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Discrimination and segregation towards the African Americans are no stranger to all Americans. These phenomena have marked the great history of America and continue to do so. Many have tackled the subject in hope of diminishing it once and for all. ‘A Time to Kill’, a movie directed by the famous filmmaker Joel Schumacher was based around racial inequality and the privilege that the white possessed at the time. It was inspired by the book written by Josh Grisham which was his first novel that later became a bestseller. This great masterpiece was inspired by a real case that the writer, also renowned attorney, overheard in 1984 at the Desoto country courthouse. The agonizing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim made him think about the different storyline that could’ve happened if the parent of the little girl sought revenge.
While watching this film, it made me rethink the whole judicial system. It evoked feelings of disgust, sadness, and fear in me. The only question that kept wondering in my mind is how could one’s skin color choose their destiny. I know that at the time of the story, white people were more privileged than those of color, but I could’ve never imagined that being white could give an excuse to murder, rape, or violence. One day like every other day, Carl Lee Hailey, a hardworking African American man and a loving father to his children, went to work and left his wife and kids at home. Little Tonya, Carl Lee’s daughter, went grocery shopping for her mom and on her way home she stumbled upon two grownup white men. They looked at her as if they were devouring their prey and got closer to her until she could smell their drunken breath. From that moment, the images the movie shows were quite disturbing; the two guys raped the little kid, urinated on her, and beat her up until they thought she had passed away. They left her on the ground bleeding and continued their way as if nothing had happened. Little that they knew, the girl was still breathing. A few hours later, the girl was brought to her house and her father came running home to see the damage that those from the “elite” race made. Out of love, the father avenges his daughter by killing the two rapists in front of everyone’s eyes. Consequently, he is charged with first-degree murder. A white unexperienced lawyer Jake Brigance took his defense with the company of his assistant Ellen Roark. In the end, Carl Lee was declared nonguilty thanks to his lawyer’s closing statement that mainly relied on feelings. The statement was the whole rape story told again to the jury even though the reason they were in court was murder, not rape. That way, Brigance touched the jury’s feelings who then decided to free Carl Lee.
The movie touched mainly the three subjects of racial inequality, justice, and perspective. Racial inequality, as a very diffused phenomenon in America in the 1920s, was the most apparent subject. The Ku Klux Klan was a white supremacist group that played a huge role in this movie. In the end, before Carl Lee came out of court, we could see the African American group holding signs which said, “Free Carl Lee”, while the Klan were holding signs with “Fry Carl Lee” on them. Also, throughout the movie, the KKK would find numerous ways to hurt friends and family of Jake Brigance so that he gives up the case. The film was also meant for the government in a way since the laws were at fault. They gave the fair-skinned citizens all the rights, while the dark-skinned citizens had none. It was as if they weren’t human, not deserving of life, and almost a burden to society. A very touching line that the lawyer pronounced at court shows how much racism filled the room, ‘Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.’ (Time to kill, last statement scene). Additionally, perspective was fundamental for the freeing of the defendant. It was until the jury saw themselves in the father’s shoes that they decided that Hailey was not guilty of the charge.
I enjoyed how Jake Brigance’s character developed on so many levels while working on this case. His lack of expertise was no longer an issue. Throughout the movie, the lawyer built up his self-esteem, a name for himself, and finally found his strength. Though while watching the movie, the vigilante in it kept bugging me. Carl Lee, charged guilty or not, took two people’s lives. Even though they were the rapists of his daughter, the father did not own any kind of legal authority that authorized him to take matters into his own hands. If we follow the logic of the movie, if one of the members of the rapist’s families shot Carl Lee, there will be no charge against him either.
After my first time watching the movie, I had already learned some quotes because of how powerful they were and how much meaning they held. However, only one quote stuck in my mind from back in 2015. It is the one where Carl Lee Hailey explains to Brigance that they didn’t belong in the same sides: “America is a war and you’re on the other side”. Although the movie was great, the idea it discussed was not original. Many movies had the same focality. For instance, the movie “Do The Right Thing” released in 1989, and “Menace 2 society” in 1993. The biggest proof of that is that I was able to anticipate all the events before they even happened.
This movie touched me a lot because my best friend is a dark-skinned girl who suffered from racism for her entire life. She was discriminated and laughed at by kids from kindergarten. This proves that our society is a very dark place where the kids are thought that the wrong is right and are blinded by societies standards and stereotypes from a very young age. Therefore, seeing a movie which relates to her story made me very happy and warmed my heart.
Today, America is known to be a free country where everyone lives in pure harmony, love, and joy. That is what the government wants the world to perceive. However, reality is far from that. Many African Americans still suffer from racism and are still called “Negros”, and many white people still think of themselves as belonging to a superior race. This has led America to grow two separate economies. Also, some stereotypes still exist regarding race; some always relate sports to black people and jobs that require a higher education to white people. For some reason, racism still exists even though tremendous efforts have been made to ban it once and for all. As we know, we are the citizens, and we are in control of the future of the society we live in. By coming together and being vocal about the problems that still haunt our environment, what seems like a problem today would be remembered tomorrow as only a bad memory.
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