A Passage to India (1984)

When we speak of Freudian interpretations of drama, we must distinguish those works created with no thought of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory from those that were created with Freud’s theory in mind.  Plays written before Freud can safely be assumed to fall into the first category, as when Hamlet is interpreted in terms of the Oedipus complex.  There is less certainty regarding dramatic forms created after Freud’s theory had become well known, for there is always the possibility that an artist purposely decided to spice things up by putting a little Freudian symbolism in his story.  In the case of Forbidden Planet (1956), the Freudian element is explicit, the monster being finally explained as a material manifestation of the id.  In the case of this latter type of movie, we are forced to interpret it in Freudian terms even if we do not care one whit for Freud’s theory.  That being said, it is with some confidence that I place A Passage to India into this latter category.  And so, while I am not especially prone to interpret drama in Freudian terms, this movie appears to have been influenced by Freud’s theory to a degree that references to that theory are unavoidable.

But first things first.  Based on the novel of the same name, published in 1924, the story is set in India in the 1920s, when India was still a part of the British Empire.  However much the novel may have expressed criticism of British colonialism, the movie itself was produced in 1984, in a postcolonial world, where the collective judgment is that colonialism was simply wrong.  In fact, it is regarded as so wrong that little room is left for subtlety or nuance.  The Indians are all portrayed as good in one form or another—religious, moral, polite, kind, etc. —while the British are all portrayed as bad in one form or another—rude, snobbish, arrogant, bigoted, etc. —with only three exceptions:  Adela (Judy Davis), Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft), and Fielding (James Fox).  Adela and Mrs. Moore are just setting out for India at the beginning of the movie, so they do not share the prejudices of the British that have been in India for a while.  Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) makes this explicitly clear when, after almost being run over by an automobile full of British citizens, he says to his friend that all Englishmen become unpleasant within two years of coming to India, while he gives Englishwomen only six months.

Fielding is a special case.  He has been in India for some time, and yet he retains his good qualities, being friendly with Indians and treating them with respect.  That is so we have someone to identify with.  You see, we all like to flatter ourselves that had we lived in some other time and place, we would somehow still have our American, twenty-first century values and sensibilities, and that we would have been moral heroes, refusing to go along with the norms and mores of that place and time.  So, had we lived in the antebellum South, we would, of course, have freed all of our slaves.  Had we come of age in Nazi Germany and been ordered to be a guard at Auschwitz, we would, of course, have refused, choosing to be executed rather than participate in the holocaust.  And had we been a British subject assigned to a post in India in the early twentieth century, we would, of course, have been just like Fielding, refusing to go along with his white countrymen in their condemnation of an Indian (Dr. Aziz) who has been charged with attempted rape of a white woman (Adela).  Without Fielding to identify with, the white reader of the novel and, later, the white audience of the movie might have been adrift.  White people might have tried identifying with some Indian in the movie, but most white people really prefer to identify with a character that is also white.  It is one thing to ask people to identify with a white person who has no prejudices against people of color, but asking them to identify with the people of color themselves might have been asking too much, certainly when the novel was published, but probably today as well.

Adela goes bicycle riding by herself, and she decides to explore a seldom used path.  It takes her to an abandoned building adorned by sculptures of men and women making love.  This arouses repressed sexual desires that distress her greatly.  Then she notices a bunch of monkeys looking at her.  Agitated, they start to chase her and she runs away.  The monkeys represent her animal passions, and what she is really running away from is her own lust.  On a previous evening, she had broken off her engagement with her fiancé, but upon returning, she tells him she has changed her mind and wants to get married.  In other words, even though she no longer loves him, she figures it is better to marry than burn.  Other Freudian symbolism consists of Aziz having a fever and the sweltering heat of the sun, all of which are suggestive of sexual passion.

When Adela and Mrs. Moore, Adela’s prospective mother-in-law, first arrived in India, they wanted to meet some Indians socially.  They got no help in this regard from the British people that lived in India, who were appalled at the idea, but Aziz accidentally made the acquaintance of Mrs. Moore and through her Adela.  He is so enamored of them that he invites them to a picnic in which they can visit some mysterious caves.  Through one incredible coincidence after another, one by one, many of the people who were invited are eliminated—Fielding arrives too late, a chaperon arranged by Adela’s fiancé is dismissed by her, and Mrs. Moore becomes fatigued and remains behind—so that only Aziz, Adela, and a guide arrive at some caves.

