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Analysis of Films about Racial Conflicts and Discrimination

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Published: Fri, 15 Dec 2017

The four texts used in this essay are ‘Crash”, ‘The Help’, ‘American History X’ and ‘Gran Torino’ that are based on the two connections Prejudice and Character Development. They have shown similar traits how a lead character is influenced from prejudices in societies and have change on their perspectives on life. These films are important because they are influential to the viewer to show that people can change and that these negative thoughts can be socially extracted. The first connection I will be discussing is Prejudice; this connection is important because it is a conflicting social issue and is a serious matter in society. The second connection is character development, which is shown through strong film techniques. They all have a lead character such as John Ryan, Skeeter Phelan, Derek Vinyard and Walt Kowalski that all have similar cultural perspectives from tough social backgrounds. The characters have an attitude transition that reflects towards the characters around them to reveal how it is possible to influence change on others.

My first connection is focused on the theme of Prejudice; this is shown in scenarios in the four films ‘Crash’, ‘The Help’, ‘American History X’ and ‘Gran Torino’. The theme prejudice is significant in the films because it is a premature judgement and is a conflicting attitude towards people or groups in society. This connection can affect a person’s behaviour and approach that can potentially lead to discrimination to others. The characters in the films are based on stereotypes and overall impressions of people society. The significance of this connection shows that people are not born with prejudice, but have socially experienced these views on others that can further lead to conflict in communities.

The first text that shows Prejudice is ‘Crash’ directed by Paul Haggis is a multi-plot narrative with characters from different racial groups in Los Angeles. This includes racial groups such as white, blacks, Mexicans, Iranians, Asians and Russians, in the film all these ethnic groups are guilty of racial discrimination or somehow a victim of it in some way. This film shows that not only whites are prejudiced, but minorities have prejudiced toward others and towards their own race. A key example of racial prejudice is shown through Officer John Ryan who is prejudiced against blacks. Although Officer Ryan is the main antagonist, he is the character that changes the most, risking his life in an effort to save the life black woman he sexually harassed. Paul Haggis portrays that Ryan is guilty of racial discrimination. An example of prejudice in the film is shown when Ryan phones a health clinic on behalf of his ill father, a black woman refuses his request to see a different doctor. After revealing her name, Shaniqua, Ryan replies “big f**king surprise that is.” He has already made his mind up about her race by her name, after having a conversation with her with contempt. This aspect reveals that he shows discrimination to all blacks. “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people; people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other just so we can feel something. “This quote shows that every person needs to have physical contact with another person in society. In the setting of the film (Los Angeles) is portraying it is a busy city where nobody takes time to notice anyone, so people feel isolated. The purpose of this shows people feel desperate from contact in society that we perform unconsciously commit violence or commit to acts in order to gain direct contact we desire from human beings. The film shows that the discrimination is entirely inescapable and is not necessary; there will always be preconceived notions out there.

The second film that shows Prejudice is ‘The Help’ directed by Tate Taylor; this is based in the 1960’s in Mississippi with signs of social division favouring the white ethnic groups. The film shows legal segregation and financial struggles of African-American people with limited employment opportunities. The woman who served as the help were treated poorly, they had to have different bathrooms because they were accused of carrying diseases and were only able to have one set of cutlery utensils. This is shown through the film technique of the camera shot; this is a long-shot of Hilly Holbrook looking down over Aibileen. The shot is used to show that whites are superior to African-Americans in society and that they are almost powerless. This film is important because it promotes equally and accepting treatment of all ethnic groups. It shows that society has changed vastly over the last 50 years and that social division has reduced. The director, however, shows that there are still signs of racial discrimination in society, and there is still a divide between racial groups. “God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. However it can start by telling the truth.” This quote shows that in order to have balance in society we need to start respecting each other and to treat everyone equally. The character Aibileen shows to women that we are all the same and not that much divides people into society only prejudice beliefs.

