Design a site like this with
Get started

Welcome to our ENGL 340 class blog!

This is where you’ll publish your eight required blog posts, find out what your classmates are thinking about the reading, and do whatever else you feel like to create a vibrant online community to supplement our in-class time. We’ll do a WordPress tutorial in class next week.

The syllabus contains detailed information about what I’m looking for in your posts. A couple of technical instructions: Please do make use of the categories I’ve created, one for each major text or topic we’re covering; if you write a post about The Furies you should select the Furies category before you publish. This will make it easy for me and your classmates to search for all posts on a particular text or topic. Please also make use of tags to identify some keywords that might usefully be associated with what you’re writing about. So if you’re really focused on gender in The Furies, for example, you might create (or select, if it’s been created already) a “gender” tag for your post. Tags will help us draw connections across texts and contexts.

The idea of having you publish your writing on a blog rather than, say, just write me response papers or complete in-class quizzes is to encourage you to really engage your classmates – write for them and also read their writing to help enrich your experience with the material. I encourage (but do not require) you to regularly comment on each other’s posts.

Double Standard In To Kill A Mockingbird

In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee explores both race and sexuality, and the intersection these two factors can have. The premise of the novel is a comment on the criminalization of black male sexuality- set against the backdrop of a rape trial against a black man in 1930’s Alabama. It is no secret that in the decades following the Reconstruction era, a double standard existed for the behaviors deemed acceptable for black versus white citizens. This double standard becomes dangerous, when it allows for the systematic oppression of black men, in a criminal-justice system some might compare to slave-era America. The intersection of race and sexuality is a particularly interesting angle to observe, as this double standard is especially prominent. Criminalizing a black man’s sexuality proves to be a powerful accusation, even if falsified, such as in the case of Tom Robinson. Despite the undeniable evidence proving Robinson’s innocence and Mayella Ewell’s advances towards Tom, he is ultimately convicted of the crime, depicting the effects of the influences of racial prejudice. It is a natural thought process to wonder if the case was against a white man being accused of raping a black woman, would the same verdict have been reached? Robinson is convicted of a crime he did not even commit, and yet historically, the rape and sexual abuse of black women by white men has been unacknowledged and unpunished in the legal system. Lee’s use of the intersection of race and sexuality serves to depict the systematic injustice faced by black Americans in the legal system. Despite the fact that Mayella is the driving force in her advances made on Tom, it is ultimately Tom Robinson who suffers from the lies spread as a result of racial prejudice. The gross injustice described in the novel is a result of the criminalization of a relationship pursued by a white woman, in which the said crime did not even occur.

The Birth of Totalitarianism

In Arendt’s writing titled “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, she deduces the notion that the only way to truly have power over a mass of people can be traced back to dividing that aforementioned mass of people. As power began to expand and evolve, the idea of separation became ever more clear, particularly in Great Britain and the United States. Since she is dissecting these cohabitation of peoples post-slavery, it is clear that these two countries both had their troubles with this “issue”. For example, Arendt writes that the abolishment of slavery created “a highly confused public opinion which was fertile soil for the various naturalistic doctrines which arose in those decades”, and this notion of “fertile soil” can still be seen in the 21st century political climate. For instance, the constant belittling of one’s opponent and constant spread of political propaganda are solely intended to sow the seeds of distrust among the public, for if the public is divided then no one person is able to gain power per say. Yet, the most curious aspect of this decision to divide, is that their is no true basis for one’s hatred of another, it is simply just pure hatred. In this work, Arendt notes of a sect of people called “polygenism”, which means that one seeks to isolate all people that are the same together: “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. I think that this sect of people perfectly encapsulates the idea that common dictators have, that a nation divided cannot thrive.

