Newberry Library

2019 May: History of Capitalism Seminar, Newberry Library, Chicago

Crystal Lee Becomes Norma Rae: Making Millions From the Story of a Working Poor Woman. During the 1970s, national media focused on Crystal Lee Jordan as an inspirational southern textile worker. She did not seek the media but participated to advocate for unions. The attention culminated in a 1978 movie production, but the demands of Hollywood business led to an effort to remove her. As Twentieth Century-Fox deployed its resources to end Crystal Lee’s participation, Sally Field’s agent was negotiating a six-figure salary. The title of the screenplay was changed to Norma Rae, which earned $22 million. Although movies cannot be measured for simple accuracy, how the production used this life story reveals capitalist systems of finance and labor in the culture industries. Respondents: Cristina Groeger, Lake Forest College and Michelle Nickerson, Loyola University Chicago