The third film that shows Prejudice is ‘American History X’ directed by Tony Kaye, conveying racial discrimination, equality and stereotyping. The film revolves around the main character Derek Vinyard who prejudices racial, ethnic groups due to blacks that murdered his father. The two brothers Derek and Danny show to the audience that hate is learned, but shows that their racial discrimination is influenced by the father who is a racist man. A key of example of this is shown at the dinner to scene that shows the viewer how racist people are made in society. Derek says “I do not respect anyone who lets these monkeys in the streets” he is discriminating monkeys that are referred to like blacks. He believes that Police do not have the privilege to let African-Americans into societies because they only cause crime. “Hate is baggage. Life’s is too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it”. The quote used by Danny to show that discrimination is pointless, there is no point having racial grudges a lifetime should be used for better things .This film is important because it sends a message to the viewer that racism can be turned around and forgotten about. The film shows a never ending cycle of Prejudice as Danny is shot by an African-American due to his social views on ethnic groups. The film is relevant because the cycle needs to stop in society in order to respect everyone; everyone deserves to be treated equally because we are all the same.

Finally the fourth film that shows Prejudice is ‘Gran Torino’ directed by Gran Torino. This film focuses on racial slandering, stereotyping and discrimination, shows friendship building, true family values and community conflict. The film primarily focuses on the character Walt Kowalski a retired war veteran who appears to be forced into racism after serving in the Korean War. Walt’s world is changing with his wife pasting away; neighbourhood is decaying, his family relationship is slipping away and he is clinging to his Korean War memories that take away the happiness in his life. Walt finally receives his redemption by conflicting destructive prejudice, consuming Hmong teenage gangs that have consumed him. The relationship between Walt and his neighbours causes him to overcome his racial issues and puts this neighbourhood further ahead than his own. This is important because it shows us how a friendship that never would have grown can even sometimes save a life. The importance of this connection is shown through the use of dialogue “I thought you Asian girls were supposed to be smart.” This filming technique reveals Walt stereotypes Asian races only due to society’s opinions on Asian people. This is an important issue because racial profiling targets all people of a particular race. The link in the text shows also how this can also lead to how racial groups can sometimes be treated like criminals and is unfair on the innocent people of these racial groups.

My second connection involves character development, with key characters such as John Ryan, Skeeter Phelan, Derek Vinyard and Walt Kowalski that have had significant impacts on the public. The purpose of this contact of character development is to show that people have the ability to change their lives. That everybody has massive potential of creating change by events in reality that can further influence the people around them to do so. The four texts all show obvious signs of character development through constant transitions of change and perspectives on others’ lives.

The first text I will be discussing is ‘Crash’ directed by Paul Haggis that contains several protagonist characters one of the stand out characters is Officer John Ryan, this is show through character development. Officer Ryan is perceived as an extremely verbal person but his non-verbal communication speaks even louder. Early in the film, Ryan sells himself as a stereotypical arrogant police officer. This is shown when he pulled over Cameron and his wife Christine, this is due to him having hatred towards blacks, and he used his power to provoke inappropriate behaviour towards an innocent couple of colour. When Christine put her hands on the car, he began to feel her up and fiercely intimidating Character. However, as the movie progressed, you see Ryan living with his Dad and taking care of him due to his health problems. Then we see him take extreme measures to try to gain any health benefit for his father. Finally at the climax scene of the film you see him have a transition to risk his own life to save Christine. ” My father doesn’t deserve to suffer like this. He was a janitor. He struggled his whole life. Saved enough to start his own company. Twenty-three employees, all of them black. Paid ’em equal wages when no one else was doing that.” This quote is used to show that life is a never ending cycle and that you only get what you give and that karma will find a way back on you. This contact shows that it is only human to form an opinion of the whole when only based on a few. It shows that stereotyping many groups of people based, only a few incidents is a strong perception of people making false judgements in society. The character redeems him, but let his bitterness and emotion control his life and took it out on those who didn’t deserve it. The film portrays that there is always going to be bad things to happen to us in life and we cannot hide from these issues. But it is up to us in society to go about how we handle and move on to define who we are.

