Philadelphia (1993)

I chose to watch the film Philadelphia for my post. I was drawn to this film because I am an avid supporter for LGBTQ+ rights and have personal experience with a family member who deals with the struggles of the virus HIV. Also, who doesn’t love Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington?

In the film Philadelphia, lawyer Andrew Beckett was fired from his job at Philadelphia’s most prestigious law firm despite the fact that he worked as a brilliant lawyer and has always had an amazing job performance. In response, he launches a wrongful termination suit against the attorneys who fired him from his law firm because they fired him for being gay and HIV-positive. Three major themes portrayed in the film that are also represented in some of the texts we have read throughout the course of the semester are discrimination, good vs. evil, and justice.

The first connection I drew between the film and our class materials was the main theme addressed in Philadelphia and “Whiteness as Property” by Cheryl I. Harris. Both the film and the text address discriminatory law. In “Whiteness as Property,” Harris examines the way in which the legal system has come to favor whites over people of color. Similarly, Beckett’s case in Philadelphia addresses the way in which the legal system has come to disfavor those who are homosexual. The attorneys of his law firm fired Beckett after finding out he was gay and HIV-positive, which is absolute discrimination. They had no other reason to fire him based off of his reputable job performance. Discriminatory laws have been put in place, but cases like Andrew Beckett’s still occur. In “Whiteness as Property,” Harris addresses the racism that has been embedded into the American society as a result of white privilege being protected under the law. The same concept is addressed in Philadelphia to those who are homosexual or suffer from HIV.

There were several connections I was able to draw between Philadelphia and To Kill a Mockingbird. The first connection I made is the historical context in each story in relation to the themes of discrimination. To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the 1930’s. During this time, racial discrimination was an extreme issue. The vast majority of the citizens of Maycomb were racist. Philadelphia takes place in Philadelphia (shocking, right?) while the AIDs epidemic was fairly new and many homosexual people, especially those infected with HIV, faced extreme discrimination. People were not only downright homophobic, but they were even afraid to go near someone infected with HIV despite the fact that the disease can only be transmitted through bodily fluids. Therefore, there is a major connection between Andrew Beckett and Tom Robinson. Beckett relates to Tom Robinson in the sense that they are both victims of discrimination. Beckett suffers from discrimination for his sexual orientation disease while Tom Robinson suffers from racial discrimination.

 
Another connection I made between To Kill a Mockingbird and the film was the theme good versus evil. This is portrayed through the courtroom scenes. The case and courtroom scenes pictured in Philadelphia reminded me a lot of those featured in To Kill a Mockingbird. The court officials in To Kill a Mockingbird are described as “little gray-faced men, they seemed untouched by the wind or sun,” while the attorneys who fired Beckett are also gray-faced, unlively, and dull. It reminded me of the way Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson were the “good” in the case in To Kill a Mockingbird while Bob Ewell is the “evil.” Similarly, Andrew Beckett and Joe Miller play the role of “good” while the other attorneys of Beckett’s ex-firm play the role of “evil.” I also found that Andrew Beckett and Joe Miller possessed many traits that reminded me of Atticus Finch. Beckett is an excellent lawyer who genuinely loves his job and enjoys “justice being done.” These three men are passionate about their careers, wise, intelligent, diligent, and committed to justice. Just like Atticus was the only lawyer willing to defend Tom Robinson in his case, Joe Miller was the only attorney willing to represent Andrew Beckett in his case. They all represent the side that readers and viewers want to root for as they read/watch.

Unfortunately, in the end of the film, justice was served but Beckett falls fatally ill and soon passes away in the hospital. The jury voted in his favor, awarding him back for pay, pain, suffering, and punitive damages valued at over $5 million. Although justice was served, and Beckett won his case, it was terribly sad to see him die at the end of the film. This was similar to the unjust death of Tom Robinson. Beckett and Tom Robinson were both innocent men who did not deserve to die. However, both stories were able to carry out the themes of discrimination and provide some sort of happy-ish ending. Although he died, Beckett won his case. Although Tom Robinson was killed, justice was ultimately served when Bob Ewell was killed.

Mayella’s Reliance on her Identity in her Testimony in TKAM

During the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella relies on her identity as a white woman to help her throughout her testimony and ultimately win over the jury. She is aware of her social status compared to Tom Robinson’s and is able to use this to her advantage. She also chooses to present herself as weak and fragile in an attempt to prove she is traumatized from the alleged rape.

