Kiri Hinckley

Written by Kiri Hinckley

Modified & Updated: 04 Mar 2024

Sherman Smith

Reviewed by Sherman Smith


Matewan is an iconic movie that delves into the complex issues of labor rights and social injustices in a small coal mining town in West Virginia during the 1920s. Directed by John Sayles, this gripping drama brings to life the true story of the Matewan Massacre, a violent conflict between coal miners and their employers.

In this article, we will explore 45 fascinating facts about the movie Matewan. From its historical accuracy to its critical acclaim, this film has left an indelible mark on cinema and continues to captivate audiences with its compelling narrative and powerful performances. So, sit back, relax, and join us as we delve into the world of Matewan, uncovering interesting tidbits and behind-the-scenes details that will deepen your appreciation for this influential piece of cinematic history.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Matewan” is a powerful movie set in a coal-mining town, showcasing the struggle for workers’ rights and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppression and injustice.
  • The film explores historical events with emotional depth, shedding light on societal issues and inspiring viewers with its timeless storytelling, making it a must-watch for those interested in American history and social justice.
Table of Contents

Historical Setting:

The movie “Matewan” is set in the coal-mining town of Matewan, West Virginia, during the 1920s.

Directed by John Sayles:

John Sayles serves as the director of the film, lending his unique artistic vision to the project.

Deep Sociopolitical Themes:

“Matewan” explores themes of unionization, labor rights, and social justice in a powerful and thought-provoking way.

Based on a True Story:

The film is based on the real-life Matewan Massacre of 1920, a violent conflict between coal miners and the coal company owners.

Stellar Ensemble Cast:

The movie features an impressive ensemble cast, including Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, and David Strathairn.

Struggle for Workers’ Rights:

“Matewan” portrays the struggle of coal miners trying to improve their working conditions and gain fair wages.

Beautiful Cinematography:

The film showcases stunning cinematography that captures the rugged beauty of the Appalachian region.

Critically Acclaimed:

“Matewan” received widespread critical acclaim for its gripping storytelling and powerful performances.

Exploration of Cultural Divide:

The movie delves into the cultural, racial, and economic divisions prevalent in the mining community of Matewan.

Realistic Portrayal of Historical Events:

The film accurately depicts the events leading up to and during the Matewan Massacre, giving viewers an authentic glimpse into the past.

Emotionally Charged Moments:

“Matewan” is filled with emotionally charged scenes that resonate with viewers on a deep level.

Poignant Score:

The film’s score adds an extra layer of emotional depth to the storytelling, enhancing the viewing experience.

Examination of Power Dynamics:

“Matewan” explores the complex power dynamics between the coal miners, the coal company owners, and the hired law enforcement.

Unforgettable Characters:

The characters in “Matewan” are richly developed and leave a lasting impact on the audience.

Authentic Southern Dialogue:

The movie’s screenplay captures the authentic Southern dialect and adds to the realism of the film.

Engaging Plot:

The storyline of “Matewan” is engaging from beginning to end, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

Resilience of the Human Spirit:

The film celebrates the indomitable human spirit and the courage of those who stand up for what they believe in.

Symbolism and Metaphors:

“Matewan” incorporates symbolism and metaphors to convey deeper meanings within the narrative.

Exploration of Identity:

The film delves into questions of individual and collective identity within the context of a tight-knit community.

Historical Accuracy:

“Matewan” meticulously recreates the historical setting and events with a commitment to accuracy.

Cinematic Masterpiece:

“Matewan” is often regarded as a cinematic masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of storytelling.

Exploration of Race Relations:

The movie tackles the intricate dynamics of race relations in a time of deep societal divisions.

Courageous Protectors:

The film highlights the bravery of the individuals who risked their lives to protect and fight for their fellow coal miners.

Themes of Solidarity:

“Matewan” emphasizes the importance of unity and solidarity in the face of oppression and injustice.