Just Mercy:Systematic Slavery

The film Just Mercy tells the story of a young lawyer named Bryan Stevens and the case of Jonnie D, an innocent African American man on death row. Jonnie D was falsely accused of killing a young white woman and sentenced to death. After reviewing Jonnie D’s case, Stevens quickly realizes that Jonnie D is innocent, and he tries absolutely everything to overcome the oppression in the current legal system and fights for Jonnie D’s innocence. Just Mercy illustrates that slavery does not exist in the traditional sense but in the form of sytematic opression. The film takes place in Alabama in 1989. Slavery has obviously been abolished for many years, but the civil rights movement just passed, and racisim and bigotry is still very much present in the rural south. Slavery exists systematically because once in the legal system African American citizens are treated unequally, abused, and stripped of inherent human rights. Just Mercy establishes that a racial hierarchy is still present in Alabama. The town’s sheriff, the judge in the first retrial hearing, and many citizens are very much racist. The hierarchy is able to manipulate the system so easily because they are the ones enforcing the laws. Several examples are seen such as false accusations, coerced testimonies, denied appeals, and ignorance. Bryan Stevens has to overcome all of these obstacles systematically in order to prove Jonnie D’s obvious innocence. 

One of the biggest symbols of systematic slavery occurs in one of the first scenes of the movie. Bryan Stevens is driving to the prison where his clients reside, and on his way, Stevens encounters about ten or twelve African American inmates participating in manual labor under the supervision of a white guard who is armed. If you take a screenshot of this scene and observe its imagery, it very closley resembles slavery from the 1800s. All the inmates were participating in harsh manual labor which is something that is unusual in prisons. The chains on all the prisoners are very prominent and noticeable symbolizing the slavery that is supposed to be abolished. The guard is positioned on a horse and appears to be looking down on the inmates. The images symbolizes the power dynamic where the prisoners are subject to the will of the white man. If a photo of this scene was taken and the context of Just Mercy was taken out, one might think this is a picture from the 1800s, and that is the point. This is not the 1800s and slavery does not “exist,” yet there is clear imagery that African Americans are the subject of inhumane behavior. The scene takes place at the prison where sytematic slavery is able to facillitate, and instead of rehabilition, abuse is taken place. This scene sets the stage for the many examples of systematic slavery to be seen in the movie.

It is an inherent human right to have representation in court, and nobody disputes that claim, yet this is not practiced justly. Upon arrival at the prison, Bryan Stevens talks to his many clients, and all his clients say the same thing about their past representation. They all say their past representation did the bare minimum and did not do a proper job. One client explains that he has only talked to his lawyer three times and he is a death row inmate, and another inmate states that he felt alone in his courtroom despite the “presence” of his lawyer. One lawyer defending a death row inmate was even for the death penalty. There are two words that describe this representation: inadequate and negligence. These lawyers are not doing their jobs which enables the system to treat African Americans unfairly. This representation is inadequate because they are not doing everything they can. They are not informing their clients properly, they are not doing everything they can, they are not fighting for justice. As explained by Jonnie D’s family, these lawyers care about just getting their paycheck and nothing else. Bryan Stevens does not charge them a penny which is a reason why they trust him so much. They practice negligence because there is more they can do and they do not do it. They do not exercise every option or inform their client of every option. Herb’s story is a good example of this. Herb is diagnosed with PTSD clearly and did not mean to kill anyone. It is said by multiple characters that Herb is sick and needs help. No lawyer besides Bryan Stevens tried to help Herb and his situation. These lawyers did not file an appeal, try to get Herb help, or plead mental illness. There were many options to potentially get Herb help and a better situation; however, he was left alone and subject to a racist system. If representation is inadequate and lawyers practice negligence, should it count as proper representation? Absolutely not because they are not being treated equally which causes them to be victims of the legal system, and this negligence and inadequacy fuels this system.  

Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston

Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston, an interesting short story that discussed the vileness of a physically and mentally abusive relationship between two individuals. This story also attempted to and succeeded in discussing the idea of retribution and karma. I found this story very interesting and it was something that I was able to follow. Something that Zora Neale Hurston does within her stories is be able to take dialogue from the time period, dialogue that for the average individual would be difficult to decipher and read. But for many black Americans this dialogue is exactly what we have grown up hearing, and it adds a sense of relatability to her stories. 

