HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS
Most of us go to the movies to have fun: to laugh, cry, boo, cheer, be scared, thrilled, or simply to be amused for a few hours. But movies are something more than just an evening’s entertainment. They are also historical documents that help us see — and perhaps more fully understand — the world in which they were made. — Steven J. Ross, Movies and American Society
Scope & Sequence
Racism and justice, childhood and parenting — these are the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird. They are also social issues that surrounded the release of the film in 1962. Studying film as a historical and cultural document does not mean asking what part of history the filmmakers got right or wrong. Rather, studying these contexts means exploring the historical period in which the film was made and the social issues relative to the film’s themes. The questions this chapter poses include: What can we learn about society by studying the period in which a film was made? Does what we see on the screen influence how we view people, race, and gender? Does society shape the kind of stories we tell, or do the stories we tell shape society? Questions such as these move students beyond fact-finding to a discussion of a deeper truth: A film can be a lens through which we can investigate the people and culture of the past. In this chapter, students begin to understand that history is a story told in many different voices and from different perspectives. The lesson activities provide a variety of texts for students to read and analyze — photographs, political cartoons, letters, and movies, including a rare film featuring Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. reading parts of a letter he wrote from a Birmingham jail. The chapter concludes with a history writing assignment that introduces students to archival collections of documentary videos from the early 1900s through the 20th century. Students analyze the historic value of a video using document-based questions (DBQs), then write a short paper on their interpretations.
Lesson 1 Activity A Activity B Activity C
Lesson 2 Activity A Activity B
Lesson 3 Activity A Activity B
Lesson 4 Activity A Activity B Activity C
The Link Between History and Culture Thinking Chronologically 1960s Censorship Interpretations and Values — The Movie Trailer and Movie Review
Civil Rights Issues, 1930s and 1960s Jim Crow Laws Racial Violence, 1930s
Analyzing Film Depictions Representations of Race in the Film Do Films Influence Society?
Writing About History Using Moving Images Words from Birmingham The Documentary — Reverend King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Interpreting a Documentary Video
Film Study Standards 1.0 Film Language. Students learn to read and interpret visual text by developing a film vocabulary, identifying editing techniques, and analyzing film elements within selected scenes. 2.0 Historical and Cultural Contexts. Students understand that a film is both a historical/social document and a cultural artifact. Students analyze social issues presented in film and form conclusions about the ways in which film influences and is influenced by the society in which it is produced. 5.0 Cross-Curricular Connections. Students first tap their knowledge of other disciplines to study a film. They then apply what they have learned about film to other disciplines, making connections between film and literature/language arts, film and history/social studies, film and other arts, and film and sciences. 83
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Lesson 1 The Link Between History and Culture Teacher Overview Ask your students why they go to the movies, and the immediate response will likely be, “It’s fun” or “It’s something to do.” Few, if any, will say they go to movies to better understand the world in which they live or to better understand themselves! And yet movies, both documentaries and fictional dramas, are windows through which we can learn about other people and cultures. In this lesson, students learn that movies communicate information that is both historical and cultural. Activity A guides students in distinguishing between the historical periods in which a film’s story is set and the period in which the film was made. Students then go on to identify historical and cultural events relative to the film’s timeline and social themes. Activity B presents for study a primary source document, a short letter in which the Motion Picture Association of America refused to give To Kill a Mockingbird its “certificate of approval.” The lesson introduces students to the importance of understanding the period in which a film is made. What society found offensive in 1961 may surprise students today. Activity C presents three additional interpretations of To Kill a Mockingbird from the period in which the film was made — the movie trailer and two not-so-positive movie reviews. These documents provide additional insights to cultural values of the time and illustrate that not every person responded to the film in the same way. By studying the historical and cultural contexts of a film, students can better understand the film’s themes. The opposite is also true: The cultural details evident in a film can provide insight to history.
Learning Outcomes Students will: distinguish the period in which a film is set and the period in which a film was made; explain the difference between history and culture; distinguish between historical and cultural documents; analyze the use of film language in a movie trailer; compare movie review quotes from the period in which the film was made and the present day.
Key Terms (Note: Most terms are defined within the activity text that follows. You may also refer to the glossary.) movie trailer, movie review
Lesson 1 Materials
Activity A Thinking Chronologically
Graphic Organizer 4-1: A Film’s Historical and Cultural Timeline
Activity B 1960s Censorship
Reading Activity 4-2: Motion Picture Association Certificate of Approval
Activity C Interpretations and Values – The Movie Trailer and Movie Review
Screening Sheet 4-1: Coming to a Theater Near You
Film Clip 4-1: Coming to a Theater Near You
Reading Activity 4-1: Is It History or Is It Culture?
Reading Activity 4-3: The Movie Review Then and Now
When interpreting a ﬁlm, students should be able to distinguish between past and present and to identify historical and cultural events relative to the ﬁlm.
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Engage Ask students to identify the approximate time period in which the ﬁlm is set. Ask them to provide speciﬁc details from the ﬁlm that help establish the time setting. For example, because Mr. Cunningham drives a horse-drawn wagon but Atticus drives a car, students can infer that the setting is early in the 20th century and not the mid-19th century when automobiles were not yet invented. Other details include the model or style of automobiles, the type of telephone, and style of clothing. Some students may cite speciﬁc reference to the voice-over narration, which alludes to the Depression era and President Roosevelt. Next, ask students to identify the approximate time period in which the ﬁlm was produced. Again, ask them to provide speciﬁc details from the ﬁlm that support their answers. These supporting details will be more difﬁcult for them to identify. Some may know the year the ﬁlm was released in theaters — 1962. Some may cite as an example the fact that the ﬁlm was shot in black and white rather than in color. Remind them that color ﬁlm was available in 1962 but that the ﬁlmmakers chose to shoot the ﬁlm in black and white. Still others may comment on the actors, such as Gregory Peck, linking them with a period of history. Encourage all reasonable responses.
Explain & Explore Deﬁne history and culture, ensuring students understand the difference between the two. History is the study of past events and people. Culture is the study of how people within a society or community live. A society’s culture, or way of life, may include the type of food the people eat, the work they do, the religion they practice, and the ideas they express through art forms, such as writing, music, sculpture, and so on. Emphasize that making a ﬁlm is one way to express ideas, and so a ﬁlm is a cultural document. Explain the cause-and-effect relationship that often exists between history and culture, by sharing the information below. Although history and culture are different, they are related. The crash of the stock market in 1929 was a historical event. It triggered what became known as the Great Depression. Banks failed. People lost their jobs. Some lost their homes. This historical event affected Americans’ way of living. Detective novels became very popular because they were cheap entertainment, and provided a way to escape the realities of hard times. Other cultural developments during the Great Depression era included the beginning of the Mickey Mouse Club — millions of children joined — and the invention and popularity of the board game Monopoly. Distribute and display Graphic Organizer 4-1: A Film’s Historical and Cultural Timeline. Explain the purpose of the timeline — to help students understand the history and culture of the periods in which a ﬁlm was set, made, and viewed. In addition, explain that a ﬁlm timeline can show how history and culture have or have not changed over time. Time frames in a ﬁlm timeline will change depending on the ﬁlm being analyzed. Review the key concepts on the graphic organizer as suggested below. Time Frame 1 This is the period in which the ﬁlm is set. To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in rural Alabama in the 1930s. Time Frame 2 This is the period in which the ﬁlm was made. To Kill a Mockingbird was made in 1961. Emphasize that for some ﬁlms, time frames 1 and 2 are the same. These would be ﬁlms set in the same approximate time period as when the ﬁlm is made. Examples include E.T. and The Wizard of Oz. Time Frame 3 This is the period in which the ﬁlm is viewed, the present day. When To Kill a Mockingbird ﬁrst played in movie theaters across America, time frame 3 was the same as time frame 2. However, many years have passed since Universal Studios made this ﬁlm. Audiences viewing the ﬁlm today may have difﬁculty understanding some of the social issues of the 1960s that may have shaped the ﬁlm’s themes. 85
Emphasize this important point about the three different time frames: The time frames help us to avoid “present-day thinking” about the past. For example, some students may ﬁnd it difﬁcult to believe that in 1963, an African American could not drink from the same water fountain as a white American. That’s because in time frame 3 — the present day, such segregation is illegal and not part of our experience. Learning more about each time frame can increase understanding of the ﬁlm’s themes. But the opposite is also true: A ﬁlm can give insight to history. Continue to discuss the timeline elements: Historical Events Events placed on this bar of the timeline actually occurred and in some way relate to the issues expressed in the ﬁlm. For example, during the time To Kill a Mockingbird played in theaters across the country, both black and white Americans were protesting segregation and demanding equal rights for everyone no matter what their race or religion was. In the 1930s, lynchings occurred across America. Both of these historical happenings relate to the ﬁlm’s themes of social justice and racism. Cultural Events Events or trends plotted on this bar illustrate the way a society or group of people lived. Again, these items relate in some way to the ﬁlm’s themes. For example, during the 1960s, many African Americans began wearing their hair in a style called an Afro. The hairstyle was more than a fad. It was a political statement of pride in being African American. Again, this relates to the theme of social justice expressed in To Kill a Mockingbird. Distribute Reading Activity 4-1: Is It History or Is It Culture? This activity allows students to practice distinguishing historical from cultural events and identifying which are relative to the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Review the Word Builder terms. Teachers may assign this as silent in-class work or homework. Afterward, review the timelines with students. Not all may agree whether an event is historical or cultural. Explain that in some instances, a cultural event makes history.
