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Films serve many purposes and one of them is that they contain a message for the audience. At times, these messages are clear cut and explicitly stated throughout the movie and at other times, the ideas are placed metaphorically. The importance of this hidden agenda of the filmmakers is that they hope to achieve some reaction from the audience and to have the viewers reexamine some of the values and traditions.
Throughout history, it is apparent that mankind has always struggled for freedom. For example, Americans had to fight from freedom from Britain, African Americans had to fight for liberty from slavery and women had to fight for their equal rights from men. These movements were not facile. Often, these efforts to rights movement ended in brutal retaliations, discriminations and even wars. The two films, Portrait of Teresa and Salt of the Earth, deal with the women’s rights movement. Women who were at the bottom of the society, with no voting rights and the right to speak in front of males, started one of the most important movements that has influenced and changed today’s society over the years.
In the film Portrait of Teresa directed by Pastor Vega, the main character Teresa is a Cuban woman demonstrates the obstacles of Cuban women during the revolution. Teresa has three sons and a traditional and conservative husband, Ramon. She also works at a textile factory and soon starts to break free from the traditional gender restrictions. Of course, there are outside forces such as her mother and her friends who try to stop Teresa from rebelling against tradition. In one scene, her mother sharply comments, “Women are women and men are men … and even Fidel can't change that.” However, in the film’s pivotal scene, Teresa confronts Ramon about his affair and asks him how he would feel if she cheated on him. Ramon responds by saying that “It’s not the same.” That is when Teresa realizes that her husband hasn’t changed at all and determines her decision to remain separated from him.
Portrait of Teresa is a classic Cuban film that portrays the problems of “machismo” and the double standard between men and women. In the film, there are many examples of double sexual morality. First of all, both Teresa and Ramon work full-time but it is Teresa who carries all the responsibilities of the domestic chores. While Teresa works, Ramon watches television as if he is entitled to relax and enjoy himself. In addition, as the film progresses, the double standard is evident when Ramon has an affair with another woman and defends his position because “he is a man.”
The film is aptly named, because one of the film’s most significant “portraits” of Teresa is her morning rituals. The audience can observe that Teresa’s daily labor will always be invisible to Ramon because he is always asleep during her routine. Teresa’s morning routine consists of doing the laundry, preparing breakfast, waking up the three boys and getting them dresses, then waking up her husband, providing the meal, seeing them leave, cleaning the house, hanging the clothes and finally leaving herself. It is an exhausting list of household chores that demonstrates the strenuous portrait of the working woman.
In addition, television plays an important role in this film. Teresa’s dance group has won the amateur contest so she and her coworker are being interviewed. Even on the show, the host interviews the male coworker with questions regarding the choreography and technicalities while Teresa is praised for her Cuban beauty. To Teresa, the host asks about her husband’s name, then says, “With your permission, Ramon” before kissing her hand. Ramon who had been watching the show is appalled and becomes very jealous. However, what’s important in this scene is that Teresa was treated like she belonged to her husband. While the male coworker was questioned and respected, Teresa was just a face to show on the television and moreover, treated as her husband’s property.
The director Vega is trying to demonstrate that while the cinema has been a progressive force for analysis and education, the television is still regarded as dedicated to entertainment. This often results in sexist comments or behaviors that are tolerated on television more often than the films. So by introducing the television “portrait” of Teresa into the film, Vega is able to portray the Cuban woman’s outdated public image of her worth.
This was one of Cuba’s most popular films because it graphically and empathetically addressed a pervasive problem. The Cuban revolution has consistently struggled against macho values and its repressive patterns and the double standards between the responsibilities of men and women. Thanks to the constant struggle for equality, the Cuban government has enforced rules such as having men share 50% of the household chores, if the women are working full-time. These changes seem minor but they are all steps in creating a society with fairness and justice.
The film Salt of the Earth tells a story of the miners fighting against a big company called the Delaware Zinc. This film is based on the real life event of 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico. The plotline centers on a long and difficult strike led by Mexican Americans and Anglo miners fighting for safe working conditions. However, to everyone’s surprise, as the strike continues, it is actually driven by the workers’ wives taking over the picket lines.