Aziz runs off to smoke a cigarette.  This is nothing but a contrivance, the movie’s way of allowing Adela to be alone.  She enters a cave by herself.  The cave, of course, represents her unconscious.  When Aziz finishes his cigarette, he goes looking for her.  He stands at the entrance to the cave as if about to enter.  Now the cave represents her vagina.  She becomes overwhelmed with her forbidden lust for Aziz and bolts, eventually falling down the hillside into some cactus.  Just as she was really running from her sexual desires when she ran from the monkeys, so too here she runs from her desire for Aziz and not from Aziz himself.  Being hysterical, she so vividly imagines being ravished by Aziz that she believes he actually assaulted her.  As a result, charges are brought against Aziz.

Every white person thinks Aziz is guilty except Mrs. Moore, who says there is nothing she can do and returns to England (dying on the way), and Fielding, who asserts Aziz’s innocence.  Adela’s fiancé is a judge, but he has to recuse himself.  He is replaced by an Indian judge.  During the trial, much is made of the fact that Aziz is a widower and therefore deprived of a sexual outlet, except for his occasional visits to brothels or his collection of girlie magazines.  Needless to say, nothing similar is said about Adela’s being a maiden who is also deprived of a sexual outlet.  When Adela is put on the witness stand, she recants her previous testimony, and Aziz is acquitted.  At this point, we realize why the judge had to be an Indian.  If Aziz had gotten a fair trial from a white judge, this would have been out of keeping with the movie’s simplistic formulation:  Indians good; British bad.

So, as often happens in movies in which a man of color is accused of raping a white woman, he turns out to be innocent because the woman is to blame somehow:  either the woman lied, was hysterical, or behaved in provocative manner.  I covered this subject at greater length in my essay, “Rape and Race in the Movies.”

An Unfair Conversation

Here we go again, people calling for us to have a conversation about race.  But I think it is time to have a conversation about having a conversation.  Last year, when Starbucks urged its customers to engage in a discussion of race relations while waiting to be served their first cup of coffee, they pushed the idea to the point that people were making jokes about it, and soon the policy was abandoned.  Most of the time, the need for such a conversation is expressed in a general way, it being left to our imagination about when, where, and with whom that conversation would take place.  By filling in the specific details, Starbucks provided us with more of an occasion for laughter than conversation.

Of course, race is not the only thing we are enjoined to have a conversation about, but it is the subject most often said to be in need of such.  Whatever the subject, though, I still have not quite figured out what that conversation is supposed to sound like, or what it is expected to accomplish.  In a way, this talk about the need to have a conversation is akin to the older notion about the need to communicate.  Unfortunately, people often communicate perfectly well, and then find that they just don’t like what they hear.  It is not that people fail to communicate in such circumstances; it’s that they avoid communicating because they do not want to have an argument.  Those who persist in calling for communication, on the other hand, often have a built-in expectation of agreement and capitulation that is not realistic.  In a similar way, people calling for a conversation about race assume that the conversation will not consist of anything that is politically incorrect, insensitive, or hateful. And as we have seen, people can be expelled from school or lose their job if caught expressing the wrong views on this issue.

Now, this is not a problem for egalitarians.  They believe that all races are equal, especially since they believe race is just a social construct anyway. They love their fellow man, and just don’t understand why we cannot all get along. I suppose these egalitarians can talk to one another and have that conversation, patting themselves on the back for their enlightened views. Other than making themselves feel good, however, I don’t see what that would accomplish.

Then there are those who are racists.  Some racists are filled with hate, detesting those who are different.  Others do not hate, but merely despise, regarding some races as being mentally and morally inferior to their own. Others still merely have an aversion to those who are different, so that they do not wish to socialize with other races, and certainly do not want to marry them.  Finally, there are secondary racists, people who fear the racism of others, and therefore prefer to live in a neighborhood or go to a school where their race predominates, rather than in a neighborhood or school where they stand out as different, perhaps making themselves an object of racial hatred. Racists can and do have conversations about race, but I don’t think they are the sort that those calling for a conversation have in mind.