The second text that involves character development is ‘The Help’ directed by Tate Taylor is primarily focusing on the main character Skeeter Phelan helping the African-American community in America. Skeeter is brought up in a white high-division society that has strong feelings for coloured races which lead Skeeter to be so liberated throughout the film. The character is influenced in seeing her friends employ African-American maids. Skeeter both admires and fears letting down her mother and her friend Hilly. Even though she pursues completing a manuscript called “Help” with assistance from a maid name Aibilieen. She seeks the reason Constantine abruptly left her family’s employment. “Don’t waste your time on obvious things. Write about what disturbs you; particularly if it seems to bother no one else.” This quote is used to inspire Skeeter to write about The Help because they are pushed away from white society and weren’t given a fair chance of financial employment. This character is prominent to the public to stand up for people’s rights and to not be afraid of getting a viewpoint across in today’s society. This character showed me to believe in you and to see others from their point of view; she stood up for blacks rights and gave them a chance in American society. The strong message in the text is to not go down the same path as people who prejudice others, but to choose your own destiny and to treat everyone equally.

The third text I will be discussing about my second connection of character development is ‘American History X’ directed by Tony Kaye revealing the important traits of Derek Vinyard. The main character Derek Vinyard is a leader of a neo-Nazi group in Los Angeles, who goes to prison for murdering an African-American for breaking into his car. When Derek goes to prison, he is seen as a Nazi member with racist tattoos who is invited to the Aryan Brotherhood chapter. Derek rapidly becomes disengaged with this cult and that eventually lead to him being brutally raped by a skinhead member, by this happening Derek sees a greater side of life and wants’ to leave his ties with the group behind. He sees that there is no benefit of being in this gang, and wants to prevent his younger brother Danny to follow down the same path that he did. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.” This quote is a summary of the character development of Derek Vinyard as his brother saw him do wrong actions. This shows that our emotions and misguided prejudices separate us from everyone. This film is important because it shows that people with strength to lead us to what is right will show error in our actions to support us to lives allies, not enemies. This connection is relevant in society because people are often mislead from others and don’t ever change. This film shows we are better off to change and be independent that to be together and unhappy.

The final text is ‘Gran Torino’ directed by Clint Eastwood; there are obvious signs of character development shown in the text, and this is from the main character Walt Kowalski. This shown in the film when Walt has new neighbours moving into his neighbourhood that lead to gangs being involved with the family. The character Walt is perceived as a racist Korean War Hero; that is becoming increasingly unhappy with his family and his wife passing away, he builds a relationship with the Hmong people. ” Walt had no problem calling it like he saw it. However, he was right. I knew nothing about life or death, until I got to know Walt… and boy did I learn.” This quote shows Walt’s true personality as he is seen as a stubborn aged man that slowly changes into a respectable, influential person. Walt does not want to be seen weak or to be taken care of, the minute he sees the Taul having a difficult time, he steps up to help him. This connection is important because, it shows how people are able to build a relationship from cultural differences and can be influenced to change into a tender minded and gregarious neighbour and father figure who define altruism. In Walt’s will, he donates his house the local church and gives his prized possession of the Gran Torino to Taul, to pay his respects from his past of murdering Korean people. This film is important because it reveals how change can be good towards someone but can also help people around you. The character Walt showed me that you need others that respect you to find peace and happiness.

It is my opinion that the four texts ‘Crash’, ‘The Help’, ‘American History X’ and ‘Gran Torino’ all have strong views such as prejudice and discrimination that are relevant in society. The two connections I have chosen are prejudice and character development that are similar throughout the texts. The films have shown me how social issues are a distraction in society and take away the true colour of people and remove human spirit. It’s also shown me that there isn’t equality in society and that there is racial discrimination and that not everybody is given a fair chance on life. Each film has significant ideas such as “stereotyping” and “social division” that are issues that will most likely be around forever. Overall I would recommend the films in this essay because there are viewpoints that go unnoticed, the films can potentially inspire the viewer to have an attitude transition as the characters have. The films reveal messages that social problems are a never ending cycle and that it is up to us to break the cycle and to respect everyone.


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