Harlan County USA

1976 | Documentary | 103 minutes | English 

Initially, the film intended to follow the attempt of the Miners for Democracy to unionize the miners at the Brookside Mine in Harlan County, Kentucky.  However, after the miners went on strike, the filmmakers became aware of the inner-workings of the company:  the immense corruption by the coal executives, refusal to correct unsafe working conditions, unfair labor practices, and paying low wages. The strike becomes violent and brutal fights break out. Joseph Yablonski, a union representative is seriously injured;  Lawrence Jones, a miner, is murdered. Management refuses to negotiate until the situation becomes unbearable.
Major Participants: Norma Yarborough (Eastover Mining President) / Houston Elmore (UMW Union Organizer)
Why Stream This Film?
Harlan County USA dramatically blends the heart-wrenching experiences of exploited miners in the 1970s and the efforts of unions to fight for better working conditions and pay. The film fervently portrays the tenacious fight of the workers to improve their lives. It’s truly inspiring! 
  • Rotten Tomatoes (Critics Consensus): 100%
  • Metacritic Score: 80
  • Academy Awards: Winner, Best Documentary Feature 
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association Winner, Best Director/Producer (Barbara Kopple)
  • Selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
  • The film received a perfect 100% Rotten Tomatoes score


The film is powerful in telling the story of a miners’ strike in Kentucky where the company employed armed goons to escort the scabs into the mines. The miners were greatly aided by their wives who were articulate, indomitable, and courageous.
Roger Ebert


Filmmaker Kopple’s terrifying film rocked its audience and instantly became a cultural touchstone.
Michael Atkinson

The Village Voice

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