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.  

‘Unbelievable’ : Struggles Within Our Justice System

Tradd Stover

‘Unbelievable’ as a film series is wonderfully crafted and details two distinct storylines involving rape cases. In the first, Marie is raped but struggles to remember the details; therefore she is charged for filing a false report. In the second, two detectives work on rape cases from different Colorado counties. These two end up linking as one man has committed the crimes on both sides, finally resolving Marie’s case. This is a broad-stroke overview that I felt could not be left out. Characterization in this series was done to perfection as I was able to connect the details of the instances on screen to real world issues.

Marie is the main protagonist and she grows up a victim for many different reasons: she is in the foster care system, she is abused, etc. She is battered for so long that she is left with no self-worth, no confidence, and no sense of direction in life. That is why after she experiences this horrific assault, she feels like what she says or testifies about will never matter to anyone. It is extremely sad to watch her progress through life alone and desperate, especially in a time when she simply needed one person to believe her. She is run down by detectives to the point that she does not care what happens to her, she just wants it all to be over. The scene where she is in the interrogation room is miserable to watch. I saw two men, who try to come off like they care, running this girl into the ground. Their effort is lazy as they refuse to listen for the truth, simply due to lack of convenience.

Marie’s situation is sharply contrasted by the second strain of protagonists, two hard-nose yet caring detectives. In the second episode, the viewer is introduced to Detective Duvall. She is helpful, strong, and relentless in achieving justice for the victims she is fighting for. She seems to understand the trauma that is caused by something like this and does not dwell on the fact that the victim(Amber) may twist a few details.

This series portrays, to the best of its ability, what it feels like to be someone that no one else believes. Honestly, I had never thought of rape victims in the way that they were portrayed here, or maybe I hoped that it was not this bad. Marie has enough internal struggle already without having something like this happen to her. At first, when I watched the first episode, I thought I had figured the title out. This girl’s testimony is ‘unbelievable’ because her story does not add up, she keeps changing it. However, I learned quickly that the only thing that was ‘unbelievable’ was the behavior of everybody else in her life, especially the detectives.

Marie’s inner struggle is really important in understanding what is taking place throughout the series. She has no-one around her to whom she can go to with an honest mind and tongue. For some of the screen time, I kept wondering why she could not just be honest. I even called my girlfriend to tell her the story because I just could not wrap my head around it. I understood the tolls on her life that her past had created. I also understood how frustrating it was for her when no-one in her life would listen. Yet, I still waited and wished for the detectives to be right about it all, to have been the ones using the right judgement. However, to no surprise, I was wrong.

I do not really know what to compare this to in terms of what he have read throughout the semester. In a way, I kind of see how the rigid but seemingly ‘fair’ system created in “The Furies” comes into play here. In the play, something is ultimately true because other people believe that to be the case. It could be something that is actually as far away from the truth as possible, but because the deciding vote is yes, the verdict is yes. In this instance, the truth is determined by the people in power. Detective Parker uses his status to get whatever answer he needs from Marie, with no regard for the life he is ruining. In contrast, Duvall and Rasmussen use their positions to fight for the weak, to obtain the truest from of justice for the victims.

In terms of what the series does for me as a narrative, I saw it in some ways as a justified rage against the system (which I am usually annoyed by). However, this series is refreshing because it introduces a better way for things to be done. At the end, Marie gets a lawyer who is all for getting her the biggest amount of money from the city as possible. It was beautiful to see how he believed in her and genuinely wanted to help her. Marie’s hope in society and in herself is renewed because of a system that does what it claims to do. Too much in our justice system, that feat is not achieved.

Overall, this is a really rewarding series to watch. Embarrassingly, it made me tear up a few times both out of sadness and anger. I am happy that I chose ‘Unbelievable’.

The Development of the Idea of Testimony

For my double blog post, I watched the classic film 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. The movie is a simple one, but not everybody has a taste for classic cinema, so to sum up, it takes place almost entirely in a single small room with 12 men who are jurors in a case. The trial is over and they now have to decide what to do with the defendant, a boy accused of stabbing his father to death. 11 Men initially are completely convinced of his guilt, and one man refuses to say that he is guilty. Because the jury’s decision must be unanimous, a debate ensues and over time the jurors are slowly, one by one, convinced that the boy cannot be declared guilty. The film ends with the unanimous decision of Not Guilty.

