By Alex P. Vidal
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I STRONGLY recommend To Kill a Mockingbird, a 1962 drama and mystery movie starring Gregory Peck, to all aspiring lawyers, social scientists, politicians, and journalists like this writer.
I watched the movie for free on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) through Spectrum New York’s Channel 82 in the weekend, and found the concept of justice presented in the black and white movie to have many parallels that reflect some realities in society we live today.
It is based on the novel written by Harper Lee as an antidote to racial prejudice. I believe the book version is more popular than the movie.
I like the way Peck portrayed Atticus Finch, described as a strongly principled, liberal lawyer who defends a wrongly accused black man, representing a role model for moral and legal justice.
The first movie where I also admired Peck’s acting was Roman Holiday, a 1953 romance and comedy co-starring the young Audrey Hepburn, where Peck played as journalist. Many scenes in the editorial room had striking resemblance to our editorial office in the Philippines in the pre-Microsoft years.
Meanwhile, in his explanation to daughter Scout, Atticus stressed that while he believed the American justice system to be without prejudice, the individuals who sit on the jury often harbor bias, which can taint the workings of the system.
Atticus retained his faith in the system throughout the majority of the novel, but he ultimately lost in his legal defense of Tom.
Atticus expressed a certain disillusionment as a result of this experience when he agreed to conceal Boo’s culpability in the killing of Ewell, recognizing that Boo would be stereotyped by his peers, at the end of the book.
Atticus decided to act based on his own principles of justice in the end, rather than rely on a legal system that may be fallible.
The novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has remained enormously popular since its publication in 1960.
It also can be read as a coming-of-age story featuring a young girl growing up in the South of America and experiencing moral awakenings.
The novel demonstrated the now-adult narrator’s hindsight perspective on the growth of her identity and outlook on life, as narrated from Scout’s point-of-view.
The tomboyish Scout challenged the forces attempting to socialize her into a prescribed gender role as a Southern lady, in developing a more mature sensibility.
Aunt Alexandra tried to subtly and not-so subtly push Scout into a traditional gender role that often ran counter to her father’s values and her own natural inclinations.
As events around the trial became ugly, however, Scout realized the value of some of the traditions Alexandra was trying to show her and decided she, too, could be a “lady.”
The novel also explored themes of heroism and the idea of role models as well.
Lee has stated that the novel was essentially a long love letter to her father, whom she idolized as a man with deeply held moral convictions.
Atticus was clearly the hero of the novel, and functioned as a role model for his children. The children regarded their father as weak and ineffective because he did not conform to several conventional standards of Southern masculinity.
They eventually realized that Atticus possessed not only skill with a rifle, but also moral courage, intelligence, and humor, and they came to regard him as a hero in his own right.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)