            The relationship between Delia and Sykes can be described as violent, and hateful. On many occasions through this story, he calls Delia names that can be labeled as degrading and hurtful. Even though they have been together for 15 years, you would think that there would be a sense of closeness and love between the two. But unfortunately for those 25 years Sykes has taken all of Delia’s love, and her ambition for their relationship and crushed it. He ridicules her by calling her a nigger woman, saying that she is too skinny, and unlovable, he even takes up with other women. A powerful statement made in this story was that Sykes simply “Made no room for her. [Delia]” However, Sykes did not take away her strength. She understands that she is the sole provider of the home and she has her own business to manage. The strength that we see in Delia, allowed me as the reader to hope that she may see peace and happiness one day.

            A common theme that we discussed this semester is the idea of retaliation or retribution. I knew when reading this story that Delia would soon find her retribution for the cruel and hard treatment she faced from her husband. Especially after he decided to torment her by placing a snake in their home. Sooner rather than later we finally see that his sick ways would be cut to an end after Sykes gets bitten by the snake, and we can assume that he has died. Something that I noticed during this part of the story was the way the sun was coming up, not only to symbolize a new day had arrived, but I also took it as a symbol of a way to say that a new life was beginning for Delia. One that she truly deserved.   

The Wire – No Place for a Moral Compass

I chose The Wire for my pop culture blog post, and I severely underestimated how long that show was. I just finished the first season alone. With as much content as they pack into a single forty-five minute episode, I feel more than qualified communicating what I learned from it with you all after watching only the first season. 

In this show we find a detective, Jimmy McNulty, as our protagonist. He is aiming to take down the “Barksdale” gang by cutting off its head. He has no interest in street level arrests as they only muddy up the investigation. He is continually bogged down by the bureaucratic nature of the police force as well as the politics played by his higher ups. An instance of his struggle is how he knows just enough to know himself that D’Angelo did kill a man and get away with it through gang affiliated courtroom intimidation, but not enough to gain any traction with the lieutenant. He speaks his mind to a judge friend of his only to make his world more chaotic when word trickles down to his boss, and he has suddenly created a previously nonexistent issue that needs to be solved. This correlates to a series of events that leads to his lieutenant demanding street arrests when he himself too knows that they will throw the whole investigation.

On the opposite end while Detective McNulty struggles with the infuriating police force, D’Angelo finds himself caught up in the high stakes life of his family of gangsters who have done great things to keep him out of jail. This makes him indebted to them causing him to strive to prove his loyalty. This begins to erode him from inside, however, as D’Angelo has no desire for harm to come to anyone that is not morally deserving of it. The problem is that brutality and violence are part of the order of running gang business. If people are already operating outside the law (buying and selling drugs), then the order has to come from a deeper level. He feels sympathy for a heroin addict, friend of “Bubbles” who is now a police informant,  who is brutally beaten for counterfeiting money to score some more heroin. He feels guilty again when he finds that the heroin is being cut so it is half as strong only so the addicts will buy twice as much.

In the case of Detective McNulty, we see a free thinking agent pursuing what he believes to be just. We see this when he relays his thoughts about the original murder to his friend who is a judge, and we see this when he refuses to accompany his fellow police on a raid he knows will kill the case. He is a worker in the justice system, but the justice system is not quite that. It is a system that acts based on rules for a desired outcome to those inputs relative to the rules. The end goal is something near an agreed upon idea of justice, but our detective sees that it often works in the other direction. This is comparable to the play “Death and the Maiden” where Paulina Escobar seeks justice in a system not catered to her idea of justice or any common sense of justice at all. Detective McNulty’s overhead will not let him operate in ways that get him the results he knows he can achieve while also not having immediate access to the equipment required to achieve his goals, and his boss has it out for him. Paulina Escobar is similarly not given proper justice seeking resources being a woman in her South American country that favors the rights of men while not having enough evidence beyond her word which is not respected, and the Truth Commission has grown distrust for her claims including her own husband. They both seek to bring down subjects they know to be guilty and demanding of justice, but are both caught up in the misaligned cogs of the justice system.

On a smaller side note: D’Angelo is in a similar situation to Max in the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. He choses a life in disregard of the justice system, and is cast into a world only governed by the laws of nature. The only system of structure outside of the law is order by nature and brutality. D’Angelo becomes fearful of the world he has placed himself into. Unlike Max he cannot return home to the world of law and order, but he does attempt to amend his ways. After his arrest, he is ready to turn in his uncle, a higher-up in the Barksdale gang. 