I love the movie and think it’s fantastically acted and written, but it’s also deeply tied to the themes we have been discussing in this class. First off, it seems to bear most resemblance among the texts we’ve talked about, with Aeschylus’ The Furies. Both center around murder trials and contain a jury, testimonies, a judge, and other elements we associate with a trial. 

However, our information of the actual trial comes from the reminiscences of the jurors. We don’t actually see it ourselves. We only see their debate. The most debated about subject that we get, by far, is that of the testimonies given. Testimony is something we have talked about a lot in this class, and 12 Angry Men deals with it in interesting ways. 

We see testimonies given in The Furies, and those testimonies are never doubted or even really examined. Everything that everyone says is the truth and we are never given reason to believe otherwise. We dealt again with the issue of testimony in Death and The Maiden, where testimonies are now in doubt because people’s intentions are now severely in doubt. because of severe emotional stress and having a vested interest in one outcome of the case or another, we can never really be sure wether to believe the two testimonies given about the torture and rape that is being discussed. The witnesses may be lying to get vengeance, or to protect their own hide. We see testimony again crop up as a subject in all of our studies about South Africa and the TRC. In exchange for testimony of the truth of past events, amnesty is granted to those who perpetrated terrible crimes, but we see in Country of My Skull that testimonies often conflict even among people who participated in the exact same event. Testimony is unreliable because people have different perceptions and memory itself is often unreliable. 

12 Angry Men takes this a step further. Testimony again is viewed as being unreliable, but for various reasons. The testimony of the boy, saying that he was at the movies when the murder occurred, is instantly doubted for the same reason testimony was doubted in Death and the Maiden, He could potentially be lying simply to save his own skin. The testimony of the woman who ‘witnessed’ the murder from her apartment across the way is in doubt for the same reason testimony was doubted in one of the events of Country of My Skull, the reliability of her perception and memory was in doubt. 

The man who lived on the floor below the murder has his testimony doubted for an entirely new reason all together. When it becomes apparent from the facts that it is EXTREMELY improbable that the man could possibly have heard or seen what he claims to have heard or seen, the question arises of why? Why is this false testimony being given? It is speculated that the man simply is taking his chance to be important. He has no vested interest in this case, one way or another. He stands to gain or lose nothing by either conviction or acquittal. It would seem that this is the ideal situation from which to expect truthful and unbiased testimony. But 12 Angry Men points out to us that even in such a case, testimony is unreliable. 12 Angry Men is a film that repeatedly makes the point that you simply cannot trust testimony as unchallengeable.

This is is a very troubling and disturbing thing when testimony is such a foundational part of our legal system, and even seems to have its roots as far back as the Greeks and Aeschylus. In that text, testimony was never in question. but the class has slowly built on this idea of testimony as evidence until now, in 12 Angry Men, we get a very similar situation played back to us with a lot more nuance. Logical deduction and reasoning take the place of testimony as the way truth is determined. The testimonies are shown to be unreliable by a process of debate and logical conclusion such as “The old man could not possibly have heard the murder because there was a train passing by that would have covered up the sound.” or “The woman could not have seen the murder because it was dark and she was not wearing her glasses.” 

The unreliability of testimony is a central theme in this movie and I think it is interesting how the idea has developed progressively through the texts we have examined in class. 

Unbelievable

Men and the General Desensitization to Sexual Assault

To say I was surprised by the short series “Unbelievable,”  would be an understatement. This show had revealed the ins and outs of working a rape case from the police side as well as the victim’s. Some of it was hard to watch, and hard to handle, but other parts of it were powerful and brave, and revelaed the amount of strength secxual assault victims have, and will have to have for the rest of their lives. But the key thing I noticed in this show and wanted to talk about is the correlation between men, in the police force as well as regular people, and their treatment and view of sexual assault cases. 

