Civil Rights Era


Civil Rights was a trying time in American History. Especially for African Americans who had much to contend with at this time because they did not have the access or the rights they were entitled to. Since Jim Crow was still seen throughout the country, African Americans were not entitled to equal education, job opportunities, public transportation, public facilities, and many other things. They were highly discriminated against with segregation thrown in the mix as well. They faced the possibilities of being run out of towns by the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the possibilities of lynching, false accusations, and murder. The movies that I have chosen show what African Americans faced at these trying times.

# 1 The Help (2011)

The Help

The Help (2011), is a movie that was set during the 1960’s, and Civil Rights. The story begins when Skeeter (Emma Stone), returns home and takes a job at the local newspaper, as an advice “on how to” columnist. However, she does not have a clue on how to answer the letters that are sent to her, so she then asks the advice of maids that work for prominent friends of hers that live in her hometown. What she discovers is stories about her friends that the maids tell her about she then writes a book telling these stories.Some are funny stories, but some show the unfair treatment that the maids contend with on a daily basis. Especially, when the maids are the ones who are the women that are raising the children of their employers because the mothers spend their time socializing with their friends. The maids are treated as if they are invisible entities until something happens and the blame is placed on them.
The reviews on Metacritc from 62 critics give The Help a favorable review, and the user ratings give it 93% positive review. Mike Scott a critic from New Orleans Times-Picayune states: “The Help isn’t intended to be so much a movie about the ugliness of the era than an optimistic tale of what can spring from that kind of ugliness, about the ability of people to love one another even when they’re surrounded by hatred. And on that level, The Help succeeds wonderfully, a warm and sweet song of hope.”

# 2 To Sir, With Love (1967)

To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love, is a movie set in the 1960’s, starring Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray. The place is London, England at a school for troubled kids. He has his work cut out for him because the students try running him off like they had done his predecessor, but he handles the students, as he is no stranger to hostility. Once he shows the students that he could not be run-off, one of the students mother dies, and the class get together some money for flowers. After the money is raised the students discuss how to get the flowers to the student when Thackeray asks “why don’t they take the flowers by to student themselves?” It is implied that since the student is black it was not something they could do. Thackeray tells them that he’ll take the flowers by, when he arrives to the students house his students surprise him by showing up as well. To Sir, With Love, shows that not only are there racial barriers, prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry here in the United States, but in England as well.

On Rotten Tomatoes critics cite
To Sir, With Love rated by the critics at 92% and by the viewers 88% liked the movie.

# 3 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is about a young woman who returns from a vacation with her fiance. The young woman, Joey Drayton  (Katharine Houghton) and her fiance John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), face controversy from his parents and co-workers and the black maid who work for her parents. Joey’s parents (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) raised her to not conform to what others thought, but even they were unprepared for this engagement. Prentice does not want to go through with the wedding unless all parties support the union, and Drayton does not care what others think and plans on marrying Prentice anyway.

Although Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, only received three and half stars for the editors rating and four stars for viewers rating, it still received ten Academy Award nominations with Hepburn winning one of the awards and the screenwriter William Rose won another.

# 4 A Time to Kill (1996)

When Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) finds his 10 year old daughter had been raped and brutally tortured, by a couple of white drunk men he decides to take matters into his own hands. Rather than waiting for the courts to decide to convict the two men, Hailey shoots them down in the courthouse. It’s up to Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) a young and upcoming attorney to help prove him not guilty. A Time to Kill is fraught with danger, and near rioting in the streets between African Americans along with sympathizer of Hailey, against the Klu Klux Klan. There are even threats against Brigance and his family, along with the kidnapping of Brigance’s young lawyer friend, Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock).

Rotten Tomatoes, Tomatometer critics scored A Time to Kill with 67%, but the viewers scored it 86%. The critics consensus was the movie was too long and “superficial,” but the performance was “was top notch.” However,  top critic Janet Maslin of the New York Times states: “If the film doesn’t add up to a cogent legal argument, neither does it have trouble delivering 2 hours and 20 minutes’ worth of sturdy, highly charged drama.” In order to get the full impact of the movie one should watch what happens and the outcome of the trial.

# 5 Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

Ghosts of Mississippi

Mississippi Civil Rights activist, Medgar Evers (James Pickens Jr.), was murdered in 1963, the court case was controversial because his killer, Byron De La Beckwith (James L. Woods), was tried twice and was acquitted both times. Evers’ wife, Myrlie (Whoopie Goldberg) and attorney Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin) accumulate enough evidence to bring Beckwith back to trial for a third time.
Rotten Tomatoes, Tomatometer critics rates Ghosts of Mississippi with 46% with the viewers rating of 63%. New York Times critic,  Mike Clark states: “Rob Reiner’s self-congratulatory Ghosts of Mississippi portrays Medgar Evers’ slaying from the viewpoint of a white guy and can’t even do a capable job of that.” Although the ratings were not very high, Ghosts of Mississippi belongs in this list because of perils that African Americans faced during this trying time.

Honorable Mention:

Four Little Girls (1997), Rosewood (1997), Remember the Titans (2000)

 Suggestions for Further Reading (links provide view of abstract):

Hall, H. Gaston. “Kathryn Stockett’s The Help: A Memoir.” Sewanee Review 122.3 (2014): 494-499. Academic Search Premier.

Jones, Suzanne W. “The Divided Reception Of The Help.” Southern Cultures 20.1 (2014): 7-25. Academic Search Premier.

Lazenbatt, William. “Intruder In A Time To Kill A Mockingbird: How The Courtroom Drama Makes The Unpopular South Popular.” The (Un)Popular South. 63-80. Olomouc, Czech Republic: Palacký University, 2011. MLA International Bibliography.

Perrin, Anne Gray. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner: The Web Of Racial, Class, And Gender Constructions In Late 1960S America.” Journal Of Popular Culture 45.4 (2012): 846-861. MLA International Bibliography.


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