In the end we find that D’Angelo has a genuine desire for true justice much like his police counterpart, Detective McNulty. This show is very compelling, and felt like an omniscient version of the other hit television series “Breaking Bad”. There’s a lot to be said for a moral compass, and while every member of a society may have that innate indication of good and evil that does not mean their justice systems will always if ever pan out the same way.

by – J. Davis Harrell, Jr.

The Night Of

The Night Of is a series about the main character Nasir “Naz” Khan who is accused of murdering Andrea Cornish. The story starts off with Naz getting a phone call from his friend about a party, though Naz is a very disciplined and overall a good guy he is hesitant at first, but decides to go thinking not much will happen, but little does he know what awaits. He steals his dad’s cab and goes to Manhattan for the party. On the way he gets lost and stops by the side of the road to find the destination, in that time a young girl hops into the cab thinking he is a cab driver, but Naz does not tell her to get out of the cab due to the fact he thought she was very attractive and just went along took her where she wanted to go. Their connection starts to grow and they start getting more fond of each other as the night goes on. He buys her beer, even though he does not drink himself and they go sit by the Brooklyn Bridge. Andrea offers Naz some type of drug, though he has never taken any before he ends up taking the drug. As the night progresses they go back to Andrea’s place. When they get to her place, they take more drugs and drink. Andrea starts playing a game with a knife and ends up stabbing herself in the hand. They both end up going upstairs and start making love. What seems to be later on in the night, Naz who has been blacked out wakes up in the kitchen and realizes he’s been out too late and goes upstairs to say goodbye to Andrea but when he enters her bedroom she is covered in blood with stab markings all down her back. The room is covered with blood stains, starting from the back wall all the way to the curtains. Like any normal person Naz freaks out and does not know what has happened. He is trying to figure out what happened in the time between they were together and now. He is sure of the fact that he did not kill her, but he is so freaked out he grabs the knife that has blood stains on it and the pills, so the police do not have evidence of who might have done it. Naz gets caught in an unexpected way. He originally gets stopped by the police for drunk driving, but during the same time the cops gets a call about a break in the same area and because they are the closest cop car to that scene they have to go, and end up taking Naz with them in the back seat of the car. As they approach the scene it ends up being Andrea’s apartment. A neighbor saw a man trying to break in who was Naz trying to get his keys. The cops go inside and end up finding Andrea dead in a pool of her own blood. The investigation then starts and because it has been so long since Naz has been in the back they cannot perform the drink test on him, so the cops decide to let him go, but before he is let go they have to check him for unarmed weapons, and as the cop is searching him she finds the knife that Naz took from the apartment covered in blood; and from there Naz is the main suspect of the crime.

         Naz is taken into custody and is questioned by detective Dennis Box. The audience can see that Naz is in shock and does not understand what has happened. He went from hanging out with this random girl and the next thing you know he sees that she is laying in her own blood, but deep down he knows that he did not kill her, but the authorities think otherwise. After his questioning he is sitting in the cell, while he is there attorney Jack Stone walks by him and sees he is in need of help. Jack offers to help Naz unaware of the fact that he is accused of homicide. Jack is trying his best to help when attorney Alison Crowe decides to take on the case and help out Naz. Naz now has been transferred into Riker’s Island jail. This series gives us a glimpse to the way jails run in America. We see the real truth of how inmates are living with each other and how hard it can be for many of the inmates. On Naz’s first night he is given many death threats and at one point the bed he sleeps on is put on fire while he went to the bathroom. Throughout his time in jail we see that he starts to change, the once so innocent Naz is starting to get influenced by the people he is surrounded with. He starts getting tattoos and then goes on to doing weed while he is in there. You can see his whole mannerisms start to change and he is starting to look like a criminal, but throughout the whole time he stands his ground and does not plead guilty, which leads us to the corruption of how attorneys and lawyers work. Naz’s lawyer meets with prosecutor Helen Weiss and is negotiating the sentence Naz would get if he pleads guilty. She gives Naz the news and explains to him that this is the best offer he will get if he wants to get out and have a life. If he does not plead guilty, he is risking the possibility of having a life sentence. This type of occurrence is very common in cases, which is very sad. People are forced to plead guilty for crimes they have not committed to ensure that they can be free some point in their life. These types of situations tell us a lot about how America’s legal system works, and how all lawyers really care about is winning their cases, not about the people they are trying to defend. Innocent people are forced to plead guilty for crimes they have not done just so they do not have to spend the rest of their lives in jail. But throughout the show Naz does not give up and pleads not guilty. At the end of the series the grand jury ends up having a tie 6 to 6. The judge gives prosecutor Helen the option to do another trial with a new jury, but she denies the offer which makes Naz a free man. Helen and Box decide to take on the lead that homicide detective Box found earlier who is the man that we see is the first guy they meet walking down the street in the first episode and is the guy who killed Andrea. This series pinpoints many different themes and problems that are occurring in America and its legal system now. Overall this was a very interesting show and I am glad this assignment finally gave me a chance to finish this very well put together series.