At the beginning of the show, a young girl Marie, had just become a victim of sexual assault. She rightfully called the police right after, and the investigation process began immediately. I counted that she had to recall what happened and make her statement six times to the male detectives working her case. It became apparent that every time she told the story again, they believed it less and less; to the point where they coerced her into lying about it and saying the assault didn’t happen all together. This young girl, who just had a tragedy happen to her, is rushed into recalling as many details as possible from something so scarring and probable to being blocked out of her psyche. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, it would be easy to see just how some details get left out or changed in each recalling of the assault, yet the detectives were so quick to pick apart her story and see some of the inconsistencies without considering why that might be, other than she is lying. Their disbelief of the victim’s story and their quickness to say she is lying instead of seeing her inconsistencies for what they were, a response to trauma, shows that there is a level of desensitization to sexual assault and the stories of the victims. 

After the first episode, the show transitions between Marie’s story and the story of two female detectives cracking down on the serial rapist who also happens to be the rapist that attacked Marie. In pursuit of the serial rapist, they investigate past cases of sexual assault, and speak to those victims for details they might not have remembered from when it first happened. One  of the women they went back to talk to was visibly hostile towards the detectives because nothing had come out of her case which was filed an entire year before. It was when she worked with the female detectives that new evidence of a large knife, which he threatened her with during the assault, was discovered in her garden. Why was it that nothing had come out of this woman’s case, yet there was undiscovered evidence lying around in her front yard? There was an obvious lack of effort from the detective on this case, because like the detectives who worked on Marie’s case, the detective didn’t believe what happened to her because of her questionable lifestyle. The detective on this case was a man. The similarities between the male detectives and their judgements and decisions to not believe the female sexual assault  victim is uncannily similar. It is apparent that these detectives have a preceding thought complex when it comes to sexaul assault cases and the trustworthiness of the victims. Now, there sadly is a level of validity to their suspicions and thought complexes because of the unfortunate cases where women purposely lie about being sexually assaulted, for whatever reason it might be. One moment in the show that kind of shocked me, before I realized there was a hint of truth in it was when the female detectives brought in a male suspect for questioning and he said to them, “It happens all the time now. Girls making these claims. It’s a thing. There’s a status to being a victim.” While yes, this sadly can be a fact, it should be viewed and categorized as what it is, a rarity, rather than the normal. It is the women who have truly experienced rape or any form of sexual assualt that suffere from the fake claims made. When people believe that there are more and more women faking something so horrible happening to them, it causes people to be less sensitive to the topic and to those who truly suffer from it. 

Although I made the correlation to men being desensitized from rape crimes, there is a general numbing to sexaul assault crimes because they happen so oftern. The fact that there is a level of normalcy to this crime is shameful. It was said in the show by the FBI detective, that rape cases are not given the same time and energy as other casses, which is sad. A crime is a crime, and the police officers and detectives who put on their badge and uniform everyday, living out the oath they made, promising to protect people and fight for justice, should apply to all crimes.  Law enforcement agencies are predominately run by men, and can be a factor as to why sexual assault cases aren’t given the time and attention they deserve. I think this show was insightful, powerful, and displayed a true depiction of how impactful sexaul assault can be in a person’s life, victim or authority working the case. I know for me personally, this has truly heightened my awareness of the depth of the struggles assault victims face, and I can only hope it has done the same for viewers everywhere to take any this desestimacion that has occured in our society.  

Policing and its impact on victims

The show Unbelievable, the mini-series detailing the true stories of a serial rapist, opens by presenting the sexual assault of the first victim, Marie Adler in rural Washington. Marie Adler was addressed by two male detectives, who first speak to her in a contradictory and repetitive manner. They collect evidence from the crime scene without Marie’s help and make her recount her statement multiple times there before taking her to the hospital. When inquiring about Marie, Detective Parker is told by her old foster mother essentially to not believe her, who states she seeks attention and has a troubled past. It is this attack on Marie’s credibility which acts as a catalyst for the detectives to abruptly and completely not believe her. After this conversation, the aggressive tone of the detectives is only amplified and Marie is pressured into saying she was lying.

This depiction of the two male detectives is foiled by the characters of the two female detectives. When the next victim, Amber, is raped in Colorado, Detective Duvall has a procedure she follows and explains to the victim, highlighting the discrepancies between her investigation and the male detectives’. Her investigation includes swabbing the face of the victim, walking her back through the crime scene, speaking to her in private etc. She is diligent about crime scene collection and making sure everything is done to collect as much evidence as possible within a timeframe that it is freshest. This discrepancy of the amount and quality of evidence collected is especially disheartening in the end, when the rapist reveals the most mistakes he made (in terms of leaving traces of DNA, etc.) occurred in Washington. Eventually, Detective Duvall makes a connection with a rape in another jurisdiction investigated by Detecive Rasmussen, and the two females move forward invesitgating together. 