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-1: Is It History or Is It Culture? Historical Timeline: 1929 — Stock market crashes; 1933 — Roosevelt becomes president; 1941 — Japanese attack American armed forces; 1955 — Rosa Parks is arrested; 1957 — President Eisenhower sends federal troops to Little Rock; 1964 — Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize. Cultural Timeline: 1937 — Walt Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; 1943 — Slinky toy invented; 1959 — Mattel introduces the Barbie doll; 1960 — Many African Americans wear their hair in “Afros”; 1961 — Harper Lee wins Pulitzer Prize; 1962 — Universal Studios releases To Kill a Mockingbird.
Review with students which events on the activity sheet do not relate to the historical or social context of To Kill a Mockingbird. These include the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the release of Snow White, the invention of the slinky toy and the dolls. Even though these are included on the timeline for this activity sheet, these would not be plotted on the ﬁlm’s timeline.
Close Share with students additional examples of ﬁlm timelines below. Encourage students to provide additional examples and/or to research historical and cultural events to plot on those ﬁlms’ timelines. Two examples are below. Dances with Wolves Synopsis: A Civil War veteran goes west and lives with a band of Sioux. Time Frame 1 (set): 1860s Time Frame 2 (made): 1990 Time Frame 3 (viewed): 21st century
Glory Synopsis: Colonel Robert Shaw leads the U.S. Civil War’s ﬁrst all-black volunteer company, ﬁghting prejudices of both his own Union Army and the Confederates. Time Frame 1 (set): 1860s Time Frame 2 (made): 1989 Time Frame 3 (viewed): 21st century 1 � � �
Concept By studying the time period in which a ﬁlm was made, students can better identify and understand social concerns that may have inﬂuenced the ﬁlmmakers.
Engage Ask students to explain the present-day movie rating system that uses letter codes – G, PG, PG-13, etc. Ask students to explain the purpose of this rating system and to discuss its effectiveness. Who pays attention to the codes? Who decides what rating a ﬁlm receives and on what do they base their decisions?
Explain & Explore Test students’ listening and critical-thinking skills by sharing the information below with them. Tell the students that you will read a short passage aloud, then ask them to recall speciﬁc details. When To Kill a Mockingbird was made, the present-day movie rating system did not exist. A different system existed for recommending ﬁlms to the general public. Prior to a ﬁlm being released, the Motion Picture Association of America, in Hollywood, viewed the ﬁlm and decided whether or not to give it the “certiﬁcate of approval.” They based their decisions on a number of factors. One was the language spoken in the ﬁlm, and another was the way people were portrayed or shown in the ﬁlm. In the 1960s, the Legion of Decency represented Catholic communities across the country. The Protestant Motion Picture Council represented America’s Protestant communities. These religious groups and others like them also previewed ﬁlms and granted or withheld their support. A negative rating, either from the Motion Picture Association of America or one of the religion-based organizations, could cripple a ﬁlm at the box ofﬁce. Approval, on the other hand, often meant increased box ofﬁce sales. Guided Discussion 1. What organization in Hollywood in the 1960s previewed ﬁlms and gave some its “certiﬁcate of approval”? The Motion Picture Association of America 2.
What are two factors on which this organization based its decision for approval? The use of language and the way the ﬁlms portrayed people
Name two religious groups that also previewed and rated movies in the 1960s. The Legion of Decency and the Protestant Motion Picture Council
A negative rating often “could cripple a ﬁlm at the box ofﬁce.” What does that mean? Theaters would not sell as many tickets, and so the ﬁlm would lose money.
Why did these groups go to the trouble of previewing and rating movies? Answers will vary but should focus on the idea that people in general believe ﬁlm images can have positive and negative inﬂuences on people’s attitudes and behavior.
Distribute Reading Activity 4-2: Motion Picture Association Certiﬁcate of Approval. Explain that this is a historical document from the time frame when To Kill a Mockingbird was made, 1961. Review the Word Builder terms. Read the letter, then discuss students’ responses.
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-2: Motion Picture Association Certificate of Approval Identifying Information 1. Who is the audience, and what is the purpose of the letter? The audience is McTaggart at Universal Pictures, the studio that was making To Kill a Mockingbird. The purpose is to identify speciﬁc points of objection in the ﬁlm. 2.
Did Shurlock, speaking on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America, base his decisions on the ﬁlm itself or some other document? He based his decisions on a document — the screenplay.
Shurlock lists four points of objection, one of which focuses on the humane treatment of animals. To which scene might he be referring? The scene in which Atticus shoots the mad dog. Share with students this information: The dog that appears to be shot in the ﬁlm, in fact, was not harmed.
The other three objections focus on the use of language. What does Shurlock ﬁnd objectionable about the language on pages 53 and 98? The words cited are considered curses and offensive to moviegoing audiences. In particular, the association does not want Scout uttering such words, because this would have a negative inﬂuence on young moviegoers.
Which character probably speaks the language cited on page 136, and why might his use of this language be considered “integral” to the story? Bob Ewell. Because the language is so offensive and meant to be so, it reveals Ewell’s racial prejudices and also reveals, in part, his motivation for accusing Tom Robinson of the crime.
What argument does Shurlock present for “toning down” the language cited on page 136? It is used more often than needed to make the point that Ewell is prejudiced, and therefore it becomes less useful and even inﬂammatory or sensational.
Think More About It 1. Are the points cited in this letter from 1961 still considered offensive? Provide a reason to support your viewpoint. Answers will vary. Accept all reasonable responses. Emphasize that language and visual images have different connotations for different groups of people. 2.
What does this letter tell you about society in the 1960s? Answers will vary. Students may comment that what society thought offensive then is not what society ﬁnds offensive now. Others may respond that society was concerned about how African Americans were portrayed.
Share with students this information: In the script Shurlock read, the phrase “nigger lover” was used 13 times. In the ﬁnal ﬁlm, the phrase is spoken when Ewell confronts Finch outside the Robinson home at night before the trial. Obviously, Universal Studios made changes to the script and did, in fact, get the certiﬁcate of approval from the Motion Picture Association.
Close Ask students if the concept of decency has changed over time. If so, how? If not, why? Encourage the discussion to return to the opening points of the present-day movie rating system and what this suggests about the inﬂuence ﬁlms do or do not have on their audiences.
Concept Promotional ads for and audience reaction to a ﬁlm, both at the time the ﬁlm was made and years later, provide insight to the customs and values of a society and how those values may or may not have changed over time.