Thoughts on Philadelphia

When I was initially selecting what to watch for this project, I chose Philadelphia simply because I saw Tom Hanks. I had very little context for what the movie was about or what kind of story it would tell.  What I did not expect was the total sobbing mess I would be after this movie; I’m not sure if it was the isolation or Hanks’s excellent acting, Philadelphia was incredibly emotional and affecting to watch. 

One of the elements of this movie that struck me so squarely was the flipping of a typical set of roles taken in this type of narrative. When we first meet Andrew Beckett, he’s a typical intelligent, high-powered lawyer that seems destined for greatness. He follows the typical archetypes that are typically common in Hollywood’s representation of individuals in this role – white, masculine, and very intelligent. This immediate impression, though, is presented with a stark juxtaposition of Beckett obtaining treatment at a clinic for AIDS; it presents to the viewer how different the mask Beckett puts on for his career is from his reality as an AIDS patient. 

Similarly, in the scene where Beckett believes he is wrongfully fired and seeks legal aid, he finally obtains it from Joe Miller, a young lawyer he previously encountered at the beginning of the film, after speaking to a large number of other lawyers that wouldn’t represent him. Miller’s character is one, I think, that the audience was intended to identify with at the time period in which it was released. He is not, as one might expect, a shining beacon of altruism or a warrior for LGBT rights at the beginning of the film. He’s homophobic in a way that I’m sure many of the viewers could identify with; he was not aggressively against MSM, but still harbored a sense of disgust, a lack of understanding towards them, and repeatedly showed how disgusted and offended he was at the idea of being mistaken for one himself.

Another facet of the relationship between Miller and Beckett that struck me very squarely was that Miller, the lawyer representing Beckett, was Black. This is a flipping of the typical narrative we see in these situations; the presence of the “white savior” complex is one that is undeniable in many media. However, in this situation, the individual with the power was the one who was Black. This brought to my mind the reading of Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins from a couple weeks ago. Both Miller and Beckett are characters that exist outside of their typical “dimensions” as characters. Beckett, as a white man, undeniably possesses more power in this society and was even shown as successful over Miller at the beginning of the film; there’s a great scene at the beginning of the movie in which they’re on opposing sides and Beckett emerges victorious. However, once Beckett’s identity as a homosexual man is revealed, the power dynamic between the two men greatly shifts. In this situation, Beckett’s identity as a homosexual man supersedes his white masculinity and he must rely on Miller.

Similarly, the law itself nearly failed to take into account the marginalized experiences of MSM. One of the common arguments made against Beckett in the film is that his homosexuality was his choice. They state repeatedly that Beckett’s decisions to engage in sexual activity with other men was something that was inherently full of risk and his choice to engage was made with complete understanding of the chance of AIDS and, therefore, his employers were not necessarily in the wrong to punish him for something that was represented as his “choice.” This was really interesting to see, simply because this showed the viewers that this firing was not as a result of a fear of illness, but rather as a fear of MSM in general; we see this clearly when the other AIDS victim in the company was brought to the stand. A distinction was made regarding her case because she was infected via a blood transfusion, whereas Beckett’s was from sexual activity. Though she herself states that she does not blame this disease on anyone, her status as a straight, white woman who fits closer to the established societal roles than Beckett makes her seem as more of a “victim” and less of someone who “chose” the disease, as the opposition makes the case for. 

