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The Female Social Activist in American Cinema - A New Genre: Norma Rae, Silkwood, Erin Brockovich, and North Country

Susan Murray, University of Miami

Abstract

This thesis proposes that the female social activist is a new genre in American cinema. The four films chosen in this paper: Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich, Silkwood, and North Country are argued to be representative, and form the narrative construct of this genre. The argument uses Stanley Cavell?s theory of genre composition as presented in Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage and Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. There is growing recognition in the American film industry that a series of films portraying women as activists addressing social concerns is forming the basis of an emerging new genre. The social concerns addressed in the above films are: environmental pollution and its toxic health effects, sexual harassment of women in traditional male work places, radioactive contamination of nuclear plant workers, and unionization of textile workers. In this genre women are presented in a new social role. Future directions of this work suggest that the female social activist genre can encompass effectively all areas of social concerns as gender is demonstratively not a barrier.