Engage Bring to class or ask students to bring to class newspaper or magazine advertisements for currently playing movies. Weekend editions of the local newspaper, for example, often run advertisements for movies in the entertainment section. Students may work individually or in groups. As they read the advertisements, they should use a highlighter to circle comments that can be attributed to movie reviewers. They should also note which comments are not attributed to anyone at all. Ask each group to share the comments they circled. Encourage students to decide if the comments are positive or negative. Advertisements promoting the ﬁlm will naturally be positive. This is most certainly not always the case in movie reviews. Draw students’ attention to words or phrases used frequently, such as “two thumbs up” or “one of the year’s best.” Discuss the overuse of these phrases and how that affects their meaning. Finally, reinforce a key point learned in activity A: These reviews are comments from time frame 3, the present day. The purpose behind these comments is to persuade the public to see the ﬁlm.
Explain & Explore Explain that once a ﬁlm is ready for distribution, the advertisers in charge of promoting it make critical decisions that affect not only where they will advertise the ﬁlm but also how. Print advertisements like the ones they have just studied are one kind of promotion for a ﬁlm. The movie trailer and a positive movie review can be used as two additional advertising strategies to encourage people to see this ﬁlm. Deﬁne movie trailer. It is an advertisement for a ﬁlm, consisting of shots, or extracts, from the movie and shown on television or in movie theaters. The purpose of the trailer is to persuade audiences to see the ﬁlm being advertised. Introduce the screening activity, in which students will examine closely the trailer developed by Universal Studios in 1961 (time frame 2) for To Kill a Mockingbird. A movie trailer makes promises about what audiences will see and what they will feel. The goal of this screening activity is for the students to analyze the trailer, identifying the persuasive strategies the advertisers use and the promises they make to their target audiences. Emphasize that students should use their knowledge of ﬁlm language studied in chapter 3 in analyzing this movie trailer. This includes elements of composition and the use of sound. Distribute Screening Sheet 4-1: Coming to a Theater Near You. Review the sheet and questions to ensure students know what to observe and what to record. You may wish to pause the DVD on the movie review quotes so students have time to read them all. View follow.
Film Clip 4-1: Coming to a Theater Near You. Discuss student observations. Recommended answers
Answer Key for Screening Sheet 4-1: Coming to a Theater Near You
Points of Emphasis
The Message Describe the images and the sounds, including written lines.
The Intended Effect Why did the producer of the trailer decide to do it this way?
1. Gregory Peck
He is seated in a dark room/studio with light on him; a large image of the novel appears on a screen behind him. A VO introduces him rather formally — “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Gregory Peck” — as the theme music begins to play.
The introduction makes Peck seem important and distinguished. The book cover shown extraordinarily large suggests its importance, as well.
2. Introduction of principal players
Images of Scout, Jem, and Atticus set to strands of the music score are shown in that order as Peck brieﬂy describes who they are. He gives Scout’s real name, and the images show her walking, talking with Atticus, and ﬁghting in the schoolyard. He describes Jem as “just a boy, until he learns there is evil in the world.” The image shown with these words are of Bob Ewell pressing against the car window. Atticus is described as a man “devoted to justice,” and this places him and his children in danger. The accompanying image shows Atticus in the courtroom.
To get the audience interested in the characters. Also, it emphasizes the family relationships.
3. Three shots from the ﬁlm
First shot shows the initial confrontation between Atticus and Bob Ewell; second shot shows Atticus and Scout reading together at night; third shot shows Mayella Ewell on the witness stand.
As teasers, the ﬁrst and third shots focus on confrontation; because they are so dramatic, they will spark interest. The second shot, focusing on family love between Scout and Atticus, will create an “ahhhh” response from the audience. As a single father doing his best, Atticus sparks empathy and care for the character.
Lines from reviews and a list of awards are written large across the screen, while images from the ﬁlm and the music score run under this.
To emphasize the high quality of the ﬁlm; to underscore the heartwarming aspect of the ﬁlm; to encourage families to see what is predicted to be one of the year’s best ﬁlms.
Think More About It 1. Why did the producer of the trailer decide to introduce the book before the ﬁlm? People know the book; it has won awards. The producer is hoping to transfer the respect for and interest in the book to the ﬁlm. 2. Who is the intended audience for this trailer? Answers will vary. Some may say fans of the book. Some may say families, based on the discussion of item 4 above. Others may suggest the ﬁlm is trying to reach all age groups, based on the types of ﬁlm clips they showed. For example, if they only showed family images, that would not be true to the ﬁlm’s story, and it might turn away adults interested in a good drama. 3. What promises does the movie trailer make? Fill in the blanks in the sentences that follow: If you come to see this ﬁlm, you will see _____________________. Answers will vary but should focus on a heartwarming story of family relationships and good triumphing over evil. If you come to see this ﬁlm, you will feel _____________________. Again, answers will vary but should focus on positive, warm feelings and that you will be “spellbound,” in the words of one reviewer.
Deﬁne movie review. It is an evaluation of a ﬁlm, usually the opinion of one person who has seen the ﬁlm. A review consists of details that summarize what the ﬁlm is about and details that comment on the quality of the ﬁlm. The purpose of a movie review, therefore, is both to inform and to express a point of view. Distribute Reading Activity 4-3: The Movie Review Then and Now. Review the Word Builder terms and each passage with students, then follow the guided discussion questions below. Guided Discussion 1. Review each passage for comments on acting performance. Which passages state that the performances are quite good? Which say the performances are just okay? In time frame 3, passages C and D, the reviewers are quite impressed by the performance of all actors, including Brock Peters. Time frame 2’s passages A and B, however, are critical of Gregory Peck’s performance. One says he seems to think of himself as Abe Lincoln, which suggests he is too righteous, and the other compares him to a puppet. 2.
Review each passage for comments on the ﬁlm’s themes. Passage A, in time frame 2, says the ﬁlm doesn’t have anything important to say about civil rights and justice, and calls the message “fatuous,” or silly. In passages C and D, in time frame 3, however, both reviewers believe the message is strong and still meaningful today.
How do the two passages in time frame 2 differ from those in time frame 3? The two quotes selected to represent time frame 2 give the ﬁlm a less-than-enthusiastic review. The two quotes selected to represent time frame 3 are much more positive. Passage C strongly recommends the ﬁlm.
Explore with students through discussion how the movie reviews differ from the movie trailer they saw earlier. If a movie trailer makes promises about what an audience can expect to see, the movie review is the audience’s interpretation of whether the expectations were met.
Close Discuss how audience reviews of the ﬁlm have changed over time and solicit reasons why this may be so. Emphasize too that the reading activity uses only four quotes. Additional research of reviews from both the time in which the ﬁlm was made and the present day might reveal different attitudes and interpretations. Encourage those students who have an interest in learning more to research additional viewpoints and to write their ﬁndings in a report.
The Controversy over Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? In 1968, another ﬁlm with a controversial theme played in theaters across America. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? told the story of an interracial marriage between an African American doctor and a white woman. Read how audiences then reacted to the ﬁlm, plus a movie review, by visiting The Story of Movies Web site at www.storyofmovies.org.
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Lesson 2 Civil Rights Issues, 1930s and 1960s Teacher Overview Movies re-present history. Filmmakers re-create a movie’s time and place, often using elaborate sets and costumes to do so. For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Cunningham drives a horse-drawn wagon through Maycomb, Alabama, because during the Depression, many people could not afford automobiles. Although movies are not history, they can provide historical evidence for a particular period or place in history, or they can provide insight to social concerns. The mob that demands Atticus “move aside” so they can take Tom Robinson from his jail cell is well founded on facts. Hundreds of historical documents, including photographs and newspaper articles, record that Negroes (as they were called then) were taken from jails by mobs and lynched. In the film, the mob that comes for Tom Robinson was true to history. Just how a filmmaker re-presents history depends on a number of factors, one of which is the historical resources used when planning the film. Another factor is how the filmmaker interprets historical documents. In this lesson, therefore, students review historical sources pertinent to segregation in the South and evaluate how the filmmaker presented that issue in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Learning Outcomes Students will: define what is meant by the phrase “Jim Crow laws”; explain what a primary source document is; distinguish between historical and cultural documents; evaluate how the film mirrors civil rights issues of the 1930s.