Another facet of the film that struck me was Beckett’s death at its conclusion. This called to mind Tom Robinson’s death in TKAM, which shared a few characteristics. While Robinson was ultimately found unfairly guilty and died, Beckett’s case was successful and held symbolic weight even though he did not survive to see the progress of the decision on society. I think this is because Philadelphia is, ultimately, a much more hopeful story than TKAM was. If Beckett’s trial had occurred in Maycomb, I doubt the jury would have sided in his favor – MSM are frequently demonized and ostracized even today. 

One of the most depressing realizations I had from this movie was that Miller’s beginning sentiments towards MSM were ones that I was very much familiar with in my own encounters throughout life, except these sentiments have not changed and instead are very deeply ingrained in many people I’ve been exposed to. The happy ending made the movie less depressing to watch, but I’m not sure such a situation would have been decided in reality. The victorious end to this movie and the consistent black and whiteness to the morality of the individuals in this movie made it a bit less effective than I believe it could’ve been. Overall, though, I greatly enjoyed the movie and can imagine the incredible impact it had on society during its release; as one of the first movies to truly tackle the issue of the AIDS epidemic, it shines a bright light on what I’m sure were the many shared sentiments of the viewers towards MSM as well as the inherent hypocrisy that accompanied them.

Thoughts about “12 Angry Men”

In the film 12 Angry Men, you follow 12 jurors as they decide the fate of an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father. What starts as a showing of raucous support for the boy’s obvious guilt ultimately leads to a unanimous vote for his possible innocence at the end of the film. This decision was brought about due to the inclusion of doubt. One juror expressed his doubt with some of the evidence brought forward during the multi-day trial. He did not express any ideas against the possibility of this evidence being correct only that it was possible it could be incorrect. This was a perspective that was not immediately shared by his peers at the start of the film. They had disregarded the importance of doubt in the trial process.

The jurors brought with them into that room outside views, feelings, prejudices and obligations that were influencing their thinking process. There was no room for doubt in their minds. Doubt requires the juror to think through what they observed, heard and felt during the trial. Doubt is needed to make the trial process fair. It allows one side to carry its weight against the other and it allows decisions to be validated due to the burden of proof not being reached. In Death and the Maiden there was no room for doubt. In another, albeit unorthodox, life or death trial, Paulina has already made up her mind as to what she is going to do to Roberto. She allows no room to doubt the possibility of her being wrong. Due mainly to her own “testimony” and eyewitness account as the victim in the trial. All the doubt seems to be in the mind of Gerardo, however he possesses no real power to affect the fate of Roberto. This is different from 12 Angry Men. The jury gives time to each juror to work through the baggage they brought in with them until they ultimately find facts/evidence they can possibly refute.

This outside baggage that is brought in with the jury varies. One juror wanted to make it on-time to a baseball game. Another juror wanted to end the decision quickly based mainly on his views regarding the boy’s race. This raises the question as to whether a jury has nothing to gain or lose from the verdict in a trial. In the Furies, the jury may have to face the wrath of godly forces/ a higher authority. In Death and the Maiden, Paulina, who acts as the judge, jury and executioner, faces the possibility of never receiving closure on an event that affected her and many from her country. The results of a trial could have personal stakes for the jury regardless of the ethical nature of that claim. It could also have wide-ranging effects for many outside parties as well. One of the jurors in 12 Angry Men seemed to have personal claim regarding the decision as the film went on. He was adamant that the boy was guilty regardless of the evidence brought up for his possible innocence, some even proven by his own actions. The reason he felt strongly about this decision regarding the boy stemmed from his own personal problems. We learned early on how this juror had a falling out with his son. It came across in the film as though he was trying to find some form of catharsis by punishing this boy in the place of the son that he felt had spurned him. This juror carried a goal with him that could jeopardized someone’s life. This situation could happen all the time in trials and we simply don’t know or don’t consider/care if they do. To a degree this even happens in Death and the Maiden. Paulina, despite how valid her anger and pain is, may have decided to end the life of an innocent man. Her motive for punishing Roberto, not his guilt is the aspect of importance here. She wanted revenge against the man who raped her. She seemingly willing to come to a conclusion about Roberto before the ploy with the testimony. This can even be seen to an extent in the Furies. The Furies seek to not have their godly position belittled and womanhood be besmirched.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The questions it raised regarding the spectacle nature of a trial and the responsibility of the jury are fascinating to consider. It also left me with a sense of emptiness/uneasiness over the idea of never really knowing the truth in a trial. Doubt is always present regardless of the decision that is made. It has left me with a new perspective on trials and the jury process altogether.

