Last week I ventured to {Poem88} Gallery in Atlanta’s West Side Arts District for the screening of Robert Mulligan’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Robin Bernat curates the series “Films for the 99%”, citing it as an opportunity for the community to engage in films that focus on politics and protest. Mockingbird explores civil rights injustices central to Harper Lee’s novel, as well as economic and class segregation. Set in Alabama, this courtroom drama follows the arrest and imprisonment of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), falsely accused of raping a white woman. The narrative revolves around attorney Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and his children, Jem and Scout, who are all deeply affected by the events of that summer. Mulligan presents two main story lines that eventually intersect: the court case of Tom Robinson and the mystery of Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), a rumored “monster” who strikes fear in the hearts of children. The real villain of the story is the ignorant racist Mr. Ewell, the man who falsely accuses Tom of raping his daughter.

Robert Mulligan and Russell Harlan employ authoritative camera work and framing to allow children and African Americans a voice. The film begins with the voice over narration of Scout as an adult reminiscing about her childhood. Children play a central role to Mockingbird, and Mulligan gives them exclusive narrative authority. Deep focus shots highlight children in the foreground and adults in the background. The childrens’ faces are often times shot in close up, and the story is told through their point of view. The camera empowers the children and lends credibility to their story.

The camera also empowers the African American characters central to the film. Almost every shot of Tom and his family is full or low angle signaling the respect and consideration that they deserve, but unfortunately, do not attain in the story. [Low angle shots serve to visually empower the character. For example, Atticus is  shot mostly in low angle.] The camera work in the film communicates the respect given to African Americans, which echos the camera’s treatment of Atticus.

Mulligan book-ends the film with the image of a hand moving across the screen representing both real and imagined threats. The first hand belongs to Boo Radley’s shadow, reaching out to pet the children. The second hand is Mr. Ewell’s in an attempt to harm the children. The children imagine Boo to be a monster, but in the end he is their savior. Mr. Ewell is the real threat to the children and the town at large.The race and class injustices throughout Mockingbird make the film a necessary addition to Bernat’s series, “Films for the 99%.”

For more reviews visit My State of Film