In some ways, the status of race relations today have not changed nearly as much as they should have in the decades since the civil rights movement. The fact that someone would be considered “lesser than” merely because of their heritage or skin color is still an anathema to me. Sure, stereotypes fuel a fear of those who are different from us; but, there are plenty of people who defy these stereotypes and prove they are not some kind of enemy but are instead just ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. I think this world would be better off if we stopped judging people by our preconceived notions based on their skin color, and instead accepted them as human beings. This week’s two films highlight racism at its worst, so we may all learn to be accepting of others, regardless of the color of their skin.
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours
It is almost ironic that some of the sports that were once dominated by white men now have these individuals on their teams in a minority capacity. Perhaps this was why so many of them were resistant to the integration of people of color into their athletic clubs: they knew they would be outperformed. While films like Race (2016) highlight the racial discrimination at home in the United States, while also shining a light on the racial discrimination (and eventual genocide) in Germany just before World War II, it’s easy to put Nazis as the antagonists in these stories. What hurts more (as well it should) is when the antagonists in a sports movie, like 42 (2013), are the athletic role models and leaders who are supposed to provide a positive example for generations to come. Their hatred is born of a fear that I hope continues to diminish and vanish with each passing generation.
There seemed to be a time where America’s greatest pastime wasn’t baseball but racism. Sure, black people could still play baseball, but they could only do it in their own league, separate from the white league that held the World Series every year. Sensing the time was right to break this barrier, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), team executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers, recruits Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to play up through the Dodgers’ farm team, the Montreal Royals. Robinson has talent, but he refuses to be pushed down by others, often resorting to a short temper to prove his mettle. Eventually, he realizes he can quiet his critics, including the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), by playing the best baseball he can, thus helping lead the Dodgers to the World Series.
In the Heat of the Night
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours
In the Heat of the Night (1967) is likely to be one of the defining films on the subject of racism. Not only did it win Best Picture for that year (a feat similarly-themed Crash (2004) would do decades later), but it has earned a spot on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 films at #75. Taking a somewhat different approach to the topic than To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) did a few years prior, In the Heat of the Night shows the audience that the color of someone’s skin shouldn’t be an indicator of their professional competence. This theme was also driven home almost 50 years later in the Best Picture nominee, Hidden Figures (2016). Still, the defining moment in this film comes in the form of the line “They call me Mister Tibbs!” which perfectly encapsulates the protagonist’s frustration about being looked down upon and considered of lesser status simply due to the color of his skin.
When the murder of a white businessman hits a small town in the South, the first suspect just happens to be an African-American who is visiting from Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this “Southern hospitality” backfires to an extent when the suspect, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), just happens to be a prominent homicide detective from Philadelphia. This gripping crime drama unfolds to show that some people cannot get past the color of another’s skin, even if that person is the only one who can produce results. Through his expert investigative skills, Tibbs not only exonerates other suspects but refines the timeframe when the murder actually happened. This professionalism eventually endears the white Police Chief, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) to Tibbs, as the black investigator solves the case and heads back home to Philadelphia.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 racism revolutions