Most racists keep their views to themselves in mixed company.  By “mixed,” I mean not only when they are around people of a different race, but also when around those who are egalitarians.  Of course, some racists are bellicose in nature and will not hesitate to express their views regardless of the situation, relishing the opportunity to vent their spleen.  But most will be circumspect, waiting until they get a sense of those they do not know very well before expressing their true feelings.

Although some may find this incongruous, a lot of racists are too polite to let on, if they think there is a chance that they might give offense.  Around people of another race or around egalitarians of the same race, they will avoid a conversation about race as much as possible. In a pinch, they will lie, for they know what is expected of them.  In short, a conversation between egalitarians and racists will either be quite hostile and vehement, if the racist does not care about being rude, or, as is more often the case, it will be hypocritical and disingenuous.  Polite racists will feign a politically correct attitude and then change the subject.  As a result, conversations about race will not accomplish anything in these situations either.

This leads to an asymmetrical situation.  Those who call for a conversation about race are invariably egalitarians.  They are comfortable in doing so, because their views on the subject are laudable, and they can simply speak their mind without fear of censure.  Polite racists, on the other hand, never call for such a conversation, because they dread having to feign beliefs they do not have.  They can fake it for a minute or two, but a long, drawn out conversation on race will simply wear them out and increase their chance of making a slip.

Perhaps those calling for a conversation suppose that if racists are forced to have conversations with egalitarians, they will eventually succumb.  Just as getting people to say the Lord’s Prayer in church might be thought to instill religious belief, or getting people to say the Pledge of Allegiance might be thought to instill a sense of patriotism, so too might it be supposed that getting people to say the right things about race will instill the proper egalitarian attitude.

But as noted above, such a conversation is unfair to racists.  Therefore, instead of calling for a conversation, which requires racists to be adept in saying what is required of them in different contexts and circumstances, we might instead call for the Oath of Equality, in which everyone recites a rote speech about how everyone is created equal regardless of race, and that everyone should be treated equally, and so on.

Now, just as no atheist ever became a Christian by repeatedly citing the Lord’s Prayer, and no traitor ever became a patriot by saying the Pledge of Allegiance, so too will no racist ever be converted to egalitarianism by saying the Oath of Equality.  But then, no conversation is going to change a racist’s views either. At least the Oath of Equality will be less of a burden on the racist, something he can recite with indifference.

By this time it may be wondered why I am being so solicitous as to the plight of the racist. Though not a racist myself, yet I feel their pain.  After all, racism is not a matter of choice.  By virtue of some combination of genetic predisposition and environmental influence, their prejudice and bigotry is a fact of their character from which no exercise of free will can liberate them. Their need to dissemble requires that they not be taxed with a long conversation about race that can only lead to their being outed in spite of themselves.

The proposed Oath of Equality is a reasonable compromise.  It will allow the racist to say the proper thing when called for, without creating for him the undue burden that a conversation would entail, and without putting him at risk for being found out or of inadvertently hurting the feelings of others.

Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)

In 1915, D.W. Griffith made Birth of a Nation, which was an entertaining movie, but had the slight drawback of being the most racist movie ever made.  To atone for this great sin, he had to do penance, and that’s why he made Intolerance:  Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages the very next year, whose message was that we should all be tolerant of one another, something the glorious Ku Klux Klan of the previous movie definitely was not. Intolerance was a boring movie, but it had to be done.  Unfortunately, it was also done to us, punishing us for enjoying Birth of a Nation, I suppose.

Griffith must have still been feeling guilty by 1919, because in that year he also made Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl, in which he tried to atone for his racist classic one more time.  The very title may sound a little racist to our twenty-first century ears, but he probably thought it was an improvement over the source material, a short story by Thomas Burke entitled “The Chink and the Child.”

The Asian in both titles is Cheng Huan, played by Richard Barthelmess in yellowface.  He is a Chinese Buddhist who decides to move to London to bring enlightenment to the white race.  He is unable to bring said enlightenment to the British, however, no doubt because the people in England were not sure what to make of a man who was apparently incapable of using the muscles in his face to form an expression.  I guess that was Griffith’s idea of the inscrutable Oriental.  However, Huan is able to achieve nirvana on a regular basis at the local opium den.

