Tag Archives: Racism

The Inspirational Hero Blogathon: To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Inspirational Heroes Blogathon 2

The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy are hosting this blogathon all about inspirational film heroes. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Heroes can be found in many forms. They can be people who sacrifice themselves to save the lives of others. They can be people who make a stand against evil and injustice. They could be fantastic superheroes who make it their mission in life to help others.

I’m writing about a character who is simply an ordinary man who ends up becoming an everyday hero. Personally I think this type of hero is actually one of the greatest because they make small, day to day changes that can end up having a real lasting effect on others. This screen hero is someone who really inspires me. The character is Atticus Finch. 

Atticus has shown me that it is those little day to day actions we do that can help to change the world. Those actions can also help to change the unpleasant attitudes seen around us. Be kind and decent to those you meet, help those in need, and above all else always have the courage to stay away from a mob mentality and just stay true to your moral principles every day.

Atticus is a moral man, a kind man, a gentle man, and he is also a single father just trying to raise his children right. Atticus makes a stand against the cruelty and absolute stupidity that is racism. He treats everyone as equal (no matter what the colour of their skin, or regardless of their station in life). He is someone with characteristics within him that I think we really should all aspire to have within ourselves.

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Atticus and his children. Image source IMDb.

Atticus doesn’t care if he gets attacked or loses his reputation in his community, he only cares about doing what is right. I think that is pretty inspirational. Given the time and the place this film is set in, Atticus’s actions really are extremely brave, he could have been hurt or killed for helping someone who wasn’t white.  Atticus is also a wonderful father and he is the sort of loving and decent person you hope everyone’s father would be. 

In 1960, Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird was published. The novel was inspired in part by Harper’s own childhood. The character of Atticus was based upon her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, who himself was a lawyer who defended black clients during a time of intense racism and cruelty. The character of Dill was based upon Harper’s friend Truman Capote. The novel is one of my favourites and I love the characters and the story.

The novel strongly put across its message of treating others as they should be treated, with kindness, respect and dignity. The message found within it is to treat others as you want to be treated, and while you’re at it, try and imagine what someone else is enduring in their life by putting yourself in their shoes.

The book and its inspirational message translated very well onto the big screen. The film was made in 1962. Gregory Peck(or as I like to call him, the go to good guy of classic era Hollywood 🙂 ) was cast in the lead role of the morally decent Atticus. It was a perfect casting choice, as Gregory was a very decent and good man in real life. Gregory ended up winning an Oscar for his very memorable performance in this film. Atticus Finch was the role this man was born to play. I can imagine no other actor in this role. 

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Harper Lee and Gregory Peck. Image source IMDb.

The film was directed by Robert Mulligan, produced by Alan J. Pakula, and had an Oscar winning screenplay by Horton Foote. Elmer Bernstein’s spectacular and truly beautiful score adds much to the film, first bringing to mind children’s lullabies, before transitioning into something far deeper and more sweeping. 

The film is a coming of age tale told entirely through the eyes of children. By showing everything from a child’s point of view, I think that the lines between good and evil become glaringly obvious. We see how a cranky old man can seem like a scary old monster, how a supposed monster can be nothing of the sort, or how a father can end up being the greatest hero of all.

I like how the film tackles some serious adult and moral issues, but is also a children’s story. There is adventure, fun and joy to be enjoyed alongside the more serious plot line. I also like how the children don’t have the same attitudes as the adults, they are more open and honest and they don’t understand some of the things going on around them. This serves to remind us that we are not born with prejudice and hate in our hearts, that it is instead something which children are taught by the adults in their lives. 

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Jem, Scout and Dell. Image source IMDb.

The six year old daughter of Aticus Finch is Scout(Mary Badham)the story is mainly told through her eyes, and those of her older brother Jem(Phillip Alford) and their neighbour Dell(John Megna).Southern lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a single parent. He is raising his two children alone following their mothers death. He raises them both to be kind and respectful of others. He is helped in his task by the loyal Calpurnia (Estelle Evans)who treats the children as her own. She and Atticus are respectful of one another and she isn’t afraid to discipline the children if they have been rude or bad.

Atticus is asked to defend a local farmer called Tom Robinson(Brock Peters)who is a black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell(Collin Wilcox)a white woman. Atticus stands up for Tom against the angry town residents who all immediately think that he is guilty of the crime. Atticus risks his reputation in his community by defending Tom when the case goes to trial. In doing so he teaches his children about moral courage and strength, and he shows that some things are worth risking your own life and situation in life for.