“Ashamed To Live in a Land Where Justice is a Game”

In the film Just Mercy directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, a young lawyer named Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) moves to Alabama to start a nonprofit organization focused on liberating people wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death row because of racial discrimination. Stevenson’s main case through out the entirety of the movie is one in which a middle aged black man named Walter McMillian (Denzel Washington) has been convicted of murdering a young white woman despite the entire case being based on the false testimony of a white convict who made a plea deal in exchange. The white prosecutors chose to ignore the evidence that would have exonerated Walter McMillian and instead rigged the case to make sure he was convicted. The movie depicts the struggles of not just Mr. McMillian and his lawyer Mr. Stevenson to get the ruling overturned, but struggles of the entire black community in Monroe, Alabama against a system unequivocally in favor of whites.

The beginning of the movie immediately parallels itself with another famous depiction of racial injustice in the Unites States; To Kill a Mockingbird. Not only does Just Mercy take place in the town in which Harper Lee wrote TKAMB, but the plot revolves around the trial of a black man in a white justice system. Also furthering the prevalence of racial discrimination in both works is the name Robert E. Lee, most notably the name of the Confederate Commander during the American Civil War. The judge that first sentences Mr. McMillian is named Robert E. Lee Key, similar to the name of the man accusing Tom Robinson in TKAMB, Robert E. Lee Ewell. The similarities between these two works and their portrayal of racial injustice is hauntingly similar, one being a novel set fifty years before the actual events that Just Mercy is based on occurred, showing the prevalence and continuation that racial injustice has had throughout American history.

The main trials in both works, those of Tom Robinson in TKAMB and Walter McMillian in Just Mercy, both show the racial prejudice against black people in the southern United States. Neither actually committed the crime they were convicted for, both were fighting against a white system with all white juries and judges, and because of this, both had no faith in the justice system. In Just Mercy, Mr. McMillian is originally reluctant to allow Mr. Stevenson to take on his case because he thought it would be pointless due to the white judicial system that needed someone to blame for the murder of the young white woman. One of the cases that Mr. Stevenson and his coworker encounter is one where a white defense attorney states of his black client, “Mad dogs ought to die,” (00:13:30). This shows the mindset and willingness of white people, even defense attorneys assigned to black people, to readily sentence black people to the death penalty, making it hard for any black person to have faith in the justice system. In TKAMB, Tom Robinson similarly lost all faith in the justice system after he and Atticus Finch lose his case in court and he is sentenced to die. Instead of waiting for the outcome of the legal appeal process which Atticus had high hopes for, Tom Robinson decided to risk his life in an attempt to escape from prison which resulted in his death. The fact that both Mr. McMillian and Tom Robinson were so hopeless despite being innocent where they just accepted death as their fate demonstrates how strongly rooted racial injustice is within the Unites States.

Not only was this racial prejudice epitomized with the wrongful convictions of black men, it also occurred in numerous other instances in the works. In both Just Mercy and TKAMB, the black spectators of the trials were forced to sit or stand in the very back of the court room. Mr. Stevenson was also pulled over and held at gun point by police and subjected to a full strip search in the jail before meeting with his client seemingly because of the color of his skin. A black witness, Mr. Houston, was arrested for perjury by white cops after he had told the truth. Later in Just Mercy, after all the evidence had all but proven Mr. McMillian as innocent, the white prosecutor still pushed to have him put on death row. Mr.Stevenson then confronts the prosecutor and says, “Your job is not to get a conviction, it’s to achieve justice,” (01:56:30). This statement exemplifies how the white judicial system thought in a backwards way when trying a black person to a white one. The law enforcement and judicial system allowed their suspicions of black people to drive their prejudice and reasoning when it came to determining whether they were innocent or guilty. From the front lines of law enforcement all the way up to the judge’s bench, black people were inherently wrong or guilty of something, even if there was no evidence or reason for them to be other than, in the eyes of the legal system, their skin.