Whereas Barthelmess played Huan without an expression, Donald Crisp played Battling Burrows with enough expressions on his face for the two of them. Burrows is a boxer who enjoys being cruel to his young daughter Lucy. In fact, the only time Burrows is not bullying or beating Lucy is when he is at the saloon or in the boxing ring.  But he insists that she put a smile on her face, and so Lucy uses her two fingers to force her lips into a smile, which is ludicrous.  Supposedly, Lillian Gish, who played Lucy, came up with that idea, and apparently Griffith liked it, because she does it over and over again. The reason for this, presumably, is that if she had simply forced a smile on her face the way a normal person might do, we in the audience might be so dull-witted as to think she was actually happy.

After a particularly severe beating, Lucy accidentally stumbles into Huan’s shop.  When the effect of his opium pipe wears off, Huan notices her on the floor and takes her upstairs to his bedroom.  His love for her is pure and noble, but expressed in such a way as to seem downright creepy.  But when her father finds out she has been in Huan’s bedroom, he beats her with a whip until she dies.  Huan goes over to where Burrows lives, and, discovering that Lucy is dead, pulls out a revolver and shoots Burrows several times, killing him on the spot.  Huan goes home and commits suicide by disemboweling himself with a knife.  I thought that was something a Japanese Samurai might do as a matter of honor, not something a Buddhist is likely to do, but then I wasn’t aware that Buddhists went around packing heat, so what do I know?

This movie is simplistically didactic, instructing us that an Asian might actually be a better person than a Causian.  And to benefit from that lesson, we have to sit through what may be the most miserable ninety minutes in cinematic history.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Most of the time, we watch movies in order to be entertained.  And The Birth of a Nation is entertaining, in a disturbing sort of way.  But its real value is anthropological.  That is, it is an artifact that can tell us something about the culture that produced it.  And what it tells us is not just that this country was extremely racist a hundred years ago, but that it had a clear conscience about it.  For the most part, today’s racists know that their views will meet with disapproval from the majority of Americans.  Some will openly flaunt their racism, reveling in the outrage they arouse.  Others will conceal their animosities, disguising their bigotry as something else, yet knowing that their like-minded fellows will correctly decipher their coded language.  But a hundred years ago, racists had every expectation that their views would have the sanction of God and society, that what they believed was just common sense and right-minded thinking.  This is the attitude that is on full display in The Birth of a Nation.

A lot of apologists for the South claim that the Civil War was not about slavery, but about states’ rights. There is a hint of that in this movie, with the head of the Cameron household expressing alarm that the sovereignty of the individual states is being disregarded by Lincoln’s administration. But the main thrust of this movie is that the mixture of white and black is evil, and that is the ultimate cause of the war. The very first scene depicts the first Africans being brought to America, which was the first step toward disunion. The suggestion is that it would have been better to leave the Africans in Africa.

But it is too late for that, so the next best thing, according to this movie, is white supremacy and segregation, especially in the form of slavery. This is shown as being a workable solution, for we see how happy the black slaves are, dancing a jig for their white masters, whom they adore. The black slaves are depicted as being content with their lot, lucky to be so well cared for.

If the mixing of black and white in a general sense is bad, the mixing of black and white in a sexual sense is a great evil. This movie is positively obsessed with the horror of miscegenation. And the mulatto, the offspring of such an evil union, is naturally the embodiment of that evil. Furthermore, the mulatto, being half black, is legally a “Negro,” and thus his lot is cast with that race. But being half white, he has some of the intelligence and the ambition of a white man, and thus he cannot be satisfied with the black man’s lot. He knows that the only way his position in life can be improved is if the position of blacks in general is improved, if they can become equal to whites, and thus the mulatto becomes a rabble rouser and a sower of discord. The result is that he becomes a traitor to both races.

There are two mulattoes in the movie. The first is Lydia, the housekeeper of Austin Stoneman, a powerful member of the House of Representatives. She is made miserable by the fact that she is almost white, so close to being white that it tears at her soul. She is Stoneman’s mistress, and as such has influence over him, leading us to suspect that she has been instrumental in goading him to help bring about the Civil War to free the slaves and in encouraging him to impose harsh terms on the defeated South at the war’s end.

