On Monday, November 11, the Department of Theater, Film, and Media Studies concluded their seventh annual film series with the third and final installment, titled Toil and Trouble: The Reel History of Working Women with the crown jewel of the series: two-time Academy Award nominee Connie Fields’ 1980 classic, The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter.
After a brief introduction by Professor Joanne Klein, Connie Fields introduced her film with a disclaimer that because the film was made 33 years ago, it was made on 16 millimeter film and therefore would not be the same quality we are all used to seeing. Her warning had no basis, however, because the audience enjoyed itself just as much as if the film had been made in IMAX 3D.
The film combined archival footage with a series of interviews with five working women who essentially “were” the ideal of Rosie the Riveter: hardworking women with husbands, families, or fiances who worked in factories or shipyards during the day and still cared for the family and home at night. The blatant injustices done to these women, especially women of color, and the ways these women were portrayed in the archival footage brought out bursts of shocked laughter and scoffs of incredulity.
One interviewee stated simply that after the war, women were laid off first, then black men, and then some white workers; this hierarchy is essentially the theme of the movie and elicited reactions from the audience ranging from laughter to gasps of shock and horror. Another woman interviewed described how both she and her brother-in-law would work in the factories all day, but while her brother-in-law would put his feet up and relax at the end of the day, she was expected to help her mother-in-law cook and clean.
Most of the archival footage was blatant propaganda intended to empower women into taking jobs in these factories. This was then juxtaposed with the other propaganda films, which encouraged women to give up their jobs as soon as the men came home from war. The interviews also revealed that attempts to unionize and gain rights would result in attempted firings and blatant guilting from employers who essentially called the would-be-unions “unpatriotic.”
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter is an excellent film that focuses on how World War II factory workers’ race and gender resulted in extreme differences in pay and treatment. Interesting, entertaining, and extremely informative, the film is definitely worth a watch.