Lesson 2 Materials
Activity Activity A Jim Crow Laws
Reading Activity 4-4: Jim Crow Laws
Still 4-1: The Colored Water Fountain Still 4-2: The People in the Balcony
Activity B Racial Violence, 1930s
Reading Activity 4-5: News Article, 1938 Reading Activity 4-6: Lynchings in America (map) Reading Activity 4-7, Enrichment: President Kennedy’s Notes on Birmingham Violence
Still 4-3: A Man Was Lynched Yesterday
Although a ﬁlm is a cultural document and not a dissertation or history textbook, a ﬁlm has value for providing historical evidence and often teaches important truths about the human condition.
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Engage Display Still 4-1: The Colored Water Fountain. Before explaining the historical context for the image, ask students to describe what they see and what information the image presents. Prompt them to suggest where this image came from or who might have taken it and why. After their initial discussions, share this information about the photograph with them: The photographer is John Vachon. He worked for the Farm Security Administration, a department of the United States government. During the Great Depression, Vachon and other photographers traveled across America on a fact-ﬁnding mission to document the living conditions of the poor. He took this photograph in 1938 on the courthouse lawn in Halifax, North Carolina.
Explain & Explore Distribute Reading Activity 4-4: Jim Crow Laws. Explain that Jim Crow was a ﬁctional African American character in minstrel shows in the 19th century. Jim Crow images were stereotypical and demeaning, frequently portraying African Americans as simple and silly. Emphasize this important distinction: Jim Crow stereotypes are cultural inventions. However, from approximately the 1890s until the 1960s many states passed laws that segregated African Americans from white Americans. Because the laws were based on racial stereotypes, they were known as Jim Crow laws. These laws are historical documents. Share this additional information about Jim Crow laws and the ﬁlm with students: Jim Crow laws existed during the time frame when To Kill a Mockingbird was set — the 1930s. Thirty years later, during the time frame when To Kill a Mockingbird was written and produced, Jim Crow laws were still in existence in many states, particularly in the South. In the 21st century, however, laws imposing segregation are illegal. The fact that these laws no longer exist in the 21st century in America will affect, in part, how audiences today view the ﬁlm. Without a knowledge of such laws, a moviegoer might not fully appreciate a character’s beliefs or motivations, for example, or the danger a character like Tom Robinson faced in going to trial. Review the Word Builder terms on the activity sheet and discuss the questions. Recommended answers are below.
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-4: Jim Crow Laws 1.
What assumptions about black people do these laws suggest? Answers will vary but should focus on the idea that black people were falsely considered inferior in any number of ways — intelligence, cleanliness, physical being.
What do these laws tell you about the historical period in which To Kill a Mockingbird was set? Draw students’ attention to the state mentioned after each law. In Alabama, for example, Tom Robinson’s children could not ride on the same bus with Scout or Jem nor could they eat in the same restaurant as them.
How can you verify, or prove, that these laws were real and not made up? Research is necessary to document the laws. Some students may suggest going online and searching for Jim Crow laws by state. While this is a good starting point, remind them that Internet sources must also be veriﬁed. Students can ﬁnd evidence of the laws in government records, newspaper articles, photographs, and in the personal letters and diaries of people who experienced the laws.
View again Still 4-1: The Colored Water Fountain. Explain why this photograph is a depiction of Jim Crow laws. The sign indicates that the drinking fountain is for colored people only, and as such is an example of segregation. Encourage critical viewing and thinking by asking the questions below. Guided Discussion 1. On which timeline — historical or cultural — would you place this photograph? Historical. Emphasize that photographs can be both historical and cultural. This photograph documents a historical fact that can be proven through other sources. 2. How could you verify that this photograph is real and not created like the set of a ﬁlm? Again, after noting where the photo was taken, students could research the town’s history to ﬁnd evidence of this segregation. Display
Still 4-2: The People in the Balcony. Compare this image with the previous one by asking the questions below.
Guided Discussion 1. How does this photograph illustrate a Jim Crow law? Courtrooms in some states were segregated. Black people were not allowed on the ﬁrst ﬂoor where the white community sat. 2. Is this photograph a historical document or a cultural document, and how do you know? Cultural document. Students will recognize it as a scene from the ﬁlm. Emphasize, however, that someone who had not seen the ﬁlm would not recognize it as a movie still and may not understand that it is a re-creation of history, not a document of history. Emphasize again that photographs, like movies, can be staged or constructed. Hunting down sources, such as the photographer and date of the image, is often necessary to conﬁrm the historical accuracy of an image. 3. How are the two photographs alike but also different? Both are illustrations of Jim Crow laws. The ﬁrst photograph of the water fountain, however, is a document of history. The second photograph is a ﬁlmmaker’s interpretation of history.
Close In the 1930s in Alabama, a black man accused of a crime would be tried by a jury, but not necessarily a jury of his peers. An all-white, men-only jury determined the fate of the accused. What about women? In 1962, the year To Kill a Mockingbird played in theaters across the country, three states still did not allow women to serve on juries. Encourage students to research when and how, but, most importantly, why, women fought to serve society as members of juries. Incidentally, the ﬁrst state to allow women jurors was North Dakota in 1921, one year after the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Concept During the period in which the ﬁlm is set, mob activity resulted in the lynching of African Americans. The ﬁlm mirrors these real-world events.
Engage Ask: Why did Atticus Finch spend the night sitting and reading outside the jail? Guide discussion to what Atticus feared might happen to Tom Robinson that night and to the mob’s intent. Although the word lynching was never mentioned in the ﬁlm, the suggestion of danger to Tom Robinson is clear. Explore with students their opinion about whether or not this was a frightening scene and whether it was true to history. For example, would a mob actually attempt to kidnap a black man from jail to punish him in their own way? Could a child actually deter the mob from its violent intent?
Explain & Explore Deﬁne primary source document. A primary source document is one created by people who actually saw or participated in an event and recorded that event or their reactions to it immediately after the event. By contrast, a secondary source is one 94
created by someone either not present when the event took place or removed by time from the event. A primary source document could be a letter, a diary, a photograph, or a moving image. Explain that in this activity, students will “read” three different texts — a news article, a photograph, and a map. All three provide evidence of racial strife and injustice during the period in which the ﬁlm was set — the 1930s. However, only one, the photograph, is a primary source document. The others are secondary sources. Distribute
Reading Activity 4-5: News Article, 1938. Read the article then discuss the questions.
Identifying Information 1. Describe in your own words what happened to Daniel Pippen and Albert Harden. Answers should include the main idea that these men had been accused but not tried and, therefore, not found guilty. They were taken by an angry crowd of farmers and shot. What speciﬁc words or phrases in the article have negative connotations? Who or what do these words describe? “Growling crowds of savage farmers” refers to the mob that took the men. Emphasize also that the use of the word just, as in “just sixteen,” was meant to emphasize the young age of the accused. Some students may suggest that the writer may have sympathized with the men killed. The use of quotation marks around the word force further suggests the writer’s belief that the murdered men were not protected, as was their legal right. “Riddled bodies” indicates that the young men were shot repeatedly.
Think More About It 1. What, if anything, does this article have to do with the ﬁlm To Kill a Mockingbird? The story takes place during the same time period, 1930s. In the ﬁlm, a mob also attempted to kidnap Robinson. 2.
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Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-5: News Article, 1938
What did you learn by reading this article that you did not know before? Answers will vary. Accept all reasonable responses.
Display Still 4-3: A Man Was Lynched Yesterday. Explain that this c. 1938 photograph shows a ﬂag hanging from the ofﬁces of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in New York City. Study both documents, then discuss the questions. Guided Discussion 1. What was the purpose of ﬂying the NAACP ﬂag? Students must infer that the ﬂag so prominently displayed was intended to increase awareness of a dire social problem. Explain that the ﬂags were not ﬂown in just one location only. NAACP ofﬁces in numerous locations would ﬂy the ﬂag. 2.
What effect might this ﬂag have had on people who were not African American, and what was its effect on people who were African American? Answers will vary as to the effect of the ﬂag on people. Elicit thoughtful responses about how people in general react when confronted with ugly or deeply troubling facts.
What scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird are relevant to this photograph? Students may again refer to the mob that confronts Atticus outside the jail at night. Encourage them to think also of the scene where Atticus learns that Tom has been shot. This action takes place off-screen, and while no ﬂag is ﬂown, the effect of an innocent black man being killed is obvious on the other characters in the ﬁlm.
