25. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice.

The last time I watched Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, I was in highschool. Freshman year, I think it was. We had just finished reading the book, so naturally that was followed with the film. I remember really disliking the book, and not being too partial to the film. I also remember loving Gregory Peck’s performance. 10+ years later, and I’m still not partial to the film. I understand its importance, both in film and what it meant historically, but this is just a film I’ve never fallen in love with. 

I wish so much that the film would have gone deeper. I wish that we would have gotten more in depth with the characters or more focus on the social commentary aspect of the story. The film leaves me feeling like we’ve only just scratched the surface of who Atticus Finch is and the different dynamics in Maycomb, Alabama. I wanted the film to just go a bit further. I wanted the same energy that Atticus Finch has in that courtroom throughout the entire film. But, it was the early 60s. Nobody would have been ready for that honesty. 

I’ve already expressed my love for Gregory Peck’s performance in this film. However, his performance was pretty much the only one I loved. I found the child actors who played Jem and Scout, Phillip Alford and Mary Badham, to be unbearably annoying. And, any of the characters I would enjoy, those actors never got enough screen time. (I’m looking at you, Brock Peters and Estelle Evans.) James Anderson as Bob Ewell did a pretty solid job, though, at really making you hate him. 

Even though the film To Kill a Mockingbird is not one of my favorites, that does not mean that the score isn’t one of my favorites. Composed by Elmer Bernstein, the musical score perfectly captures that childhood summer feeling. You can feel the childlike wonder through the music, and that’s the best way I have to describe it. It’s complicated while simultaneously being simple. 

I understand why To Kill a Mockingbird is on this list. It’s there for its overall message and stellar acting performances. It’s also there for its musical score, composed by the great Elmer Bernstein. However, To Kill a Mockingbird, no matter which way you slice it, is a white savior film. We have a white lawyer being asked to defend a black man in Depression-era Alabama. We are literally presented with the narrative of a white man attempting to save a black man’s life. The main difference I think this film has over other white savior films, though, is that the white man is unsuccessful. And there’s no real change among the people in the film and what their beliefs are as made evident by the verdict the jury comes to for Tom Robinson’s trial. Everything remains the same. 

I’ve been going back and forth with myself for the last day about whether or not I think this film should remain on the AFI list. On one hand, it’s a white savior narrative. On the other hand, there is a lot being said about innocence and the loss of said innocence. There is a lot being said about race, and education. I still don’t think I’ve made up my mind. 


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