After the decision to fully merge their investigations, Detective Rasmussen says to Detective Duvall “You’re gonna move over to my joint. It’s no offense but we’ve got better toys. We’re gonna bring in the FBI. We’re gonna bring in the CBI. We’re gonna exploit every goddamn resource available to us” (ep. 3). It is this quote that brought my attention to look at how the film portrays the gap between training, resources, and experience between the two pairs of detectives. Not only are the female detectives aware of various resources, seek them out, and employ them, the audience can recognize their specialization as a part of sex crime investigations. With Detective Duvall, her experience (even though she is less experienced out of the two) is implied in her familiarity with the nurses who examine victims, and describes them as being great at their jobs.  

The depiction of resources, experience, and specialized investigations is juxtaposed through cuts of scenes between them and the detectives of Marie Adler’s case. The visual imagery of the female pair’s department shows its breath of resources and specialization: the detectives have their own workspace, a detailed crime lab, available personal, and advanced technology. This is contrasted by the department of the male detectives. They are not specialized in sex crimes investigations and seem to lack in resources in terms of both technology and forensics. It is this juxtaposition though that is exacerbated by the male detectives conduct, which makes them individually responsible for various injustices.

It is the male detectives lack of their own self-awareness of their lack of experience coupled with their pride/ego which make them completely fail at their investigation. Rather than recognizing their own lack of experience in sex crimes and thus actively defining how they recognize rape through Marie, they instead deconstruct her story inaccurately based on their predispositions. Another Detective from a different district, Kirkland, calls this pair after a tip to collaborate based on the similar evidence of their two rapes. Instead of reopening the case and reevaluating their mistake, Detective Parker instead shuts him down by saying it was fabricated. An irony lies in the fact the very details and consistencies they found peculiar enough to disbelieve Marie’s story are the very details which form this connection. This shows Detective Parker’s inability to critically think about the investigation and his willingness to follow the misinformation. Unlike the female detectives who were willing to compare their cases, Detective Parker is not willing to look for evidence to corroborate Marie’s story and get justice for her. He only seeks to falsify it. In the end, it is his Hubris which ultimately causes the investigation to fail. However instead of causing their own downfall, it causes Marie’s. Not only does she not gain justice, they have the audacity to charge her with a crime of false reporting and never apologize. 

Alongside other things we have read in class, I find myself comparing these interpretations to George Orwell’s piece “The Courthouse Ring” and To Kill a Mockingbird. In a sense, I think a connection can be drawn between Tom Robinson and Marie Adler in an opposing yet parallel sense. Tom is innocent being charged with commiting sexual assault because of racial bias towards him. Marie is a sexual assault victim whose perpetrator won’t be prosecuted because of police bias towards her. Tom does not receive justice because of racism of the jurors and the sheriff; Marie does not receive justice because of the bias and misconceptions of the detectives’ and the stepmother’s notions about rape.

I also think it can be interesting to compare Marie Adler with Mayella Ewell, and what a comparison of someone lying and telling the truth about sexual assault can show about the treatment of female complainants. Orwell cites a scholar who critques Atticus’ goal “to expliot a virtual catalog of misconceptions and fallacies about rape, each one calculuated to heighten mistrust of the female complaintant” (TNY). Orwell argues that Atticus asserts Mayella “was so starved for sex that she spent an entire year scheming for a way to make it happen” which is “to swap one set of priveldges for another” (TNY). Orwell demonstrates that while it was appropriate to defend Tom, the construction of a defense based on misconceptions surronding what rape and feminity should look like harms actual victims. For Atticus, he believes Mayella should have been hit on the opposite side of her face and employs the ” ‘she wanted it’ defense” (TNY). For the male detectives and Marie’s step mother, details of the shoelace and knife seem unlikely. Moreover, her emotional response is not what they would anticipate it to be and believe it is a ploy for attention. Both show that the need to deconstruct misconceptions about how sexual assault is shown and reacted to. Without this change, conflations of lying with victimhood can continue occuring, harming true victims as they report crimes committed against their bodies.