Distribute Reading Activity 4-6: Lynchings in America (map). Allow time for students to read the map, then discuss the questions.
Directions: Read the map below as well as the caption to the right of the map. Then answer the questions that follow.
States Ranked by the Most Lynchings Of the 4,743 documented lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1968, about threequarters involved African Americans. The map ranks the 10 states that recorded the highest number of lynchings. —Source: cnn.com
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-6: Lynchings in America Identifying Information 1. What years does this map document? 1882–1968 2.
Name the state or states that had no recorded lynchings during this time period. Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut
Which state or states had more lynchings than Alabama? Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana
Given the total number of lynchings documented over an 86-year period on this map, on average, how many lynchings occurred every year? More than 55, or more than one every week!
Think More About It 1. What does the map tell you that the ﬁlm To Kill a Mockingbird does not? Statistics, for one thing, and it also places lynchings in a larger historical context. 2.
At the time the ﬁlmmakers made the movie, do you think they were aware that lynchings were still happening in America? Answers will vary. This was a social problem of the times, and because the ﬁlmmakers were making a movie sensitive to these issues, one would assume they knew. Gregory Peck said he believed in the ﬁlm’s message. It is hard to believe that some would not have been aware.
Enrichment Distribute Reading Activity 4-7, Enrichment: President Kennedy’s Notes on Birmingham Violence. Before reading the passage, explain that the person referred to in this piece as Reverend A. D. King was the brother of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Review the Word Builder terms and read the passage, then discuss the questions. 1 � � �
Identifying Information 1. What happened in Birmingham, Alabama, on the evening of May 11, 1963? Bombs exploded both in Rev. King’s home and in an integrated motel; rioting, injury, and damage followed. 2.
According to the president, what is one of the “great moral issues” of the times? The achievement of equality for all citizens
Who does President Kennedy accuse of inciting violence in Birmingham? Extremists
What is the federal government’s position on segregation? It will not stand by nor permit extremists to sabotage civil rights agreements.
Think More About It 1. What is President Kennedy’s viewpoint on the racial violence in Birmingham? It disturbs him greatly, and he will not permit it. 2.
Why does Kennedy say the Birmingham agreement is not about Birmingham or the South or Negroes? As a moral issue, it concerns the whole nation and the federal government’s goal of providing equal opportunity for all.
Close Discuss with students how the subject of lynching is handled by the ﬁlm as compared to the map, the photograph of the NAACP ﬂag, and President Kennedy’s statement. How might the ﬁlmmakers have made the threat of lynching more obvious during the mob scene? Why did the ﬁlmmakers not mention the word lynching in the ﬁlm during this scene? One possible explanation is that during the period in which the ﬁlm was made, audiences understood in a way that present-day audiences might not the intention of the mob that confronts Atticus. There was no need, for example, to place ropes or torches in their hands.
Lesson 3 Analyzing Film Depictions Teacher Overview All films are representations of social reality, at times mirroring and at other times distorting society. Like all visual images, film depictions have connotations that can be positive, negative, or neutral. A depiction is not reality. Rather, it is one person’s or one group’s interpretation of people, places, and events. Learning how to identify and read depictions in a film is an important visual- and critical-thinking skill. Equally important is exploring why filmmakers create the depictions, because this leads to a deeper understanding of how films mirror society. In activity A, students learn what a depiction is. They begin by analyzing a political cartoon about racism, dated 1963, identifying the visual symbols the cartoonist used to create the depiction. They then compare the tools a cartoonist uses with those a filmmaker uses to create depictions in moving images. The screening activity provides two different film clips, from which students identify the way the filmmakers created the depictions and determine whether the depictions are positive or negative. Activity B introduces students to the characteristics of a film drama, a genre that emphasizes character conflict over action and generally provides a statement on a social issue. Film dramas reflect the values and aspirations of the filmmakers as well as the stereotypes and prejudices of society. Film dramas can also influence an audience’s view of other people and cultures.
Learning Outcomes Students will: define what a film depiction is and identify depictions in To Kill a Mockingbird; identify four ways filmmakers create depictions; distinguish between positive and negative depictions; explain three characteristics of a film drama; begin to examine how film images do or do not influence the way people view other people.
Key Terms (Note: Most terms are defined within the activity text that follows. You may also refer to the glossary.) depiction, reaction shot, genre, film drama
Lesson 3 Materials
Activity Activity A Representations of Race in the Film
Activity B Do Films Influence Society?
Graphic Organizer 4-2: Depicting Characters in Film
Still 4-4: An Incurable Skin Condition
Screening Sheet 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions
Film Clip 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions Part 1— The Spectators in the Balcony Part 2— A Death in the Family
Graphic Organizer 4-3: Characteristics of a Film Drama Reading Activity 4-8: Atticus’s Closing Argument Screening Sheet 4-3: Atticus’s Closing Argument
Film Clip 4-3: Atticus’s Closing Argument
Activity A Representations of Race in the Film Concept
Filmmakers use various tools and techniques when depicting people, places, and events in order to create a representation of reality.
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Engage Display Still 4-4: An Incurable Skin Condition. This is an editorial cartoon that was published in The Washington Post newspaper on July 4, 1963. Allow time for students to study the image, then ask them to write their interpretations of its meaning and/or their reaction to the message.
Explain & Explore Deﬁne depiction. A depiction is a way of presenting information about a person, place, thing, or idea. Depictions are often based on fact but they are not fact. A depiction is one person’s or one group’s interpretation of reality. View again Still 4-4: An Incurable Skin Condition. Explain that this editorial cartoon is a type of depiction. The cartoonist uses visual symbols and words to depict, or represent, the medical industry and its refusal to accept doctors of color into their hospitals. Emphasize that this was a social problem in 1963. Prompt critical viewing and thinking with the questions below.
“Sorry, But You Have An Incurable Skin Condition” – from Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life (Times Books, 1998)
Guided Discussion 1. What social issues are suggested in this cartoon? Civil rights, racism, equal opportunity 2.
Who or what is the artist depicting? An African American doctor and two white American doctors
What symbols, if any, are included, and what might the symbols mean? The diploma next to the chair indicates the African American doctor is educated. The medical bag on his lap also indicates his M.D. degree. The white jackets with “Lily White Hospital” symbolize the hospital and society to which the African American is applying to practice medicine. The stethoscopes suggest the two white doctors are closely examining the man as if he has a disease. The “No Admittance” sign is also symbolic. Often in hospitals these signs limit who can go into areas where patients are being treated. In this image, it also suggests that no people of color will be admitted to hospitals to practice medicine.
What, if anything, is exaggerated in the image or emphasized in order to make a point? There are two white doctors, suggesting the African American is outnumbered. Their expressions are similar, snooty and leaning forward to examine the other man. Some students may remark that both doctors are rather heavyset while the applicant appears more slender and ﬁt. Both white doctors look very similar, as if they are duplicates of one another. This may be the cartoonist’s way of suggesting they are conformists, that is, people who act and look like one another in order to ﬁt in. Some students may note too that the African American has not only a framed diploma but also what looks to be another diploma curled under his arm, suggesting he is more than qualiﬁed.
What is the cartoonist’s point of view? Answers will vary, but clearly the cartoonist is favorable in his depiction of the African American doctor, who is well dressed, neat, and educated. The cartoonist’s use of “Lily White Hospital” is sarcastic.
Explain the caption. There is nothing wrong with the African American man’s skin; the “skin condition” is his race. The cartoonist uses a play on words.
Who, if anyone, is depicted in a negative way? The depiction of the two white doctors is negative, suggesting they are racists.
Distribute and display Graphic Organizer 4-2: Depicting Characters in Film. Explain that moving images are also depictions, or representations of reality. The ﬁlmmaker, like the cartoonist, creates a depiction with an intended message for audience reaction in mind. However, the ﬁlmmaker uses different visual tools. Review the concepts on the graphic organizer, most of which will be familiar to students from chapter 3’s activities on ﬁlm language.