A second mulatto, Silas Lynch, heads to Piedmont, South Carolina at Stoneman’s request, in order to oversee Reconstruction. When Lynch gets there, he finds the former slaves contentedly continuing to work for their former masters, and even worse, still doing the jig and eating watermelon, so he knows he has his work cut out for him. Soon, Stoneman decides to go to Piedmont for his health, taking his daughter Elsie (Lillian Gish) with him. This suits Lynch just fine, since he has designs on her.

The blacks come to dominate the courts, both as judges and jurors, so that whites are always at a disadvantage, and the blacks win a vast majority of the seats in the state legislature after the election. One of their first acts is to pass a law allowing blacks and whites to marry. In response, Ben Cameron realizes that whites can regain power by forming the Ku Klux Klan.

Meanwhile, Gus, a black captain the in army, has taken a fancy to Ben’s sister Flora (Mae Marsh). He follows her into the woods and begins making advances. She runs to the top of a steep cliff, and when Gus refuses to stay away, she leaps to her death, thereby saving her honor.

Now hostilities break out in a big way. But it is not simply black against white, for many blacks are depicted as loyal to their former masters. Nor is the wartime animosity between North and South of significance compared to the all-important cause of protecting white women from black lust. When a bunch of mostly Southern whites take refuge in a small house where Yankee veterans live, the intertitle says the former enemies are united in defense of their “Aryan birthright.”

Lynch wants to marry Elsie. He says he will preside over a black empire, with her as his queen, but she is horrified. So, he locks her up and prepares for a forced marriage. But then Stoneman, who was temporarily away, returns. When Lynch tells Stoneman that he wants to marry a white woman, Stoneman congratulates him, for he thinks that is a great idea. But when Stoneman finds out it is his daughter Elsie that Lynch wants to marry, he is outraged. The hypocrisy is simplistic and ridiculous.

Meanwhile, back at the house where the Yankees have taken in the Southern whites, the blacks have surrounded the house, trying to break in. When the people inside the house run out of bullets, the men prepare to bash the brains out of two women and a little girl rather than have them suffer a fate worse than death. At the last minute, the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue.

In the end, the Klan is victorious, disarming the blacks and disenfranchising them on election day. White rule has been reestablished, and all is well.

Rape and Race in the Movies

In Sergeant Rutledge (1960), which is a Western directed by John Ford, a black soldier faces a court martial for the rape and murder of a white girl.  At the end of the movie, someone else, a white man, of course, confesses to having committed the crime, and the title character is acquitted.

The movie To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is, along with a few subplots, a story about a black man who is accused of raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s.  Most of the white people in the town are ready to lynch him, being sure that he is guilty.  By virtue of some rather fortuitous evidence, that the black man does not have full use of his left hand, it is clear that the white woman lied about being raped.  The town is so prejudiced, however, that he is convicted anyway.

In the movie Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (1976), nine black teenagers are accused of raping two white girls.  Once again we are in Alabama in the 1930s.  Once again there is a lot of prejudice in the town and a presumption that the African American youths are guilty.  Once again, it is pretty clear that the white girls are lying.  The boys are convicted anyway.

At the time these movies were made, the typical reaction of the audience was to deplore this racial prejudice, especially in what was regarded as the ultimate outrage in the Jim Crow South, the rape of a white woman by a black man.  This obsession was made especially clear in the movie Birth of a Nation (1915), the racist classic that justified the formation of the Ku Klux Klan as the only way to keep black men from molesting white women.

Interestingly enough, there is one thing that these four movies have in common.  No such rape of a white woman by a black man ever takes place. It is threatened in Birth of a Nation, a white man did the raping in Sergeant Rutledge, and the rapes are spurious in To Kill a Mockingbird and Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys; but in none of these movies is there a rape of a white woman by a black man.  The reason why this is so in the latter three movies is obvious, because the point was to create sympathy for African Americans, who are often treated unfairly.  In the case of Birth of a Nation, however, an actual rape of a white woman by a black man would have been too horrible to contemplate.