Brock Peters is nothing less than incredible as Tom. His face conveys the multitude of emotions that Tom is going through during the trial. We feel his fear and his anger, and we also get to see how he retains his dignity and hope, despite the dire circumstances he finds himself in. It is comforting that for a time he had Atticus on his side. Although -very sadly given the time and place it’s set in- the outcome of the trial is already a foregone conclusion in the minds of the all white jury, never the less, the sight of Atticus making his plea to the jury is one of the most powerful, moving and unforgettable scenes in film history. 

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Brock Peters as Tom. Image source IMDb.

The way Atticus delivers that famous speech never fails to get me when I watch this. He makes such an effort to get through to every person in that courtroom with his words. Gregory Peck delivers his dialogue in that scene so passionately that he makes you feel Atticus’s powerful words. I also always find it extremely moving how all the black people in the public gallery all stand in respect for Atticus at the end of the trial. While justice was sadly not done, these people respect and appreciate Atticus for going above and beyond what was expected of him in order to try and defend Tom. He tried hard and did right, and that is what matters. 

Atticus Finch fights for Tom with all of his heart, and in doing so, he reminds his community (and also us)that we are all equal. And that in everyday life, and in a court of law, we should all be treated equally and justly regardless of our skin colour, gender, or our social situation. We are all the same ageing skeletons under our skin pigmentation. 

Gregory Peck is absolutely superb as the decent lawyer who always tries to do the right thing. His performance is all in the eyes and in his body language. This character screams decency and strength and Gregory portrays these things so well on screen.

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Atticus and Tom in court. Image source IMDb.

I especially love Gregory in the scene where Mr. Ewell spits in Atticus’s face. When Ewell does this he flinches because it looks for a moment because he thinks that Atticus is about to hit him, but he doesn’t and in refraining from doing so actually gains the moral high ground over Ewell in that moment. Gregory  is excellent in that scene because you can see the anger and disgust building up on his face and you can see how hard he is restraining himself from striking out at Ewell, but he simply won’t permit himself to sink to his level. This scene is witnessed by Scout and Jem and it is a moment that won’t be easily forgotten.

Mary Badham and Philip Alford are excellent as the children, they have a genuine bond and Alford does a very good job of showing us this boy is having to grow up fast. I like how Jem is protective of his sister. Badham plays Scout as a tomboy and as someone who is all curiosity, delight, and who is fearless.

There is fine support from Brock Peters as the ill fated Tom. Brock makes your heart break for the injustice his character is going through and you can feel his growing anger and terror.

Collin Wilcox is excellent as the accuser of Tom Robinson, her explosive outburst in court is a moment which is not easily forgotten. James Anderson is also very memorable as the despicable father of Mayella. A very young Robert Duvall has a memorable appearance towards the end of the film as the gentle (and much misunderstood)Boo Radley. John Megna is funny as the curious Dill. Estelle Evans is excellent as Calpurnia, I love her in the scene where she really lays into Scout for being rude to a guest because of how he eats.

The brilliant character actor Paul Fix also appears as the judge preceding over Tom’s trial. Much like Atticus it is suggested through Fix’s performance that the judge isn’t happy with the racism, nor with the direction that the trial and verdict take, but that he is powerless to do anything about it, despite being in a position of authority and law.

The title sequence to this film is very clever and is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It shows us a child drawing, and we see a collection of objects in a box. Over this sequence we hear a child humming, and then the beautiful lullaby like score by Elmer Bernstein kicks in. It is simple and beautiful, and also very moving (and we haven’t even started the story yet!). I think that Elmer’s score for this film is one of the best that he ever composed.

My favourite scenes are the following. The swing scene between Atticus and Scout. All the courtroom scenes. Scout asking Jem questions about their mum and Atticus being shown to have been listening in on the conversation. The children daring one another to near the Radley porch. Calpurnia telling Scout off for making fun of the way a guest at their house eats dinner. The children saving Atticus from the mob gathering outside the jail. Atticus’s reaction to being spat at. Scout and Atticus talking about her fighting, and about why he is defending Tom. Jem sitting in the car getting scared by Mr. Ewell. The scene where Boo comes to see Scout.

This is a film that I love a great deal. I think that it more than deserves all the praise and acclaim it has received over the years. This is a beautiful film that has an important message at its heart.  I hope that the character of Atticus continues to inspire people to be morally courageous, and also to stand up to hatred and injustice as he did. 

Given the sad state our world is in today, I think that all people should read Harper Lee’s novel and watch this film. The issues and themes present in this story are still very relevant in our society today. I think that it’s a crying shame that in 2017 humanity has progressed so much, in so many areas, yet it still has so far to go when it comes to treating everyone the same and putting aside silly prejudices such as skin colour or sexual orientation. 

What do you think of the film? Any comments about Gregory Peck’s performance?