When Mayella is asked to tell the jury about what happened during the evening of the incident, she initially sits silent. It is obvious that she knew she would be required to give her testimony, so she had plenty of time to mentally prepare for this moment. She silences herself and cries with the intentions of playing the victim.

If Tom Robinson was truly guilty, Mayella would have displayed confidence in her responses during her testimony. Instead, she presented tears, distress, and hesitance in her responses. When Atticus asks Mayella if she had asked for Tom’s assistance before, she first denies it, saying, “I did not, I certainly did not” (209) but when asked again she says, “I mighta” (209). Mayella’s inconsistent answers gives the jury little reason to believe her, but they ultimately take her side because she is a white woman.

In her last statement, she says that Tom Robinson “took advantage of me an’ if you fine fancy gentlemen don’t wanta do nothin’ about it then you’re all yellow stinkin’ cowards, stinkin’ cowards, the lot of you” (214). She relies on her identity to save her from having to speak anymore.

Mayella plays a major role in Maycomb’s preservation of social order. Although it is clear to me that she could have presented a much stronger testimony to ensure that Tom would be found guilty, the system worked in her favor regardless. It is the social inequality and racial prejudice of Maycomb that allowed Tom Robinson to be falsely convicted of rape.

Trauma Inflicted Upon Journalists in Country of my Skull

“We sleep between one and two hours a night. We live on chocolate and potato chips. After five years without cigarettes, I start smoking again” (Krog, 51).

This quote written by Krog is seen in chapter three of Country of my Skull as she explains the emotional conflict that journalists like her are forced to deal with throughout their careers reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The film, Long Night’s Journey Into Day did not address the emotional burden brought upon the reporters. This was something I had thought about; how it must be extremely difficult to put one’s emotions aside while having to film and interview innocent people who are experiencing a very painful level of grief. I was so glad that Krog touched upon this in Country of my Skull because it was something that really interested me. I am a particularly sensitive and empathetic person, so I do not see myself as fit for the role that Krog is able to fulfil, although she does struggle.

There is a sense of strength that such journalists are required to possess in order to perform their jobs efficiently. Krog was affected by the stories in such an extreme way that she was drawn to return to a past addiction portrays the severe emotional trauma that comes with being a journalist. Krog shows that the amount of emotional strength it takes to quit an addiction like smoking cigarettes can be easily lost when an emotional trauma of equal or greater force interferes.

Krog continues to write, “we develop techniques to lessen the impact. We no longer go into the halls where the hearings take place, because of the accumulated grief. We watch on the monitors provided. The moment someone starts crying, we start writing/scribbling/doodling” (Krog, 51). She shows readers that they are forced to come up with ways to deal with the trauma inflicted upon them. I thought it was very interesting that she also wrote that the journalists are, in a way, each other’s therapists; as they are going through the same thing, they are there for each other to ease the intense emotional burden.

The emotional burden of being a journalist and having to report on such sensitive cases is something I have not thought about prior to watching Long Night’s Journey Into Day and reading Country of my Skull. Learning about this actually gave me a much better appreciation for the work that these journalists do. Their careers are not just reciting information about cases; they are often faced with hardships and are forced to find their own ways of putting their emotions aside to lessen their own agony.

Forgiveness, Remorse, and Justice in Long Night’s Journey Into Day

The film Long Night’s Journey Into Day features four stories of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from those seeking amnesty for the crimes they have committed during apartheid in South Africa. Amnesty would be considered in exchange for the truth. Granting such pardons requires forgiveness, which is a main theme throughout the film.

The first story featured in the film greatly exemplifies the theme of forgiveness. This story in particular made headlines around the world: American exchange student, Amy Biehl, was killed in a mob by three South African men. The men claimed to be motivated by the political tensions that were undergoing in the township at the time. The killing of her “exposed both our anger and the conditions under which we lived. Because if we had been living reasonably we would not have killed her.” When is it permissible to justify murder with anger? It is still wrong. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that they would consider granting amnesty to those who tell the truth, and the men do provide the truth.

The men and their families continued to express their remorse and to request amnesty for the murder of Biehl. What was extremely significant about this case was that the parents of the victim reached out and provided support to the mother of one of the murderers. After expressing her remorse to the victim’s grieving family, the mother was visited by Biehl’s parents, who ensured her that they would not oppose her son’s application to be freed from jail. Is it fair that offering remorse can allow someone to be forgiven and pardoned for their crimes?