Framing and Composition Techniques Costuming and makeup — These create a character’s physical appearance, which can trigger a reaction in the audience. Acting and dialogue — As students have learned in previous chapters, an actor’s performance is much more than what is spoken. How an actor delivers lines, including the use of body language and facial expression, conveys meaning. This too contributes to a depiction. Lighting, sound, camera angles, visual symbols — These elements of composition suggest meaning. Reaction shots — These focus on how one character reacts to a situation or to another character. Showing the reaction of others is another way a ﬁlm can plant a positive or negative impression in the audience’s mind. Intended Effect Depictions, like words, have connotations or shades of meaning. The intended effect of the depiction may be positive, negative, or neutral. Introduce the screening activity. The activity has two segments. Explain that you will stop the ﬁlm between the segments to allow time for discussing students’ observations. Distribute Screening Sheet 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions. Review the Screening Sheet, including all questions, so students know what to observe and to record. The questions are challenging, so it will be helpful if you run each segment more than once. View Film Clip 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions, Part 1 — The Spectators in the Balcony. Discuss student responses. Recommended answers are below.
Answer Key for Screening Sheet 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions, Part 1 — The Spectators in the Balcony 1.
How do music and camera angles help depict these characters? The camera position is on the ﬁrst ﬂoor, and the distance is far from the people in the balcony, allowing the audience to see that the courtroom’s ﬁrst ﬂoor is empty but the African Americans in the balcony have remained out of respect. In a sense, the audience is looking up at them — which elevates their position — even though Atticus is not. This contributes, in part, to a positive depiction. The music is soft, reﬂective, melancholy, almost sorrowful.
With the exception of Reverend Sykes, how are the people in the balcony dressed, and why are they dressed this way? The reverend is in a suit. The men are dressed in their work clothes. Most if not all are like Tom Robinson — laborers or sharecroppers. The women almost all wear hats, a sign of respect.
What other choices might the director have made in showing these spectators? How would that change the overall image or depiction of these people? Answers will vary. Accept all reasonable responses. One response might be for the spectators to show anger. Another might be to show tears or to applaud Atticus’s efforts. In not showing these emotions, the director communicates a real dignity to the people in the balcony. The director could also show a close-up on Atticus’s response, which would shift the focus away from the spectators’ action.
What is factual about this depiction? What is ﬁctional? Factual — segregation, clothing. Fictional — that the children would be upstairs with the African Americans, that they would all remain after the verdict, that they would stand to honor Atticus
View Film Clip 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions, Part 2 — A Death in the Family. Discuss student responses. Recommended answers follow.
Answer Key for Screening Sheet 4-2: Analyzing Film Depictions, Part 2—A Death in the Family Identifying Information 1. Describe the set showing where Tom Robinson lives. Consider how it is different from where Atticus or Boo Radley live. Dark, seems to be in a wooded area. The house has a porch with screen door, and inside, some type of lighting, probably lanterns rather than electrical lights. Laundry hangs on a line. The house looks like a wooden cabin; it is not a shack but neither is it as large or as ﬁne as Atticus’s house. 2.
How does lighting in this scene help create the depiction of the Robinson family? The scene takes place at night, and so the lighting is dark but soft. There are no sharp angles or deep shadows.
How do character behavior, dialogue, and other ﬁlmmaking techniques create a negative depiction of Bob Ewell? The camera angles and shadows, the music, Ewell’s performance — his facial expression, body language, and swearing — all contribute to the negative depiction.
Identify a reaction shot in this scene and explain its meaning. There are multiple reaction shots here; however, Helen’s fainting is not one of them. Emphasize that most often a reaction shot is a close-up of a character’s face. Helen’s fainting in reaction to the news of Tom’s death is a reaction, but the shot itself is a long shot that shows the audience what happens. The reaction shots are of Atticus’s struggle to control himself after Bob Ewell spits in his face; Ewell’s reaction as he waits for Atticus to ﬁght back; and Jem’s surprised facial expression as he witnesses this action.
Think More About It 1. If you wanted to create a positive depiction of a ﬁgure in history using moving-image technology, what ﬁlmmaking tools might you consider using? Answers will vary but should focus on the main idea that framing and composition devices work together to create a positive image. The lighting cannot be dark and shadowy. The music might be dramatic, awe-inspiring, or pleasant. Camera angles might be looking up to suggest that the character is elevated. 2.
Why would a ﬁlmmaker choose to depict a person, a place, or an event in a negative way or in a positive way? What might the ﬁlmmaker’s purpose be in doing this? Answers will vary. Some students may suggest that ﬁlmmakers have certain assumptions that they believe to be true and so they create their ﬁlm to reﬂect those assumptions. Others may argue that a ﬁlmmaker, in trying to capture reality, must show some people in a positive way and others in a negative way. Remind students of Atticus’s comment to Jem about ugly things in the world that he wishes he could protect him from but that it just isn’t possible. Sometimes a ﬁlmmaker shows negative depictions of people because, in fact, such people exist.
Close Conclude the activity by asking students to comment on additional depictions in this ﬁlm and in other ﬁlms, in general. For example, how are lawyers depicted? How are children depicted? Explore with them why ﬁlmmakers choose to depict characters in positive, negative, or neutral ways.
Concept A ﬁlm reﬂects the values and aspirations of the ﬁlmmakers as well as the stereotypes and prejudices of society. Movies can also inﬂuence an audience’s view of other people and cultures.
Engage Write this statement, published in The New York Times in 1923, on the chalkboard or overhead projector: What audiences see is partly a reﬂection of what they are. And what they are is no less inﬂuenced by what they see. 101
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Allow students two to four minutes to freewrite about the quotation, explaining what they think it means.
Explain & Explore Distribute and display Graphic Organizer 4-3: Characteristics of a Film Drama. Review the key concepts on the graphic organizer as suggested below. Genre A genre is a type of ﬁlm. Genres, or categories, include action/adventure, comedy, drama, historical, horror, musicals, science ﬁction, and westerns. Each genre has speciﬁc characteristics. Comedies, for example, involve a character in a problem-solving situation that often results in mix-ups and lots of laughs. Science ﬁction stories are set in the future. Action/adventure ﬁlms feature a villain and a good guy, whose forces physically clash, but the good guy almost always wins. Film Drama Film drama is a movie genre that features realistic characters confronting a social problem or injustice. A ﬁlm drama can also feature a character dealing with a personal or emotional problem, disability, or troubling relationship. It has three distinguishing characteristics — realistic characters, internal conﬂict, and social themes. Realistic Characters Character development and character relationships are important parts of all ﬁlm dramas. The characters are realistic rather than superhuman (like Spiderman, Batman, or James Bond) or fantastic (like hobbits or wizards). Instead of merely showing what a character does, a ﬁlm drama focuses on why a character behaves in a certain way and explores the consequences of his or her behavior. Internal Conﬂicts A ﬁlm drama will have both external and internal conﬂicts, but the primary focus will be on a character’s inner workings — his or her fears, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and memories. Very often the character is struggling to do the right thing. Social Themes Social issues or concerns are woven into the character relationships and/or plot of the story. These may include social justice, as in To Kill a Mockingbird, but can also include drug addiction, destruction of the environment, politics, or coping with illness. The ﬁlm may be entertaining, but it also communicates a serious message about society or who we are as human beings. Distribute Reading Activity 4-8: Atticus’s Closing Argument. Review the Word Builder terms. Read aloud the script, then discuss the questions that follow. Recommended answers are below.
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-8: Atticus’s Closing Argument 1.
What stereotype does Atticus say the witnesses for the state believe about Negroes? They all lie, are immoral beings, and are not to be trusted around white women.
Beyond saying the stereotype (the “assumption”) is “a lie,” how does Atticus demonstrate that he does not believe the stereotype? Through his powerful defense of Robinson and through his language and his belief that the courts will, despite stereotypical thinking, not ﬁnd an innocent man guilty
What social ideal or commentary does Atticus express in his closing argument? That the legal system in America, though not perfect, works; that our courts are the great “levelers” in society, giving everyone the right to a fair trial
Distribute Screening Sheet 4-3: Atticus’s Closing Argument. Review the Screening Sheet, including the questions, so students know what to observe and what to record. View
Film Clip 4-3: Atticus’s Closing Argument. Discuss student observations. Recommended answers follow. 102
Answer Key for Screening Sheet 4-3: Atticus’s Closing Argument
The Actor’s Performance
Written dialogue is different from dialogue that is performed on-screen. What does the ﬁlm show that the words alone cannot?