Authentic Period Costumes:

The film’s costume design accurately reflects the fashion and style of the 1920s mining community.

Emotional Impact:

“Matewan” evokes a wide range of emotions, from anger and outrage to hope and inspiration.

Exploration of Gender Roles:

The movie sheds light on the gender roles and expectations prevalent during that time period.

Glimpse into History:

“Matewan” offers viewers a unique perspective on a significant event in American history.

Gripping Climax:

The climax of the film is intense and emotionally charged, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

Outstanding Performances:

The actors in “Matewan” deliver stellar performances that bring the characters to life.

Exploration of Economic Inequality:

The film shines a light on the economic disparities between the coal miners and the wealthy coal company owners.

Portrayal of Courageous Women:

“Matewan” showcases the strength and resilience of the women in the mining community, who play a crucial role in the story.

Examination of Political Corruption:

The movie exposes the political corruption and influence of the coal industry on local government.

Realistic Depiction of Violence:

“Matewan” doesn’t shy away from portraying the brutal violence and its consequences during the mining conflicts.

Universal Themes:

The themes explored in “Matewan” resonate with audiences worldwide, transcending time and place.

Exploration of Human Rights:

The film raises important questions about human rights and the lengths people are willing to go to fight for them.

Inspirational Storytelling:

“Matewan” inspires viewers with its powerful storytelling and the triumph of the human spirit.

Exploration of Loyalty and Betrayal:

The movie examines the complex dynamics of loyalty and betrayal within the mining community.

Underrated Gem:

“Matewan” is often described as an underrated gem that deserves more recognition in the film industry.

Timeless Tale:

The story told in “Matewan” is timeless, with themes that are still relevant today.

Troubling Reflection of Society:

The film serves as a troubling reflection of the societal issues that plagued America during the 1920s.

Exploration of Unions:

“Matewan” sheds light on the importance of unions in protecting workers’ rights and empowering the working class.

Emotional Rollercoaster:

The emotional journey depicted in “Matewan” takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

Critically Overlooked:

Despite receiving critical acclaim, “Matewan” remains somewhat overlooked in mainstream cinema discussions.

Lasting Impact:

“Matewan” leaves a lasting impact on its viewers, prompting reflection and discussion long after the credits roll.


Matewan is a powerful and captivating movie that intertwines history, drama, and social issues. With its stunning cinematography, talented cast, and thought-provoking storyline, it has solidified its place as a classic in the film industry. The movie sheds light on the struggles and challenges faced by coal miners during the labor disputes of the 1920s, highlighting the importance of unity, justice, and standing up for what is right. Through its poignant portrayal of real-life events, Matewan invites viewers to reflect on the significance of solidarity and the power of collective action in the face of adversity. Whether you are a history enthusiast or a movie lover, Matewan is a must-watch film that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.


Q: Is Matewan based on a true story?

A: Yes, Matewan is based on the true events of the 1920 Matewan massacre in West Virginia. It tells the story of a coal miners’ strike and the violent clashes between the miners and the hired detectives sent by the mining company.

Q: Who directed Matewan?

A: Matewan was directed by John Sayles, a renowned American filmmaker known for his independent productions. Sayles also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

Q: When was Matewan released?

A: Matewan was released in 1987. It received critical acclaim for its gripping storyline, exceptional performances, and historical accuracy.

Q: Who are some of the notable actors in Matewan?

A: Matewan features an impressive ensemble cast, including Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, Will Oldham, and David Strathairn. Their remarkable performances bring the characters and the story to life.

Q: What is the significance of Matewan in cinema?

A: Matewan is considered a landmark film in American cinema due to its portrayal of social and political issues, as well as its examination of labor disputes. It serves as a reminder of the struggles faced by workers and the importance of solidarity in their fight for justice.

Q: Is Matewan available for streaming?

A: Yes, Matewan is available for streaming on various platforms. Check your preferred streaming service to see if it is available in your region.

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