This essay outlines the presence and nature of prejudice and discrimination, exploring their causes and effects in the texts "The Green Mile", "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Bend it Like Beckham".
Prejudice and Discrimination In Texts
In the film The Green Mile and the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, which display racial prejudice, and the film Bend It Like Beckham that addresses sexism, authors have drawn the conclusions that prejudice and discrimination can be caused by stereotyping and the need to conform to a socially accepted view. This often results in marginalisation, division and isolation of the victim. This has been done in the contexts of novel and film, using narrative and cinematic techniques appropriate to the various texts.
The novel To Kill A Mockingbird set in the deep south of America during the depression and published in the 1960's during the emergence of the Civil rights Movement. It was written for Negroes to raise awareness and change attitudes from prejudice to tolerance.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, all Negroes are viewed collectively, as inferior savages without use, rights or feelings. They are all seen as dangerous and violent. Mr Ewell shows this when he uses language reserved for animals to talk about Negroes in the courtroom "I seen that black nigger ... ruttin on my Mayella!" (p190) and again with "...lived down yonder in that nigger-nest..."
They are viewed as less than people, displayed when Scout consoles Dill who is upset with the injustice in the courtroom by saying that "...after all [Tom is] just a Negro..." This quote too shows the insidious nature of the prejudice, as it has infected Scout and Dill, innocent children.
The prejudiced attitudes of the townspeople are further displayed through characters acting as foils to one another. When the composer pits Lula and Calpurina against each other at the "nigger church" (p131-132), the responder is immediately exposed to the division that has occurred in this community. The attitudes and behaviour of all people in the community are based on stereotype. When Calpurina takes Jem and Scout to her church, predominated by Negroes, Jem and Scout are immediately separated from the usual congregation and are seen not as other people, but as "white chillun'" as opposed to "niggers" as they refer to themselves. Lula and Cal act as foils to each other with Lula's attack of cal that, "[she] ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here - they got their church, we got our'n." When Cal responds with "It's the same God, ain't it?" the reader is able to recognise her as the superior character. Lula is resentful that Negroes have been excluded and hence wants to retaliate by excluding. She is depicted as narrow minded, conservative and prejudiced. Alternatively, Calpurina is viewed as tolerant, liberal, forgiving, adaptable and accepting of her circumstances. In doing this the composer is able to show the reader which character is more appealing and therefore which characteristics should be adopted and employed by the reader to overcome prejudice and discrimination, and which ones should be avoided so as not to cause or perpetuate it.
The use of a child to narrate the story allows the composer to expose the reader to views and attitudes formed in innocence. The reader learns about prejudice ad discrimination as Scout (the narrator) learns. She is able to experience things in a way adults cannot, without bias, due to her ability to be accepting of the truth. We are taught, as she is how "to get along better with all people" (p33) and hence how stereotyping and conforming to the norm so as to be socially accepted, can be overcome and dealt with so as not to cause prejudice and discrimination.
Bend It Like Beckham is a film depicting the struggle of an English and an Indian girl to gain acceptance as professional football players at a time when Beckham is hugely successful and English females football players have to go to America to pursue a professional career in the game. The causes of the prejudice, this time in the form of sexism are again identified as stereotyping and the need or desire to conform to a socially accepted norm. Jess and Jules have been assigned a role in their communities, based on their gender. There are certain behaviours that are socially accepted and any variation to this is seen as unacceptable and must be discouraged. The film is directed at the general population and aims to inform as to the causes and consequences of prejudice and discrimination and encourage the audience to instead employ tolerance when dealing with people.
The establishing scene immediately shows Jess' dilemma. In her fantasy, she is superimposed on the Manchester United football team. After scoring the winning goal, a bench of sports commentators describe her as "the best thing for English football." They praise her talent and ability, showing that Jess has the right to be there because she has the skill.
The camera then flashes to her mother who criticises Jess' participation saying she is "bringing shame on the family." In this shot, the mother is filmed in extreme close up, demonstrating her confrontational manner and exposing her as the barrier that limits/ restricts/ confines Jess. The mother completely fills the screen, showing her obtrusiveness, especially in Jess' life.