From completely diverse motives then, movies in which a black man actually rapes a white woman are rare, a couple of exceptions being Deep in My Heart (1999) and The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck (1988), movies you have probably never even heard of, let alone seen.  A slightly more well-known movie in which this rare cinematic event occurs is Death Wish II (1982), about which more later.  In most cases, however, there is only the accusation of rape, which turns out not to be true.  And the way in which the accusation turns out not to be true in To Kill a Mockingbird and Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys is that the white women lied.

Another movie in which a man of color is accused of rape but is exonerated when it turns out that the woman lied is A Passage to India (1984).  The movie is set in India in the early part of the twentieth century when it was still under British rule.  A white Englishwoman accuses an Indian of trying to rape her, but she recants on the witness stand.  It is our impression that her lie was not deliberate, but rather that she became hysterical as a result of being unable to come to terms with her repressed sexuality.

I must confess that when I saw these movies when they first were made, I accepted the idea that the women lied as not only being plausible, but perhaps more importantly, as in no way being inconsistent with the progressive attitude of the movies.  In other words, such things go on in the world, but that does not guarantee their being depicted in a movie.  To take the example already alluded to, that of black men raping white women, while such things do occur in real life, they are almost nonexistent in the movies. And with the exception of Birth of a Nation, the reason is a desire on the part of the movie industry to portray African Americans (or Indians, in the case of A Passage to India) in a positive light.  But that same industry, the same producers in fact, had not the slightest qualm about making the women be the villains as part of their progressive agenda.  Their conscience was undoubtedly as clear on this score as mine was when I watched these movies with approval.  The fact that women do sometimes lie about being raped is not an explanation, for what is real and what we want to see in a movie are two different things.

Over the years there has been a gradual awareness of the prejudice against women when it comes to rape.  A lot of men used to think (and some still do) that rape is not a big deal (who can forget the old advice to “just relax and enjoy it”?).  Some rapes are dismissed as not being “legitimate” or as not being “rape-rape.”  In other cases, women are said to have brought it on themselves by dressing provocatively or by egging men on.  And finally, some are thought to be vindictive, seeking revenge for having been scorned.

Slowly, social consciousness is finally coming around to a more progressive attitude about rape, one that takes women seriously when they make this charge.  Unfortunately, women do sometimes lie about rape, as in the notorious case about “Jackie,” whose alleged rape was reported and then retracted by Rolling Stone magazine.  But that is reality, over which we have no choice.  Where we do have a choice is in deciding what is acceptable to put in a movie.  Given the climate today, it seems to me unlikely that a major motion picture will soon be produced that involves a woman falsely accusing a man of rape.  In particular, I have to wonder if To Kill a Mockingbird could be made today.  Hollywood is always looking for a movie to remake, especially if the original was a big hit.  And since the original was filmed in black and white, some might regard a remake as justified in that this time it could be filmed in color.  But I don’t think so.  I suspect that a movie in which a woman lies about being raped might be as unacceptable today as a movie about a black man raping a white woman.  It is ironic that the movie we once embraced for its progressive denunciation of racism, we might now have to regard as flawed for the misogynistic way it played off a prejudice against women who claim to have been raped.

Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird is even less likely to be remade now after the release of another novel by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman, which is actually the first version of To Kill a Mockingbird.  An editor advised her to rewrite the story, which she did.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a story about a girl named Scout, whose father, Atticus Finch, defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell, in a small town in Alabama in the 1930s.  Though Atticus proves that Robinson is innocent, a prejudiced jury convicts him anyway.  Later, when Scout and her brother are attacked by Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, Boo Radley, a mentally retarded man, saves them by killing Ewell.  Atticus and the sheriff pretend to accept the story that Ewell fell on his own knife.

Gregory Peck, who played Atticus in the movie, has on occasion played a bad man, as in Duel in the Sun (1946), but when he plays the good guy, no one can surpass him for being morally upright. In fact, sometimes he is so good that it is a little too much to bear.  He is almost nothing but superego, an embodiment of moral rectitude.  I often suspected that the reason Atticus’s wife has been dead for some time when the story begins is so that we won’t think of him having sex, which might make us think him capable of being motivated by a strong passion rather than by the light of reason informed by knowledge of right and wrong.  Also, the love between a father and his daughter, which a lot of people think is the more important feature of the story, would lose some of its intensity if there were a mother for Scout and a wife for Atticus with whom the love would have to be shared.

