The film centers on the life of Karen Silkwood, the nuclear whistleblower and labor union activist and her struggle while investigating alleged wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Oklahoma, where she worked alongside her friend Dolly Pelliker (Cher) and her boyfriend Drew Stephens (Russell).
At the 56th Academy Awards, Silkwood received five nominations in total, including Best Actress (Streep), Supporting Actress (Cher), Director (Nichols), Original Screenplay (Ephron and Arlen), and Editing (Sam O'Steen). The film also received five Golden Globe nominations, with Cher winning for her performance.
This film features examples of:
- Based on a True Story: Of whistleblower Karen Gay Silkwood
- Butch Lesbian: Dolly is a lesbian that has the Patti Smith look going.
- He Knows Too Much: Karen was on her way to meet with a reporter, carrying multiple incriminating documents, when she died in a mysterious car crash.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Karen's death. Although she was technically intoxicated (the amount of sedative in her blood was nearly twice needed for sleep), the documents she'd been carrying were missing and there was damage to the back of her car, indicating that she was hit from behind and forced off the road.
- Line-of-Sight Name: The film includes a telling of the "One-Man-Pouring-A-Bucket-Of-Water-Over-Two-Dogs" joke.
- Right Through the Wall: Discussed by Drew and Dolly after Dolly brings her lover Angela home:Drew: Make enough noise there, Dolly?
Dolly: You two ain't exactly a silent movie yourselves.
- The '70s: The film takes place in the early part of the decade, leading up to Karen Silkwood's death in 1974.
- Sexy Coat Flashing: Done by Karen.
- Sorry, I'm Gay: A male construction worker attempts to hit on Dolly, leading to this exchange.Dolly: (pause) ...I am really not interested. Come on, move.