North Country

Jess McCabe reviews North Country, a film with a feminist plotline based on a true story about a woman who brings sexual harassment charges against her workplace; the first of its kind in the U.S.

Jess McCabe, 3 March 2006

North Country is the film feminists have been waiting for. When Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron), ditches her abusive husband, she is forced to go and live with her unsympathetic parents in Minnesota. Their attitude is not 'how could he do that' but 'what did you do to deserve it'. She needs cash to get a place of her own for her and her son and daughter. She tries working for a hair dresser but the pay is too low to support her family. So she takes the lead from her best friend Glory (Frances McDormand), and gets a job in the mine where her father works.

But the male workforce is none-too-happy to see jobs go to the ladies, and they start up a campaign against them. What starts with 'jokes' like leaving dildos in their lunchboxes quickly escalates into smearing faeces in the women's changing rooms and sexual attacks.

she takes the mine to court on sexual harassment charges, the first class action case of its kind

When Josey complains to the union and the boss, the treatment just gets worse. She quits the job, but is inspired to take the mine to court on sexual harassment charges, the first class action case of its kind. When she wins, the world changes.

It sounds like a perfect feminist myth, but it is a true story. Sort of. In typical Hollywood style, it has been heavily fictionalized. But the true story is just as, if not more, astounding. Whereas the trial only appears to last a few - if painful - weeks in North Country, Lois Jenson, the real-life Josey, and her co-workers fought on in the courts for ten years before accepting a $3.5 million settlement and a promise the mine would commit to reform. North Country sets this victory in the 1980s - in fact, the case only closed in 1998.

So is this a new dawn for Hollywood? Less of the standard stereotypes, more heroes for a new age. But North Country is the work of Participant Productions, a new film company that is dedicated to "changing the world one film at a time.

Less of the standard stereotypes, more heroes for a new age.

Another Participant Productions movie, Good Night, And Good Luck, tells the story of the heroic journalist who exposed Senator McCarthy's communist witch-hunts. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) never allows worthy to trump engrossing storytelling. The acting is first rate, the cinematography uses a confined palette of colours to bring out the period detail, grim setting and the turbulent emotions of the characters. Nothing is airbrushed - Theron is caked in dust and grit for most of the film. But the shots of blasting rock and panoramas showing the green forests scarred by quarrying are stunning. It is a shame that more high-profile releases (such as an excellent film about the early life of Johnny Cash, Walk the Line) have drawn the spot light away from this accomplished effort. Those who take a chance on this tougher material won't regret it.

Have you been a victim of sexual harassment? The Equal Opportunities Commission can give you advice on what to do. Check out their website for more information, and to find out about the history of sexual harassment cases in the UK. The website includes an extensive list of key decisions in the UK courts, as well as information on the law as it stands.

About the author

Jess McCabe

Jess McCabe blogs for The F Word.

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