As there will not likely be a remake of To Kill a Mockingbird, so too is it doubtful there will be a movie based on Go Set a Watchman, though for very different reasons.  In the earlier version of the story, Scout, as Jean Louise, returns home at the age of twenty-six to find that her father has an id.  He denounces the Supreme Court for Brown v. Board of Education, because he is opposed to integration, he despises the N.A.A.C.P., and it is revealed that he once attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan.  At one point, he says, “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people,” and he asks his daughter, “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters?  Do you want them in our world?”

There has never been anything like this.  The disconnect between the saintly, much-revered Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird and the racist of Go Set a Watchman borders on blasphemy.

When watching the movie, I always had misgivings in To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus shoots a dog with rabies.  I figured the point was to prepare the way for when Boo (Robert Duvall) kills Bob Ewell (James Anderson), who figuratively is a mad dog that needs killing.  But it bothered me that the mob that comes to lynch Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) probably had exactly the same attitude, that Tom was a mad dog that needed killing. I always had a sense that the movie was inadvertently justifying lynching.

But now I am not so sure it was inadvertent.  In Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise, as the grown-up Scout, is portrayed as disillusioned by what she discovers about her father, saying to him, “I’ll never believe a word you say to me again. I despise you and everything you stand for.”  On the surface, one would think that Harper Lee is expressing her disapproval of racism through this character.  But that may be just a front, a pretense of disapproval as a devious way of advocating her racist views through Atticus.  Furthermore, Jean Louise’s views are not that different from his.  At one point in her discussion with her father, she says, “We’ve agreed that they [Negroes] are backward, that they’re illiterate, that they’re dirty and comical and shiftless and no good, they’re infants and they’re stupid, some of them, but we haven’t agreed on one thing and we never will. You deny that they’re human.”  And so, perhaps the killing of the mad dog really was a subliminal way of justifying lynch mobs.

Whereas in To Kill a Mockingbird, Robinson is convicted, in Go Set a Watchman, he is acquitted.  I take this as a southern defense of the South’s judicial system during the Jim Crow period.  Go Set a Watchman is saying that a black man accused of raping a white woman can get justice. In other words, the book has it both ways.  Through the mad dog metaphor, it justifies the lynching of evildoers in the old days, while at the same time assuring us that when a black man was actually innocent, he was likely to be acquitted, even by an all white jury.

There are those who argue that To Kill a Mockingbird, as book or movie, stands on its own, and that authorial intent, as revealed by Go Set a Watchman, is irrelevant.  For most of us, however, the latter contaminates the former, and few people will ever be able to regard To Kill a Mockingbird in the same light again.

To return to the main issue of this essay, the way the movies handle rape across racial lines, African Americans turn out to be innocent of rape charges in To Kill a Mockingbird and Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys because the white girls lie about being raped.  In Sergeant Rutledge, however, the white girl is not only raped, but also murdered, and so the device of having the girl lie about being raped is not available.  Instead, it turns out that a white man actually raped and killed her.  However, some of the blame for what happens still falls on the girl.

The main female character of this movie, Mary Beecher (Constance Towers), is a strong, independent-thinking woman. However, most of the rest of the women in this movie are a bunch of simpleminded old biddies, whose purpose in life is to be scandalized by the shameful behavior of others.  One of the things that scandalize these women is the behavior of Lucy Dabney (Toby Michaels), the girl who is subsequently raped and strangled. The women chastise her for riding a horse astride. But Lucy says, in front of Chandler Hubble (Fred Libby), who we eventually find out is the one that actually raped her, that as long as she says her prayers and behaves herself, her father doesn’t care if she rides around like Lady Godiva. It is also worked into the conversation that her mother is dead. In other words, Lucy does not have a simpleminded old biddy for a mother to instill the proper sense of decorum into her.

