Saturday, 23 February 2013

Classic Films: To Kill A Mockingbird

"I swore never to read again after 'To Kill a Mockingbird' gave me no useful advice on killing mockingbirds. It did teach me not to judge a man based on the colour of his skin, but what good does that do me?" - Homer Simpson
I've never seen a Hollywood film, or any other film for that matter, that makes the case for racism. Perhaps they exist, but I do not know of them. It's not to say that films have no racist elements to them, or at the very least don't help the case against racism by their (ab)use of stereotypes; but as far as films go, the anti-racism message is one of those things one can explicitly preach without it being derided as propaganda.

It doesn't (shouldn't?) need to be said that the message of such films is a very socially important one. And as far as films go in the genre, To Kill A Mockingbird is the most powerful I have seen. It was, I think, because of it telling the story through the eyes of innocent children. The simple plea for empathy combined with Gregory Peck's excellent articulation of the cultural norms, were points well made.

I'm used to modern courtroom dramas where there's always doubt put on the circumstances. There can never be a clear-cut case anymore, probably because it feels contrived. This being a clear case of injustice wouldn't make for good TV today, but it was important for the message about the prejudices of the time. It struck me as really odd that only one side of the closing arguments was presented, but given what the film was trying to say, it was the right decision to do so.

While later films directly addressing race like Mississippi Burning or American History X tried their hand at realism, To Kill A Mockingbird was fantasy. By telling the story the way it did, it seemed to represent a hope for the future - a future in which people would look beyond their own prejudices and those of their society and towards what makes each of us valuable as humans. Maybe it was a naive hope (certainly a hope that looks hopelessly anachronistic from my 21st century perspective), but it's hard not to feel moved by that hope.

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