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A Cover of brochure promoting 1954 premiere BOOKS & THE CULTURE In the Salt Mines The Cold War History of Salt of the Earth BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN THE SUPPRESSION OF SALT OF THE EARTH: How Hollywood, Big Labor, And Politicians Blacklisted A Movie in Cold War America. By James J. Lorence. University of New Mexico Press. T, ” he only U.S. blacklisted film,” pro nounces the cover of the videocas sette of Salt of the Earth. A drama tization of an actual contemporary strike by largely Latino zinc miners in Grant County, New Mexico, the independent, low-budget feature was produced despite fierce opposition and even sabotage, and managed only limited distribution when released in 1954. However, Salt of the Earth is not unique as a victim of the American urge to restrict what other Americans can see. Island in the Sun was banned in Alabama in 1957 because it dared depict an interracial kiss, and, in 1988, for its alltoo-human Jesus, The Last Temptation of Christ became a national exhibition cataclysm. At least as early as 1915, when the racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation was suppressed in twelve states, churches, political groups, government agencies, and the industry itself have conspired to limit what appears on local screens. Salt of the Earth stands out merely for the virulence of its opposition. Studios and unions alike contrived to obstruct production, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service cooperated by arresting and deporting Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas before she had completed her starring role. While the film was being shot, members of its crew were shot at, and labs refused to process its footage. Denouncing Salt of the Earth on the floor of the House of Representatives, Republican Congressman Donald L. Jackson of California pledged to “do everything in my power to prevent the showing of this Communist-made film in the theaters of America.” Jackson and other Cold Warriors plotted to ensure a Salt-free diet for most of America. The ninety-four-minute movie may have been what its director, Herbert Biberman, called “eight thousand feet of free dom in America,” but newspapers and radio stations refused to accept its ads. Only thirteen theaters in this entire land of the free and the brave dared screen the film during its initial run. Salt of the Earth \(which derives its title from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus hails the ordiavailable on video, and the cultural climate has changed enough that it is now possible to view and review it without having to choose between Joseph Stalin and Joseph McCarthy. Beginning with a standard \(and disingenucharacters depicted in this photoplay are fictional,” the film reenacts events in the 1950-52 strike by Local 890 of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers a labor organization expelled from the C.I.O. for its refusal to sign anti-Communist pledges against Empire Zinc in Bayard, New Mexico. As a matter of both economics and aesthetics, the project relied largely on non-professional actors, workers playing workers. Though Will Geer was recruited to play a racist sheriff and Revueltas to be the lead miner’s wife, her husband is portrayed, convincingly, by Juan Chacon, a miner without film experience. Clinton Jencks, an actual organizer for Mine-Mill, in effect plays himself, renamed Frank Barnes. The story of Local 890 was vetted by members of the union themselves. Made for a mere $250,000, an investment that was not recovered, Salt of the Earth was the first and only -feature completed by the Independent Productions Corporation, a company formed to circumvent Hollywood censorship. The film is credited as a co-production of both I.P.C. and Mine-Mill, and the struggle to make and distribute it paralleled the struggle of the union workers to improve their lot. The moviemakers liked to think of themselves as cultural workers, but their solidarity with the manual laborers whose cause they sought to represent was sometimes strained. After serving six months in federal prison for refusing to cooperate with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, Biberman had been expelled from the Directors Guild of fectively excluded from studio work. Paul Jarrico, who produced Salt of the Earth, and Michael Wilson, who wrote its screenplay, were also victims of the blacklist, and as re 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 26, 2000