At the end, Lieutenant Tom Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter), whose job it is to defend Rutledge (Woody Strode), beats a confession out of Hubble while he is on the witness stand. Hubble admits that he had to rape Lucy because of the way she walked, the way she moved her body. You see, what with Lucy’s having her legs spread-eagled when she rides a horse and putting into Hubble’s mind the image of her being naked while on that horse as well, it was just too much for him. In other words, the movie is just a hair from blaming the victim, although it stops short of that, blaming the circumstance of her not having a mother to raise her properly instead.  One might think that the real blame for the rape would fall on Hubble, the man who raped her. But the movie portrays him as having acted under a sexual compulsion (especially since his wife is deceased, thereby depriving him of a normal sexual outlet). The point seems to be that it is up to women to behave in such a way as to not unleash the demon in men such as Hubble.

One way to make rape across racial lines more suitable for movie audiences is to lessen the color difference between the man and woman.  This can be done in two ways, by having the man belong to a race less dark than that of an African American, or by making the white woman be a brunette instead of a blonde.  In the movie The Searchers (1956), for example, Debbie, a dark-haired girl of about eight, is abducted by the Comanches, and the rest of the movie consists of Ethan (John Wayne) and Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) searching for her. As the years go by, it becomes clear that Debbie is getting to the age where the Indians will start having sex with her.  The thought of such defilement makes Ethan want to kill her, and even Laurie (Vera Miles) agrees that Debbie’s mother would have wanted Ethan to put a bullet in her brain. Just to get us in the mood for what is coming, Ethan and Martin check out some girls that had been captives of the Comanches to see if one of them is Debbie. We see three girls who are all crazy to point of either screaming or laughing maniacally. And they are all blonde.  But later, when at last they find Debbie, who is about thirteen and is one of the squaws of the Comanche chief, the principal villain of the film, she seems just fine.  And, as she is played by Natalie Wood, she is a brunette.  The idea seems to be that white brunettes can tolerate being raped by men of a darker race, because they have a dark aspect themselves, and thus can absorb the shock; but blondes cannot, for they are so white and pure that the violation destroys them.

The Searchers is another movie for which there will never be a remake, because Indians have all been replaced by Native Americans.  Native Americans are peace-loving indigenous people, who are close to Nature, at one with the environment, full of shape-shifting spirituality, and whom we stole this land from and treated atrociously.  Indians, on the other hand, are vicious savages that scalp men, rape women, and subject their captives to horrible tortures. Unable to hold their liquor, they are always going off the reservation, impeding our Manifest Destiny.  The last time Indians in this sense were in a Western was in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), where they tried to rape a white woman. Since then, if a woman in a Western supposedly gets raped by a Native American, it always turns out that it was white men who did it, as in the movie The Lone Ranger (2013).  If an Indian actually scalps someone, as in Dances with Wolves (1990), it is a bad Indian, as opposed to the good Indians (i.e., Native Americans) in the movie who would never do such a thing. In other words, when it comes to raping white women, Native Americans have achieved the same immunity in the movies that African Americans have:  it practically never happens.

On the other hand, when rape is only threatened, then the difference in color can be as extreme as possible.  Consider, for example, the movie King Kong (1933) and its remakes in 1976 and 2005.  As many critics have observed, these movies subliminally play off the white man’s fear of black lust for white women.  And in each version, it is a blonde that King Kong captures and falls in love with. Having Ann Darrow played by a brunette just would not be the same.  She has to be a blonde to make the thought of rape as horrible as possible, which the movie is able to suggest with impunity because their difference in size makes any actual rape impossible.

As noted above, one exception to the general rule that African Americans do not rape white women in the movies is Death Wish II (1982).  However, color difference is minimized to make the rape more palatable.  Actually, there are two women in this movie that are raped.  The first one is gang raped, and two of the men that rape her are dark-skinned African Americans.  However, the woman is Latina, and this reduces the color difference.  The second woman, however, is a Caucasian, but she is raped by a light-skinned African American, once again reducing the color difference.  Also, she is a brunette rather than a blonde, thereby further reducing the difference.

Even so, this movie is definitely an exception.  Since then, movies that depict rape across racial lines typically have the man be white and the woman be dark, as in A Time to Kill (1996) or 12 Years a Slave (2013).  We are fortunate to still have white males available for the depiction of the worst forms of evil and depravity in general and of rape in particular.