What visual evidence, or details, suggest that this is a rural southern courthouse in the 1930s? Consider both historical and cultural details.
Answers will vary but should focus on the main idea that emotion is conveyed visually and auditorily using inﬂection, emphasis, and/or volume, as in Peck’s tone of voice and his pauses. While words have connotations that most deﬁnitely suggest emotional overtones, images also have connotations. Peck’s slightly disheveled hair and gestures of frustration in trying to plead for an innocent man’s life are visually powerful. Also shown are the reactions of Jem and Reverend Sykes.
Most students will note the obviously segregated courtroom with African Americans restricted to the balcony. Other details are minor and yet revealing: the characters’ clothing (farmer’s overalls, the ladies’ straw hats), the use of a hand fan by one of the characters in the courtroom, suggesting no air-conditioning, the all-male jury. In addition, the courtroom itself is quite realistic — the placement of the jury and the judge, the American ﬂag, the woodstove.
Think More About It 1. Gregory Peck said that his greatest challenge in this scene was to not become too emotional. What does that suggest about the actor and his personal beliefs about civil rights and social justice? Answers will vary. Students may infer that if he felt emotional during the scene, he believed Atticus’s words. Like the ﬁctional character, the actor does not believe that African Americans are inferior; but he does believe that America’s courts are the great levelers, in that all people regardless of race or gender should receive the same justice. What Peck means is that although he believes strongly in the message he delivers, he wants to make sure his words come across unimpeded by too much emotion. 2.
Is this a positive, negative, or neutral depiction of lawyers? Provide a reason for your answer. Positive. The close-ups and delivery of lines show him to be controlled, passionate without becoming loud or overbearing. He is ﬁghting for the life of an innocent man who happens to be African American. Given the historical context of the ﬁlm’s setting, this was a dangerous thing to do.
Close Return to the quote from The New York Times as stated in the Engage section of this activity. Ask students if they think a ﬁlm can or does inﬂuence how people think about other people and cultures. If so, is the inﬂuence always positive? Guide discussion to focus on the purpose of positive and negative depictions. In part, the depictions help to tell a story by revealing character. But depictions can have a further-reaching inﬂuence on an audience’s attitudes.
Diane McWhorter Remembers Scout Journalist Diane McWhorter recalls childhood memories with the actress who played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and discusses her reaction to seeing the ﬁlm during the Civil Rights movement. Teachers can download a Reading Activity sheet. Visit The Story of Movies Web site at www.storyofmovies.org for more information.
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Lesson 4 Writing About History Using Moving Images Teacher Overview History is not facts. History is the interpretation of facts. On a variety of issues, both contemporary and historical, historians do not always agree on what happened or why, or on the consequences of an event. The goal of this lesson is twofold: (1) to introduce students to the concept that history is argument, or interpretation, based on evidence; and (2) to show that moving images can be an effective tool for presenting evidence. Activity A introduces students to a historical event — the arrest of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama, during the summer of 1963. Students read excerpts from a letter written by Reverend King while in jail. Admittedly, the letter is a challenging read for younger students. Nevertheless, with teacher guidance, students will understand that Reverend King is making an argument for equal civil rights for African Americans. Activity B presents the same letter but with some other excerpts, in a much different format — as a documentary. The voice-over narration in this rare video is that of Reverend King himself reading his letter. The selected images are photographs and film footage of civil rights demonstrations from the same period. The video is persuasive, and yet students will learn that even this documentary is an interpretation. Activity C is a history writing assignment. Students select a short documentary from archival collections associated with the Library of Congress and analyze the video using Document-Based Questions (DBQs). Then they write their own description, narrative, or argument based on their research.
Learning Outcomes Students will: define what a film documentary is; understand that history is an interpretation of facts; explore how a film documentary adds additional meaning to a similar printed letter; research archival films for a written or oral presentation on a historical event or social issue.
Key Terms (Note: Most terms are defined within the activity text that follows. You may also refer to the glossary.) documentary, voice-over narration
Lesson 4 Materials
Activity Activity A Words from Birmingham
Reading Activity 4-9: The Arrest
Reading Activity 4-10: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Activity B The Documentary — Reverend King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Screening Sheet 4-4: Short Documentary — The Letter
Film Clip 4-4: Short Documentary — The Letter
Activity C Interpreting a Documentary Video
Graphic Organizer 4-4: Writing About History
(Students will search and download short documentary films of their choice from two recommended Library of Congress sites or from The Story of Movies Web site.)
History Writing Activity 4-11: Document-Based Questions (DBQs)
History is the interpretation of facts. Historical argument is interpretation based on evidence.
Write this statement on the chalkboard or overhead projector: The past is not the same as history. Ask students to write a “one-minute paper” to explain the difference between “past” and “history.” Once students have completed their responses, emphasize these three points about history: 1.
History requires evidence. Just because someone says something happened doesn’t mean it did.
History is not everything that happened in the past, rather the important things that happened. Something is important if it has consequences for people and places. In other words, history is a cause-and-effect relationship.
History is not just a description of what happened in the past. It is an attempt to understand what happened and why. History is an interpretation of the past based on evidence.
Explain & Explore Distribute Reading Activity 4-9: The Arrest. Review the Word Builder terms. Read the passage aloud, then discuss the questions. Recommended answers are below.
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-9: The Arrest 1.
What evidence might you ﬁnd to prove that the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. happened as described in this passage? Where would you look for this evidence? Answers will vary but should include researching newspapers of the period, county or city records of police activity during the period, books written about Reverend King, etc.
How could you prove that the white clergymen actually wrote the words that are printed in quotation marks? The only way to be certain is to ﬁnd a copy of the document and read it. The document is available on various civil rights Web sites as well as those devoted to the works and writings of Reverend King.
This paragraph quotes the statement made by the white clergymen of Birmingham, but it does not present the entire document. How does this affect your interpretation of what the white clergymen wrote? Students’ interpretations will vary; accept reasonable responses. Explain that selecting a quote to use is one way of providing evidence. However, sometimes a quote taken out of context can be misleading. Very often what is omitted from a retelling of history is as important as what is included.
Distribute Reading Activity 4-10: “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Explain that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this letter in response to the statement by eight clergymen from Birmingham. Review the Word Builder terms. Read the passage aloud, then discuss the questions. Recommended answers follow.
Answer Key for Reading Activity 4-10: “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 1.
Reverend King lived in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time he wrote this letter. What reason does he give for going to Birmingham? He writes, “ . . . I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”
What does King mean when he says “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights”? He refers to African Americans being enslaved in this country and emphasizes that while slavery had been abolished in the mid-19th century, African Americans still are neither free nor equal as long as they are denied basic rights.
What does King mean by “horse-and-buggy pace”? Very slow
List at least ﬁve social or civil injustices cited by King in this letter. Answers will vary and may include: not being able to get a cup of coffee at a lunch counter; being lynched or drowned; being cursed, kicked, or killed by police; being smothered by poverty; as a child, being unable to go to an amusement park; having to tell a child why white people treat colored people so mean; being called “nigger” and “boy”; as a black woman, never being called “Mrs.”; sleeping in an automobile because hotels are segregated.
Think More About It 1. Who is the audience, and what is the purpose of Reverend King’s letter? He is writing to “his fellow clergymen,” meaning men who, like him, are ordained ministers and who have criticized him for his civil disobedience regarding segregation. His purpose is to explain why he went to Birmingham — to protest segregation and the lack of civil rights for African Americans. 2.
What do you think Reverend King means when he says, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”? Encourage students to answer this question in the context of the paragraph. He means that even if injustice existed only in one place, perhaps Birmingham, that injustice would affect all Americans elsewhere.
What does Reverend King mean by the word nobodiness? African Americans are treated as if they are invisible, not human.