The next two shots display Jess and Jules being pushed back into stereotypical female worlds. Jess is being pushed into a conforming stereotyped feminine world of shopping which is shown by the panning shot of the wall of vastly similar women's shoes. This world is also conducive to a women's role as a homemaker, inclusive of cooking and bitchy competitiveness, where the quest for recognition and admiration causes insecurity, vanity and jealousy. Her mother is driven by a need to conform to socially accepted norms and therefore pushes her daughters into fulfilling a culturally traditional role.
The mothers are not tolerant of their daughter's wants and needs. Consequently, Jess and Jules are marginalised. They are excluded from football, as there is no place for it in the world their mothers have created for them. As Jules' mother qualifies: "all I'm saying is, that it's no wonder sporty spice is the only one without a fella." Juxtapositioning is used and Jess' mother proposes the rhetorical question "What family is going to want a daughter-in-law who plays football and doesn't even know how to cook." Which has the same disapproving tone as the remark made by Jules' mother.
In one of the concluding scenes, when Jess "bends it like Beckham' around the players who have been transformed into her family, she achieves her goal. Juxtapositioning of her victory on the football field, with the joy and celebration of her sister's wedding is used to present the message that differences should be accepted, because all people are different and that it is our differences that make us interesting and unique as individuals, and can bring us together to work as teams. In this scene, operatic music crescendos, which suggests a triumph. The parents have seen reason, become tolerant of their daughters' differences and have embraced this. Through use of tolerance, we are able to see that the prejudice and discrimination has been overcome.
The Green Mile was set in the 1930's in Southern America. It is intended to evoke an emotional response from the viewers and change the way they treat people. Released in the late 1990's at a time when some Negroes are still encountering prejudice and discrimination, encouraging all people to be tolerant of differences. Using filmic and narrative techniques, the composers relay to the audience, that racial prejudice can be caused by stereotyping and seeking to conform to socially accepted norms, exposing to the general population, which will be it's target audience, that the consequences of not doing marginalisation and isolation for the victim.
In this movie, a black man (John Coffey) is sentence to death, after being convicted of raping and murdering two young girls, and based on circumstantial evidence he is convicted by a jury of his pears. "I tried to tell them it wasn't me, but they took one look, saw I was a nigga and figured I hurt them."
John is a large man, measuring seven feet tall and weighing 330lbs. This is shown, or emphasized using a low camera angle when filming this man. This technique elongates the body and makes him seem large and imposing. By enabling the audience to perceive him in this way, responders are encouraged to judge this man on appearances and stereotypes.
Coffey certainly had the size and strength to kill anyone, but the composer has starkly contrasted his demeanour with his appearance. Beyond his simple, naive nature and a deathly fear of the dark, Coffey possesses a prodigious, supernatural gift. "I feel pain. Not mine but everyone else's. If any one hurts I feel it and then I go to them and take it away, but too many people are in pain, I can't get to them all."
By setting the film in a death row cellblock, the composer has placed us in a position to see first hand the consequences of judging this man on stereotypes. He is marginalised. He now has the reputation of a vicious murderer. He is treated like the criminal he was viewed to be. He cannot contribute to society, only the small part of it and few people he is exposed to in his cellblock. He is isolated. Locked up. Segregated from society and the people he was placed here to help. Everyday he faces the ultimate marginalisation and isolation: death. Moreover, with every moment that impending doom grows nearer. "It will happen soon now. One day soon. Then I will be free of pain. People wont look at me funny then, and they won't say stuff no more."
The realism of the setting makes the storyline and the trauma that Coffey is faced with more dramatic. The entire interior cellblock of this movie, was designed and built from scratch. Every nut, bolt and frayed electrical cord. The elongated cathedral-like windows that are placed around the block provide a very mystical element in this movie, a supernatural element, exuding a sense of history
Prejudice is not overcome. Not in a way that will give this man his life back, or even stop it from being taken by the State in an act that will right no wrong. In this case, tolerance was not used and innocent people suffered.
As shown using cinematic and narrative techniques appropriate to the various texts, composers of To Kill A Mockingbird, Bend It Like Beckham and The Green Mile have shaped and conveyed the causes of the racial and sexual prejudices addressed to be stereotyping and the need or desire to conform to a socially accepted view. "They judged me without even having to prove I did it. Said they just took one look and knew. Said if I wanted it to be different I'd have to prove I didn't do it. There was no way I could. They wouldn't let me." (John Coffey The Green Mile) They show further that this can cause marginalisation, division and isolation. The composers challenge the responder to employ tolerance when dealing with people because "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (p33 To Kill A Mockingbird)