In early December, I got to see the 2018 movie Radium Girls. It had screened at the Tribeca Film Festival back when it was first made. An April 2020 cinema release date had been scheduled, then postponed because of COVID.
In the fall of 2020, the movie was offered in a few theaters. I managed to see it in a showing co-sponsored by the Coalition of Labor Union Women. And following the film was a question and answers with directors Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler.
Watching a movie on Zoom has its problems. Among other things, this one began with the sound that was off for several minutes before the film was restarted.
It is an intriguing storyline. “In the 1920s, a group of female factory workers advocates for safer work conditions after some of their colleagues become ill from radium exposure.”
From Wikipedia: They contracted “radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint. The painting was done by women at three different United States Radium factories.” The one in Orange, New Jersey was highlighted in the film.
“The women in each facility had been told the paint was harmless.” They “subsequently ingested deadly amounts of radium after being instructed to ‘point’ their brushes on their lips in order to give them a fine tip.” Given the lengthy number of reports about the case, I was surprised that I had never heard about this story until the film.
As for the film: it was…pretty good. I wanted to love it, I suppose. I must agree with much of the criticism that was leveled at the small-budget project. “The anger inspired by what happened to these women is invigorating, but that fury is rarely felt from what Radium Girls offers as a cinematic experience.” That’s what Roxana Hadadi from RogerEbert.com wrote.
And yet, I will still recommend it. The actors, and especially Joey King, are quite good. Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter writes: “The film fulfills a vital function with its dramatization of an important chapter in America’s history of labor reform.”
So if the plot leading to the trial is a bit threadbare and contrived, I’m still glad I watched Radium Girls. The narrative is, unfortunately, still relevant when some industries are “rolling back protections for workers” a century after the events portrayed in the movie.
People in the Capital District will recognize recently-retired news anchor Jim Kambrich in the small but pivotal role of a judge.
You can watch Radium Girls for $12 here.