Justice Served Vs Justice Due

While watching Just Mercy, I found issue with the continuous defense of historical justice in contrast to the justice that was actually due. This movie takes place in the same town of Monroeville, Alabama that the town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird is based on. In this true story by Bryan Stevenson, this same town that had the unlawful case against Tom Robinson had, not 50 years later, an almost identical case made against Walter McMillian. The issue of justice served and justice due comes when the District Attorney in this movie, Tommy Chapman, states that he knows that Walter is guilty because he was convicted by a jury. The defense of this “justice” is what sets both Tom and Walter into the same boat. They are both going to be convicted just because the jury believes they did it. There is no need for evidence, proof, or legit testimony. All that is needed is a jury that believes they have the right man.

Justice due is what should have happened. It is a battle in a courtroom where things are fair– where the convicted are not “guilty from the moment you born” as Walter McMillian puts it. Justice due would be a town learning from their racist past and not allowing it to repeat again. In this movie it can almost seem like the town feels like they have already found justice and dont need to go looking for more. They have already had their landmark case where the community was wrong and a man was wrongfully convicted, and rather than admit their relapse and reopen the case they defend the justice already served. Yet, there was  no such thing as justice when there had yet to have been a man released from death row in the state of Alabama, when one in nine death row cases have been proven innocent and released, and when the word of one white felon outweighed the voices of two dozen law-abiding black witnesses. Justice was not served by the first jury that convicted Walter and a retrial is the only way any justice can be given.

Human life is one of the most valuable things known to us. So why then is our justice system so ready to sentence someone to death rather than defend against a retrial? Even the slimmest chance that someone can be saved from wrongful execution is more valuable than any social, historical, or legal reasoning in opposition of a retrial.

Distinction between a story and the truth

One thing that makes the TRC testimonies so emotionally effective is the uniqueness of each story and what version of the truth they tell. Antjie Krog examines the personalization of individual’s stories especially when recounting the murder of Richard Mutase and his wife. What was particularly interesting about this story is that there are four different narratives of the events that happened on the night of the murders. The discrepancies between these stories seem to undermine the truth: the truth of the dead, the truth of the survivor, and the mission of the TRC. Through the analysis of these stories, Krog seems to be critical of the TRC and how the stories told, especially by those who committed violent crimes and advanced apartheid, alter their truth to cater towards the audience present at the hearings, as well as the “imagined audience”, who are those that these narrators think will appreciate the personalized story the most.

What was interesting to me was that in chapter 8 there seemed to be a distinction between the concept of a “story” and the “truth”. The stories told in regard to the Mutase murders are the best example of this because while the four stories have overlapping components, it is clear that the truth is missing when the stories start to differ from one another. The stories become more about proving which perpetrator is lying, versus what is the truth of the situation, which results in a lack of justice for the victims and their families.

The Tragedy of the TRC

Within the movie, Long Night’s Journey Into Day, we are taken through personal stories and actions during the Apartheid’s rule in South Africa which lasted from 1948-1994. This film is startling yet beautiful in the way it recounts the experience of real people with real emotions. This movie is raw and explicit, but then again, so was the Apartheid. This film follows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the court-like body assembled in order to distribute justice after the end of the Apartheid.

As many people were put on “trial” for crimes they committed against the South African people, it was explained that it almost had seemed like the TRC was similar to the reenactment of an ancient tragic play. This was especially interesting as this association is unique when you look at the other traits of the film. “The audience actually plays the role of a chorus in [this] ancient tragic play (Long Night’s). The purpose of the chorus within ancient plays is to connect the audience deeper to the characters and play itself. As they reenact and retell the horrid stories of what happened to many innocent people, when the audience “squirms” naturally, so does the audience. Although the chorus of the TRC is a sensible and composed group of people, they are still people fighting for their freedom and justice.

In this presentation of justice you notice the audience, or the chorus, as one cohesive unit, fighting for what is right. One protester during this time is recorded saying that “when you kill [him] you create more enemies […] my family is becoming your enemy and my friends become your enemy” (Long Night’s). This reference of one united force, fighting for justice, this “tragedy”, to me, becomes a lot more of a battle cry for the citizens of South Africa.

