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Based on a landmark case that forced companies and employers across America to adopt anti-sexual harassment policies, North Country tells the story of an abused woman iron miner in Minnesota who, against insurmountable odds, won the first sexual harassment class action suit in the United States.
Three Academy Award winners lead the cast, including Charlize Theron (Monster) as the lead, Josey Aimes, Frances McDormand (Fargo) as the lone woman in her union’s negotiating committee, and Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter) as Josey’s disappointed mother. The cast is rounded out by three Oscar nominees: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) portrays a vindictive ex-boyfriend/abusive co-worker, Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt) shines as a reluctant lawyer, and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) delivers a convincing portrait as Josey’s father. Niki Caro (Whale Rider) directs.
Why watch it now
Labor strife has reached a fever pitch this summer, as unions ranging from delivery drivers to hotel workers to Hollywood’s writers and actors have banded together – often at great personal cost – to fight for collective fairness.
Much like in North Country, the workers are standing up for fair treatment. Whether women miners are fighting against discrimination or creatives in Hollywood fighting for residuals and unfair business practices, every worker’s ultimate objective is to achieve security and equality. North Country offers a blueprint for what it takes to force change.
While we’ve all read countless stories about mistreatment, terrible conditions, and sexual harassment, North Country brings an actual story to life in a way that hits you in the gut. Workplace abuse is even more dire for women in male-dominated workplaces, as the film powerfully illustrates. The degradation, humiliation, and physical abuse women endured in an iron mine in Minnesota in the 70s and 80s is appalling, bordering on barbaric.
Charlize Theron plays miner Josie Aimes, a character inspired by a real person named Lois Jenson. Jenson, a struggling single mom from Iron Range, Minnesota. An unwitting pioneer, her case set a legal precedent that improved working conditions for women across the country.
Theron, despite the grime and dirt, never quite looks the part of a miner. Yet she brings nuance and humanity to Josie, combining vulnerability, courage, grit, and depth to the character.
Josie is up against her abusive co-worker and ex-boyfriend, Bobby (played by a young Jeremy Renner), an infuriating character with whom she shares a dark past. Unfortunately, Josie’s case is not uncommon. In this unforgiving workplace, women miners are constantly subjected to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by their male co-workers.
On her side is Glory (a no-nonsense Frances McDormand), the only woman union representative, who’s barely hanging on as she finds a way to negotiate fair demands for her fellow female co-workers without confrontation while dealing with a terminal illness.
There’s also a hero ex-football player turned reluctant lawyer (played by Woody Harrellson), who takes the landmark case.
Sissy Spacek (Alice Aimes) provides a convincing portrayal of a torn yet dutiful mother. She cares for Josie but has an old-fashioned notion of where a woman’s place should be. Richard Jenkins is compelling as Hank Aimes, a father whose love for her daughter is overshadowed by her poor life choices and his belief that women don’t belong in the mines.
While the courtroom drama can be formulaic and inaccurate — it gravitates towards dramatization versus by the book courtroom protocol — North Country is ultimately gripping and rewarding, a film about a triumphant struggle for justice in a town where even the good people are reluctant to fight for it.
A movie that’s designed to make you feel something, North Country is harsh, often disgusting, and aggravating. But it’s also an illuminating and uplifting story about courage and the power of the human spirit.
Family, friends, or co-workers who are broad-minded allies for change and fairness.
Lois Jenson, the inspiration for North Country, suffered through the entire 14-year bitter court battles. She was on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, suffered bouts of pneumonia, lost a lot of friends, and was consumed by guilt for allowing her lawyers to settle the case instead of fighting a highly publicized trial. She was also disappointed with how Class Action (a book written about the plight of the women miners in Minnesota), depicted her.
But Jenson loved North Country. She expressed her admiration for the film in The Guardian interview back in 2006. “These people treated us with respect and they gave us a feeling that what we did was important,” she fondly recounted. “This movie has given me my life back.”