Pop Culture Assignment / “My Cousin Vinny”

There were two very important things I learned from “My Cousin Vinny.” First, I never realized how badly my life needed Ralph Macchio with a New York accent before today, and second, the movie drew attention to the issue of racial discrimination in the South. At first, I wasn’t sure if the racial placements of black people in subservient positions was intentional or not until a pivotal moment in the movie where Mr. Trotter (the Third), the prosecutor, is making his opening statement to the jury. He states, “Truth. That’s what ‘verdict’ means. It’s a word comes down from old England…and all our little old ancestors.” As he finishes feeding the jury his lines, the camera lands on a black juror. The truth had immediate impact on me as the preceding scenes boasted images of Confederate flags, black stereotyping of apparently poor old men wasting their days gossiping on a town bench, a black mechanic nobody takes academically seriously, and a black cook working behind the counter at a diner. It shocked me to see how many black actors and actresses had been placed in submissive positions until halfway through the movie. The directors, intentionally or not, treated the black characters like side quests in a video game. They felt very optional to me, even though they held the answers to solving the case. For example, the black mechanic warned them that tires get stuck in the mud, an imperative point in the case that was mocked by the main white characters initially upon arrival into town, and the chef told them how grits were cooked, also an imperative detail passed through the cook and communicated to Vinny Gambini, the defense lawyer, that proved the “witness” had lied about his timeline to pin the guilt of the case on two boys he presumed were guilty of the crime. Vinny didn’t take their words into serious consideration until the time proved useful to him. He waited until the opportune time to claim their knowledge as his own for the betterment of his status in the legal community, which did not even exist until Vinny’s female fiancé called in a favor to a friend. The lack of acceptance and acknowledgement of feminism and the lack of recognition of women as intellectual equals in this movie infuriates me, but that is a topic for another day.

I would like to flash back to the courtroom scene where the words “…old England…and all our little old ancestors…” hung ominously in the air before the face of a black juror. Black people, originally aboriginal Africans, were brought to the English colonies in the early 1600s by white colonists. Back then, African-Americans’ opinions and beliefs were treated like secondhand smoke—diseased and undesired (

However, the knowledge of these black characters held the answers to the court case. They offered minute details to the defense attorney that none other held. They knew the process behind the acclaimed facts, but nobody believed them because of the color of their skin. Even in modern pop culture, black characters are treated as humorous reprieves rather than morally autonomous characters who offer intellectual continuance of the conversations being held at the white tables.

Particularly in the South, many white people to this day see black people as poor descendants of slaves who picked cotton and were nothing more than the dirt on their field clothes while quite-the-opposite-movement was happening—one of financial, physical, and academic freedom. The color of one’s skin, contrary to popular belief, did not determine the intelligence in one’s brain. There was great irony and acknowledgment in not accepting black education in the South. The movie was filmed in 1991, but the Confederate flag, the ultimate symbol of black oppression, wasn’t removed from Alabama’s statehouse grounds until 2015 according to The Washington Post ( While white Alabama citizens were not willing to accept that black people had inherent independent freedom, they were denying it from people as free as their white selves. They were equals, yet the white people of the Southern state could not accept this.

It was extremely disheartening to see black people treated as inferiors, even as recently as 1991, in films because equality should be acknowledged throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world or country, and while I wish I could lead a crusade through North America, I appreciate the attention the directors drew to the concept of racism through this movie. Do I think they could have done a better job at making the black characters less of secondhand novelties? Absolutely. Do I appreciate the attention they were trying to draw to the unconstitutional treatment of blacks in America? Without a doubt. I believe a finer balance could have been reached, but I truly believe their hearts were in the right place. National attention needed to be diverted to rural America where slavery was still an accepted idea, even though it was no longer practiced. Just because something is no longer practiced does not mean it is no longer believed.