When I first watched this movie and they brought up the connection of the play, I actually restarted the film in order to do my best to understand how they would display the trial and chorus. Although just a glance into the issues of the Apartheid, we get a close comparison of how the innocent people of this area were affected by such an actual real tragedy.

Contrast Between Personal and Humanitarian Justice

William Tradd Stover

Long Night’s Journey Into Day explores South Africa’s implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and tells four separate stories that piece together to form a rather emotional, complex narrative. Of the four stories, I was struck most by the first one about the Biehl family.

This story sort of introduces to the viewer what the TRC is and what it is meant to accomplish. The film as a whole forces its audience to think about life from all different perspectives, as there are many diverse backgrounds and experiences in South Africa. In this case, Amy Biehl is killed because of pure anger that the activists had for white people. At the time, they did not much care who this white person was, they only knew that they despised the horrors and prejudices of the Apartheid and needed to make themselves known. Little did they know, Amy was fighting for the same change that they were.

Amy’s parents’ response to the killing of their daughter is shocking and beautiful in a way. I would like to think that most people would be enraged if their child was murdered, especially while trying to do something good for others. Her parents, instead, chose to understand where that anger came from and react in the way that their daughter might have preferred. This plays into the complexity of how crimes are perceived in South Africa under Apartheid rule. Obviously, this murder was a crime onto the Biehl family, but the perpetrators’ entire lives had been filled with crimes committed against them by the system. Does that fact justify an act like this? I do not think there is really an answer to that question, and the movie shows this. The Biehls wanted amnesty for the people who took their daughter’s life. They chose to look at the bigger picture and to carry on Amy’s wish for change in South Africa. It could be understood, however, how the victim’s family in another case could want to deny the men’s amnesty.

I was surprised by this first ‘chapter’ of the film because of the nature and victim of the crime. I expected to see only the crimes that those affiliated with the Apartheid committed against those who they deemed lesser. We got those stories as well, but this one was the most effective for me. It alludes to the idea that many, not only those in South Africa, were ready to rid of the apartheid’s oppression. Overall, I see this film as wildly complex because of the nature of each individual circumstance. Can we blame an officer for doing his duty? Can we blame Amy Biehl’s killers for being red-eyed and violent? It is always difficult to ponder questions that have no direct answer.

Pursuit of Justice or Vengeance?

The gruesome documentary, Long Night’s Journey Into Day, takes a look at the apartheid that took place in South Africa from 1948-1994. Before watching this documentary, I had no idea what the apartheid was and I knew no information about it. I think it is very interesting that the creation and implementation of the apartheid was done by white people, yet 80% of the 7,000 perpetrators who applied for amnesty were black. The fact that the majority of the people who applied for amnesty were black from a law that was instituted to be racist towards black people, goes to show that the black were fighting against the inequality and injustice they were faced with on a day to day basis; however, I found myself torn between looking at the actions of the blacks as fighting back for justice, or violently seeking vengeance . 

To say I was torn on my viewpoints of the actions taken during the apartheid would be an understatement. The first story told of Amy Biehl, the American student killed in 1993, was a pretty sad story to watch and listen to. What really struck me was the fact that her parents were so accepting of what had happened, and did not hold any animosity towards the men or their families. The parents were so forgiving towards the mothers of the convicted men, which is a very powerful message to send, and is fundamentally what the TRC was created for. I personally felt some levels of hostility towards the men because of the fact that they went after and murdered an innocent woman simply because she was white and white people were their oppressor; it was killing for the sake of killing. On the flipside, the second case with the “Cradock 4,” was a complete display of injustice and racism against blacks by the police. The four men were out to attend the United Democratic Front when they were approached by police and killed. This was also pretty hard to take in, and to see the outcry of the community for the wrongful death of these men. The cop that came forward for amnesty, Eric Taylor, believed it was his “duty” to attack them, which again, was nothing but wrong and racist. 

Around this point in time, in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting against blatant displays of racism as well through peaceful protests and was successful. Looking at how MLK went about handling the injustice black Americans faced, it makes me question whether or not the blacks in South Africa could have taken the same approach. But on the other side of that, they not only were faced with inequality, but were also being killed, so desperate times can influence desperate measures, however I believe the line was crossed into vengeful action when innocent people were being murdered for the sake of making a statement.