To Kill a Mockingbird and Just Mercy: Racism and it’s constant negativity

This week for our media assignment I chose to watch the new Just Mercy film. This movie exhibits the life and career of Bryan Stevenson, whose life goal is not only to defend those wrongly accused and unfairly charged; but mainly to help a man named Walter McMillian. Throughout the entire film, there are many instances of racism and legal troubles that the characters face. As I was watching this movie, I was thinking about which piece we discussed in class this semester would best relate to this storyline. As I finished the film, I realized that Just Mercy relates itself in many ways to another classic piece: To Kill a Mockingbird. I read both Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption (the book the movie was based on), and To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. Rereading/watching these works now in college made me see the deeper themes and therefore made it alot easier for me to see the relations between the two. The main similarity that stood out to me was the theme of prejudice throughout both of these pieces. Prejudice in the form of racism is very prevalent in both Just Mercy and To Kill a Mockingbird, showing how important this issue continues to be. To Kill a Mockingbird exhibits racism in many ways throughout the novel, especially when it comes to people being racist towards Tom Robinson. This is a point I discussed in a previous blog post regarding To Kill a Mockingbird, and I think it is also extremely important that it be brought in this discussion and comparison. It is very obvious that the surrounding community believes that because of the color of Tom’s skin, he does not deserve a fair trial. People ultimately believed that Tom was guilty just by taking one look at him and seeing that he was black. There are many examples that could have proved Tom to be innocent, such as the fact that he had a crippled left arm and essentially had no motive to commit the crime at hand. These examples did not phase the public though because of his skin color in the end. The fact that Atticus believes Tom innocence even ends up causing problems within the community. Scout and Cecil end up fighting when Cecil announces that Scout’s father is defeding a negro. It becomes evident that racism is not only causing problems in the courtroom regarding Tom’s fate, but even sparks controversy between the rest of the people in the community. Atticus ends up being shamed over the sole fact that he believes Tom is innocent, so not only are people being discriminated against, but it leads to people’s thoughts and beliefs leading them to be discriminated against as well. As for Just Mercy, it is very similar in the fact that it includes the case of an innocent black man being accused and charged for a crime he did not commit. But not only does this film include a case of a black man wrongfully accused, but it also includes acts of racism towards Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer recently graduated from Harvard Law who just recently moved to the South. Stevenson experiences racism himself throughout this plot. Even though he is a successful Harvard grad (a very prestigious accomplishment), people still treat him like a minority because of the color of his skin and his career focus, which is helping African American inmates who have wrongfully ended up on death row. Stevenson has many problems starting up his own law firm in Alabama because of these two ideas. For example, when looking for a building to rent for this law firm, he is denied when they learn what his goals as a lawyer are. Bryan Stevenson’s client, Walter Mcmillian, whose case is the main focus of the film, experiences racism in many cruel and serious ways. This man was wrongfully accused of a serious crime, and the reasoning for his arrest is shocking. Police believe the word of a white convict saying he committed this crime over the word of multiple people who were with Mcmillian the day of the crime at a barbeque that was a few hours away. This group of individuals were black, which shows that the police believed one white man over a group of black individuals solely because of skin color. Another and final example of racism in this movie regards Mcmillian’s “cell neighbor” when he is in jail. This man was arrested because the police said “he just looked like a murderer”. His arrest was solely based on the color of his skin, nothing more. In the end, both of these pieces not only exhibit multiple instances of racism, but they show how this continues to be a problem that needs to be solved. These examples are emotional and hit home, they show why it is so unfair to treat people differently based on the color of their skin, and how their prejudice affects individuals and entire communities in the long run. 

One thought on “To Kill a Mockingbird and Just Mercy: Racism and it’s constant negativity”

  1. I’m interested in your observation about the film’s presentation of the racism Stevenson experiences, because of course that’s one big distinction between Just Mercy and To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus certainly takes a lot of crap for taking on Tom Robinson’s case, but he himself is not the victim of racism. What do you think the filmmakers (or, in his own book on which the film was based, Stevenson) hope to accomplish by drawing attention to Stevenson’s own treatment? How does his experience of racism enhance or complicate our understanding of the structural racism that leads to the situation on Death Row that’s at the center of the film?

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