In the 1980s, members of USC's History Department and the School of Cinematic Arts collaborated to produce the book The Homefront: America during World War II (copyright 1984) followed by a PBS ninety-minute television special of the same title (aired 1985). Led by professors Mark Jonathan Harris, Franklin D. Mitchell, and Steven J. Schechter, the two departments researched the massive social changes that occurred in the U.S. as a result of America's mobilization in World War II. The material focuses on the time period from 1941-1945 and culminates in a collection of first-person accounts in which ordinary citizens describe their experiences and the impact the war had on their lives. The book includes many illustrations and photographs as well as a foreword by Studs Terkel.
The documentary was produced by PBS, distributed by Churchill Films, and is divided into three thirty- minute segments. Particular attention was directed toward California because of the increase in industrial plants and the massive migration of defense workers to the state during the 1940s.
Part 1: "America Goes to War" focuses on the attack on Pearl Harbor and its impact on the people of the nation. Americans rallied together to produce the machinery necessary for the war effort. Twenty million people migrated to various defense plants in order to work in the factories. Included in this segment is the impact of the war on minorities, notably African- Americans and Japanese- Americans, who experienced a bitter war that resulted in riots and internment.
Part II: "The Crucible of War" documents the turning point as America's industrial efforts out produce all other nations combined. Equally inspiring is the morale of American workers, many of whom worked long hours and were dedicated to the greater good.
Part III: "The Image of a New Nation, D-day" is the beginning of the end. As the war draws to a close, it is apparent that it has had a profound affect on American society with regards to race relations, urbanization, industrialization of American life, and the role of women in American society. The war opened doors to both women and minorities that had not been available to them before. Women were hired in unprecedented numbers, many of whom stayed in the work force. Expanding job opportunities during the war also went a long way toward changing the lives of African-Americans and other minorities. A broader perspective is also provided in showing how Americans from many backgrounds escaped the underemployment of the Depression and earned decent wages, acquired skills and found careers.
The goal of the film was to create a social history of the American people that could appeal to a broad audience, ranging from youth to the elderly. It was also the first attempt to record on film the memories and insights of Americans who lived through the war years at home. These interviews are combined with archival film footage, including theatrical film and still photographs. The film draws heavily on visual material (film documentaries, newsreels, government training films, photographs, posters, cartoons) and recordings (radio broadcasts, phonograph records) that were produced during the war years.
The film received much acclaim after it was released and won several awards including First Prize at the Baltimore Independent Film Competition, a Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival, a Golden Eagle at C.I.N.E., the Chris Statuette at the Columbus International Film Festival, the Special Jury Award at the Houston International Film Festival, the Silver Award at the International Film and TV Festival of New York, and the Bronze Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival.