater but they're not interested in paying to clean up their mess, so Brockovitch makes it her life's work to get justice for the sick and dying residents of Hinkley.
A single mother with nothing but an Associate's Degree in Applied Arts, Brockovitch looked and sounded more like a truck-stop waitress than a crusading law clerk. But she used the fact that people underestimated her to her advantage and she persuaded the residents to open to up to her by being honest and compassionate.
5. The Help
In Mississippi in the early 60's, young white girls had only one ambition – to get married. But Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) wants more than that. She wants to be a writer so she takes a job penning a housekeeping column for the local newspaper. The only trouble is, she doesn't know anything about housework, so she turns to her friend's black maid for advice. After seeing what life is like for "the help," she decides to tell their story in a no-holds barred, anonymous book. Initially, the women are reluctant to open up to Skeeter but a series of unfortunate events convinces one after another that nothing will change until they make their voices heard.
What Do You Think?
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Photo credit: Norma Rae / 20th Century Fox