Growing up in West Virginia, I was made to see this film a dozen times in school. Loosely based on the Battle of Matewan shootout of 1920, Matewan is a fictional story of a labor union organizer who comes to an embattled mining community in Southern West Virginia, that has been brutally and violently dominated and harassed by the mining company. Written and directed by John Sayles (Lone Star, Eight Men Out), Matewan stars Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones and Will "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" Oldham. It was also shot by Oscar-winning master cinematographer Haskell Wexler (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Bound For Glory).
Not only is Matewan a historical tale of social struggle, labor rights, racial unity, and political action, it is the representation of the fight that has made West Virginians strong individuals. Appalachia has an complex history of conflict, and coal has played a significant role in much of that conflict. Despite being a fictional film, Matewan is essential viewing for anyone - in particular anyone from West Virginia and Appalachia. I cannot do enough to encourage people to watch this movie.
Here is one of the crucial scenes from the movie - the Union meeting. Let it inspire you to rent this film, buy it, find it on television, whatever. Watch it.
"We've got to work together 'til they can't get their coal out of the ground without us because we're a union!"