Old Movie Nights
by Jacqueline Grey
Thank you so much for having me here today and letting me share the re-release of Shoot the Moon, the second book in the Suit of Harte’s series. I’d like to talk about something a little more serious today.
In Shoot the Moon, the main character Adam and his friend Ash have a classic movie night. I realize the definition of “classic” can change depending on someone’s age, so let me clarify that I am referring to films released before 1970. Adam and Ash start the evening with Some Like it Hot starring Marilyn Monroe.
When I first set out to write this post, I wanted to talk about my favorite classic films. I wanted to share with you which actors I like and ask you what your favorite movie night themes are, but as I contemplated which movies and actors I wanted to talk about, I inevitably came across James Stewart and his film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Thinking of that film made me examine what I wanted to say with this post.
As I write this we are surrounded by news of riots and racism. We are fighting a fight that has been going on for over four hundred years and the emotions are overwhelming. Granted, we are fighting for something much bigger than Mr. Smith’s campsite, but the topics of standing up against corruption in government and against the injustice of people who would make innocents out to be criminals to suit their own ends are still valid.
These thoughts made me take a second look at the classic films I love and brought to my attention one of my favorites: 12 Angry Men. This is a film about a jury who must decide the fate of a teenager accused of murdering his father. The teenager is a minority and the “12 angry men” are mostly white. Eleven of the jurors are quick to decide the kid is guilty. Only one man, Juror #8, thinks differently. He clearly states that he hasn’t decided if the accused is innocent or not, but he believes they should look at the evidence and discuss the case before making a momentous decision that will affect a person’s life.
Over the course of the film, the other jurors’ motivations for their guilty verdict come to light. These reasons range from racism and personal grudges to just plain indifference. When thinking of this film, it was the last that struck me the most and it is best shown in Juror #7. Throughout the film he tries to hurry things along because he has tickets to a baseball game and does not want to miss it. As the movie continues and the tides change, he even switches his vote, not because he thinks it’s the right choice, but because he thinks it will get him home faster. His entertainment is more important than the life of a young man.
I’m not the only one offended when he does this. Even one of the other jurors around the table point out that this is not a good motivation to change one’s vote. He should pick a side because he believes in it. Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” It’s easy to see the fight that’s in front of you when you look at the news and social media, but we also need to engage the people we don’t see, the ones who are doing nothing and staying silent on the sidelines.
It’s one thing to clamor for change, but as I learn more about systemic racism, I feel not only rage but despair. Systemic racism is deeply entrenched in every facet of our society, but even though it’s a daunting task, we must plan a course of action to eradicate this problem systematically. We need all the help we can get. If we could change indifference to action, imagine all the things we could accomplish.