“Radium Girls” as a reminder to fight for social justice

By Mary Katreeb, STAFF WRITER
“Radium Girls” is a 2018 American drama film originally screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018. Like several movies, it’s theatrical release was delayed due to COVID-19. While it was available to view in select theaters in October 2020, it reached a wider audience after its recent release on Netflix.
Radium is a chemical element that was discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie. By the early 1900’s, factories had employed thousands of young women to paint watches with the chemical substance. Unfortunately, many of those women suffered and eventually died of radium poisoning, which can manifest itself by way of broken teeth, bone problems, and anemia.
Even though radium exposure in factories is not a modern day issue, the film serves as a poignant reminder about the need to campaign for social justice. “Radium Girls” sees a group of factory workers fight for the shutdown of the American Radium factory after several of them are found to be dying of radium poisoning.
They fight especially passionately due to the fact that American Radium executives have known about the dangers of radium for years. They refuse to accept cruelty and indifference, and the movie focuses on their quest for social justice.
It asks the question, what do I need to get people to care? A question that is at the forefront of every social justice movement, even today.
An especially powerful scene in “Radium Girls” sees Bess, an American Radium factory worker, and Etta, an activist and photographer, sitting on the floor of a jail cell. They had just been arrested due to meeting with a group of social justice activists.
“Why is there so much wrong in the world that no one knows about?” asked Bess. “It’s easier to believe stories that make us feel safe,” Etta responded.
While the film centers around how the women working at American Radium fought for justice, several other social justice issues are brought up as well. Racism, sexism, and classism are all issues that Bess, Etta, and their activist friends are seeking to combat.
2020 was a year that saw a major resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as an unemployment spike due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, we continue to see a world stuck in the cycle of systemic inequality. What is going to inspire us to take action to fight for real world changes? “Radium Girls” serves as a reminder that, just maybe, if we fight for justice as hard as we can, we might solve a problem too.