Educational & Entertaining

I watched this incredible documentary the other night all about the UMWA strike in Kentucky in the 70's. For me, it was one of those things that you can't believe you hadn't seen til now. Truly a "Where have you been all my life!" moment. I have this sneaking feeling that not many people of our, er, generation have seen it, based solely on my having to repeat the title every time I mention it to someone new. But this, friends, is a travesty.

It's called Harlan County U.S.A. The film documents the miner's struggle to organize under the heavy shadow of Duke Power Company in Harlan County, Kentucky. This small instance was just one case of a local branch of the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) but their feud with Duke Power was indicative of the same kinds of struggles faced across the country between the coal miner's and their bosses. Director Barbara Koppel does a brilliant job weaving together footage of the strikers & scabs, the national media coverage and clips documenting the music that evolved within the mining community. For me, the best part of her coverage was the coverage she provided of the striking workers' wives and the huge role they played in picketing and organizing on behalf of their husbands. She later described in an interview,

The women for me were the people who were the strongest. were the most passionate. Who weren't afraid of, you know, semi automatic carbeans with tracer bullets, would just get right out there on the picket lines. Because they had watched their grandfathers and their fathers die from black lung.

Not only did this film win an academy award the year of its release in 1976, but Harlan County USA is also one of the distinguished films among the esteemed Criterion Collection. Pretty much this means that if you don't like it, you're on your own. It's that good.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if this matters, but i have seen this documentary, and I am only 17. I find it quite endearing that two random strangers like ourselves could have both happened to see a slightly obscure 70s documentary. I was really quite enthralled by it as well, and it demonstrated to me the persistence of human nature.