Close Reverend King is writing in 1963, not the 1930s. Nevertheless, To Kill a Mockingbird reﬂects the injustices King cites in this letter. Ask students to comment on what did or did not change between the period in which the ﬁlm was set and the period in which the ﬁlm was made. Guide discussion to focus on this main idea: Much of what Reverend King speaks about circa 1963 is unchanged from conditions in the 1930s and earlier. Thus, he argues the point about his people being “legitimately” impatient and unwilling to wait for change.
Concept A documentary portrays a real person or real events in an accurate way, often using primary source materials to present factual information or to tell a true-life narrative. Like all movies, however, documentaries use ﬁlm language to convey information and meaning and often have a bias that reﬂects the ﬁlmmaker’s point of view.
Engage Write the word documentary on a chalkboard or overhead projector. Ask students to explain what a documentary is and how 106
it might differ from a ﬁlm that is historical ﬁction. Emphasize the root word document. A documentary is a ﬁlm that portrays a real person or real events in an accurate way, often using primary source materials such as diaries, letters, and eyewitness accounts to tell the story. Encourage students to make the link between using historical documents to tell a story and basing a story upon historical events. Historical ﬁction, for example, while based on real people, real events, and primary source materials, always includes some invention — of dialogue, action or consequences of action, or compression of the time or order in which events occurred.
Explain & Explore
Emphasize this important distinction between a feature ﬁlm and a documentary: A feature ﬁlm is ﬁction; a documentary is nonﬁction. However, even nonﬁction ﬁlms often have a bias, or prejudice, that reﬂects the ﬁlmmaker’s point of view or interpretation of factual materials. Introduce the screening activity. Explain that the voice-over narration is Reverend King reading aloud parts of the letter he wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham. The words and the voice are real. The images too are real, rather than staged or created by a ﬁlmmaker. Some are still photographs, others are newsreel images. Even so, the ﬁlmmakers selected which images to use and then also decided how to sequence the images. This documentary, therefore, is an interpretation of history based on historical and cultural evidence. Distribute Screening Sheet 4-4: Short Documentary — The Letter. Review the sheet, including the questions, so students understand what to observe and what to record. View Film Clip 4-4: Short Documentary — The Letter. Discuss student responses. Answers will vary but recommended key points are presented below.
List six images from the ﬁlm that, in some way, “got you thinking” about civil rights and social injustice.
Describe the camerawork in this documentary, including both positive and negative aspects.
Answers will vary, based on individuals’ personal experiences as well as how much they know or do not know about civil rights history. Accept all reasonable responses.
Again, answers will vary. Some students may comment on the graininess of the ﬁlm or the glaring lights. Certain images are hard to distinguish and the quality is unpolished, but that in itself is effective, for it adds to the reality. Others may comment on how the images dovetail with the text, showing violence at the point when Reverend King speaks of injustices.
Think More About It 1. How did the images presented in this ﬁlm help you better understand the meaning of Reverend King’s letter from Birmingham jail? Answers will vary. Some students may cite the peaceful appearance of the marchers contrasted with the brutality of the police. Accept all reasonable responses. 2.
What is the purpose of this documentary — to inform, to express an opinion, to persuade, or to entertain? Tell why you think so. The purpose is both to inform and to argue, or persuade. Stress that the ﬁlmmakers’ selection of images to accompany Reverend King’s words was intentional and carefully thought out, not only to clarify what King meant but also to illustrate his point of view that civil injustice is wrong.
Close Emphasize this key point: To Kill a Mockingbird is a ﬁctional ﬁlm. The documentary students just screened is a nonﬁction ﬁlm. Both, however, focus on social issues of civil rights and justice. Ask students: Which — the ﬁlm or the documentary — is a more reliable source of historical information? Why do you think so? 107
Concept Moving-image texts from 1896 onward are available as contemporary records of events, places, and people. Although authentic historical or cultural documents, these moving-image texts still require interpretation.
Engage (Note: In order for students to complete this activity, they must have access to the Internet, with capability to download archived ﬁlms.) Share this information with students: In 1963, an assassin shot and killed President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. The assassination happened during midday when most people were at work or at school. They did not see the video footage of the president’s motorcade moving through the streets in the moments just prior to the assassination. That evening, however, and for days after, the footage played repeatedly on television news. Reinforce concepts introduced in activities A and B by asking students this question: The assassination happened in the past, but was it history? Guide discussion along these lines: 1.
History requires evidence. Most students will understand that evidence exists to prove the event happened.
History has consequences. Students may not understand the actual consequences of this event, but most will appreciate that the murder of a president would surely affect the country.
History is an attempt to understand the past. Most students may not be aware that investigations into the assassination took many years and that the video footage of the event became important evidence in that investigation. That said, not everyone interpreted the video images in the same way.
Ask students to list similar historical events that they saw happen on television news. These may include the election of a president, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, an Olympic champion winning a gold medal, a disaster such as an earthquake or a ﬁre, etc. List student responses on the chalkboard or overhead projector. Stress this important point: An image may document what happened, but an image alone does not explain why something happened or what the consequences might be or have been. That is the work of the historian.
Explain & Explore Introduce the writing activity. Students will play the role of a historian interpreting a moving-image document. They will work with a partner or a team to select the moving-image document they wish to view and interpret. The document may be from any period of history. Then they will write their interpretation of the document in one of three formats — a description, a narration, or an argument. Distribute and display Graphic Organizer 4-4: Writing About History to introduce students to the writing process involved in this assignment. Review the key concepts on the graphic organizer as suggested below. Step 1: The Prewriting Process By middle school, most students should know that writing involves a process, and prewriting is the ﬁrst step in the process. Here the writer brainstorms ideas, researches a topic, then focuses the topic to include a theme or a thesis. The same writing process holds true when writing about history or historical documents. Primary Source Documents A primary source document is one created by people who actually saw or participated in an event and recorded that event or their reactions to it immediately after the event. By contrast, a secondary source is one created by someone either not present when the event took place or removed by time from the event. A primary source document could be a letter, a diary, a photograph, a moving image, etc.
Step 2: The Writing Process In general, historical interpretations can be presented in one of three ways: Description A description is a portrayal of a person, a place, or an object at a particular moment in time. Speciﬁc details are very important in descriptive writing, but description is more than a random collection of sentences about what a person or place or object looks or sounds like. The passage has a dominant impression or overall tone, such as authoritative, ominous, mysterious, etc. One strategy for writing description is showing change over a period of time. Narrative A narrative tells a story about a person, a place, or an object. Narrative writing includes the following elements — characters, setting, conﬂict, action, and resolution. Details are also important, but they are arranged chronologically, from the story’s beginning through the story’s end. Like descriptive writing, narrative writing must also have a point or overall message. Argument An argument is an essay that expresses an opinion or point of view about a subject, then supports that statement with evidence. The goal is to persuade. An argument has two elements — a claim, or statement, about a controversial issue; and logic, reasons or evidence to support the claim. In choosing to write an argument, however, keep in mind that you cannot argue facts or things that are impossible to change. Emphasize that Reverend King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an example of an argument because it provides both a claim and logical reasoning. The ﬁlm documentary based on this letter is also an argument. Distribute History Writing Activity 4-11: Document-Based Questions (DBQs). Review all three parts with students to ensure they understand how to proceed. Explain that their interpretations may be written or oral presentations. Allow time for students to view and complete their interpretations. Assign part 3, writing the paper. Share students’ ﬁnal presentations with the class.
Close Most students who have completed the activities in this chapter should have a greater understanding of how moving images can shape our understanding of past events and people. Ask students to state in their own words how a ﬁlm can help them better understand a historical period. Guide discussion to include key concepts presented in the chapter: A ﬁlm is a cultural document; ﬁlmmakers re-present history, often using primary source documents; a documentary is a nonﬁction ﬁlm that presents real people and real events, but even documentaries can reﬂect a ﬁlmmaker’s bias or point of view; primary source documents, including ﬁlm, require thoughtful interpretation.
Hold a Class Debate on Film Depictions Debate question: Do ﬁlmmakers have a responsibility to accurately depict people of all races in a positive, non-demeaning way? Visit The Story of Movies Web site at www.storyofmovies.org for more information. Teachers can download lesson plans for a class debate.
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