The parents of Amy Biehl are unique in the way that they are so forgiving despite the major pain and suffering they had to experience. The story of her murder reveals that remorse and forgiveness have the ability to impact the outcome of a legal case.

Zong! Excerpts: Breaking Down the Chaos

My initial attempt at reading Zong! was a bit of a challenge for me, to say the least. Each poem made me feel forced out of my comfort zone in the worst way possible. My internal monologue resembled something along the lines of: why are the words like this, why are we reading this, what even is this? Trying to interpret each poem’s meaning felt like pulling teeth. But, as I read through NourbeSe Philip’s essay and read her poems a second time, I slowly began to understand the context of her pieces. My feelings of utter panic left and it became possible for me to break down each poem. Here are two of my interpretations:

Zong! #1

This is the first poem in the series and the most chaotic, in my opinion. On my first attempt at reading this, I lightly skimmed the poem as it seemed to be almost illegible. It meant nothing to me. During my second time around, things began to make more sense. I saw the poem in a completely different way. It is chaotic, but that was Philip’s exact intention. She attempts to mimic the gruesome and sad end that these slaves were forced to endure. I see this opening poem as a representation of the bodies of the enslaved people in the water as they drowned, those who suffered under dehydration, and those who starved to death. The way she writes, “w w w… w a t er,” sounds like one of the slaves trying to beg for water as he desperately dies of thirst. The way the letters are dispersed throughout the pages represent the bodies of helpless humans scattered throughout open water as they frantically drowned to their deaths.

Zong! #12

Zong! #12 is my favorite poem in the series. The meaning of this poem seemed to jump right at me as I read it for the second time. The right column of the poem seems to be a conflict between morality and evilness as the captain ultimately comes to the decision to throw 150 slaves overboard. It may have been unnecessary, but the captain believed it was justified since he would earn more financial gains doing so. The left column featuring two lines gives the reality, “it was a throwing overboard.” Philip isolates this statement to emphasize that this is the bottom line: it was a throwing overboard which is neither justifiable nor necessary. The reason I liked this poem so much is because I felt that she brings in the obvious truth and exposes the wrongs of the mariners who overthrew the slaves, forcing them to drown. She speaks out against the tragedy and shows that it was by no means justifiable.

The poems of Zong! had a much different effect on me when I read them for a second time compared to the first time. The first time I read them, I went in blindly as I was unaware of any sort of context. After reading Philip’s essay, I was able to figure out the poems and see them from a completely different perspective. I felt emotionally moved while my spirits grew saddened as I read Philip’s creative interpretation of the suffering that these slaves were forced to go through.

I am curious to see how everyone else interpreted these poems. Did your brain process work similar to mine? Was it completely different reading the poems after learning about the tragedy in Philip’s essay?

The Significance of Native Americans and their History in “Whiteness as Property”

In the article, “Whiteness as Property,” Cheryl I. Harris addresses the racism that has been embedded into the American society as a result of white privilege being protected under the law. Harris introduces her believe that the origin of this phenomenon stems from the justification of whites conquering the land that was once inhabited by the Native Americans. Harris writes, “the conquest, removal, and extermination of Native American life and culture were ratified by conferring and acknowledging the property rights of whites in Native American land. Only white possession and occupation of land was validated and therefore privileged as a basis for property rights” (278). She incorporates the history of whites conquering the land of the Native Americans’ into her argument as an example to further illustrate America’s history of whites’ dehumanization of minorities and how the nation was formed as a result of oppressing a race that whites have deemed as inferior to themselves. From day one, the American society was constructed to favor whites over other races. It was justified for the whites to conquer the Native American land because they felt that they had the privilege to exploit everyone, even though they were living on this land before them. This addition was necessary to Harris’ article because she shows how the American society was built on the foundation that whites are superior and therefore entitled to enjoy privileges that other races cannot. The racism that is prevalent today originates from whites having this self-proclaimed superiority since America’s beginning.

What is sad, frustrating and disappointing; is that over five hundred years have passed since this moment and white supremacy is still prevalent today. The United States is a nation divided by varying racial and political beliefs. Harris is able to use her personal experiences to address the privilege that America’s society has given to whites, dating back to the justification of conquest of the land that once belonged to the Native Americans. But, what can be done to change the ways that whites have been entitled throughout America’s history?