Esperanza Quintero is pregnant with her third child and is the wife of Ramon, a miner in Zinc Town, New Mexico. When Ramon objects to the dangerous working conditions, his supervisor simply replies that Ramon can easily be replaced by “an American” so he should keep his mouth shut. However, there is an accident at the mine field, and Ramon says that the accident could have been prevented with better working conditions. As the boss orders the miners back to work, they strike. The strike continues for several months without any actual compromise and that’s when the sheriff delivers a Taft-Hartley Act injunction ordering the striking workers to stop picketing. The dilemma is that if the men defy the order, they will be arrested and the strike will be broken. But if they obey the order, the strike is lost anyway. As men argue, one of the wives suggests that the women take over the picketing since the order only applies to striking miners. Initially, the idea is greeted with laughter by men. Esperanza speaks out, “I don’t know anything about these questions of Parliament, but you men are voting on something the women are to do or not to do. So I think it’s only fair if the women be allowed to vote, especially if they have to do the job.” Thus the women are allowed to vote and the motion narrowly passes.
With the final decision of allowing the women to strike, women from all around the area joined the wives of the strikers. But Ramon forbids Esperanza from participating and they watch from the sidelines. However, when a fight breaks out between the sheriffs and the women, Esperanza passes the baby to Ramon and knocks the gun from an officer’s hands with a shoe. After a long struggle, the company decides to settle the strike and Ramon publicly praises Esperanza for her dignity and determination.
This film was controversial in many ways. It was directed by Herbert Biberman who was among the Hollywood Ten which was the blacklist for any Communists, former Communists and liberals. Also, this story focused on a Chicano community at a time when attitudes about Chicanos were hostile. Throughout the Great Depression, white workers had to take jobs that had belonged to Mexican immigrants, which resulted in lower wages for white workers and no jobs for Mexican workers. These tensions became more complex by the fact that many "Mexican-American immigrants" had, in fact, been on their lands longer than those lands had been a part of the United States, becoming U.S. citizens by virtue of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.
These two films, Portrait of Teresa and Salt of the Earth portray the women’s struggle for sexual equality. And coincidentally, both of the leading female’s husband’s names are Ramon. These two Ramons are similar in many ways but different. Teresa’s Ramon and Esperanza’s Ramon are both dominating male figure in the household and do not appreciate their wives participating in any activities outside of their domestic duties. They fully expect their wives to perform all her duties at home and work by themselves. Both male characters have a high sense of pride being a male and do not believe women can carry out men’s job. As the storyline unfolds, Teresa and Esperanza stands up to their husbands and make decisions by themselves. Teresa confronts her husband about the affair and kicks him out of the house. Esperanza criticizes her husband that he treats her like how his boss treats him. Teresa’s Ramon does not learn his lesson and we see that he still does not treat Teresa as an equal. However, Esperanza’s Ramon learns a valuable lesson from Esperanza’s efforts and truly respects his wife.
Aside from their differences, Teresa and Esperanza have many qualities in common. They were both docile housewives who completed their daily tasks until an extraordinary event occurs. For Teresa, it was her job promotion that opened her eyes and for Esperanza, it was her efforts to take part in the strike. Teresa does not give in to her husband’s meager romantic attempts to win her back. And Esperanza was the moving force in taking the place in the picket line. When the husband is ambivalent about the outcome of the strike, it is Esperanza who firmly says, “You want to go down fighting. I don’t want to go down fighting. I want to win.” The women comes out looking stronger than men, marching with babies in their arms, resisting against officers and making the jail so endurable that they are released. Women, who were traditionally viewed as weak and vulnerable, proved to men and others that they were just as capable to do anything thrown upon them.
The fundamentals of the culture of contemporary women’s movement can be traced back to these films. Both films portray the women’s daily lives and their vision of growing power through sisterhood which results in fighting for women’s rights. These films are relevant to today’s society because many women can still relate to the inequality that some encounter to this day. The director Herbert Biberman called it the “indivisibility of equality” and how difficult it is to bring on a change that’s deeply rooted in the minds of people.
In conclusion, the filmmakers must have wanted to portray ordinary women who become successful in roles other than the obedient housewife. These women learn to speak up for themselves and learn that they can perform men’s responsibilities just as well. They stand up to cheating husbands, and unreasonable husbands to be treated as an equal. It is truly amazing what a couple of individuals can do. They can bring on changes that will alter the lives of the future generations forever. We have females working in every occupation even for those that were traditionally reserved for males. It is crucial that we do not take this hard earned rights for granted and always look for ways to improve and learn from past mistakes.
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