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Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner—The Monster’s Ball
Racism is a major issue not only in the United States, but in other parts of the world. This particular issue led to major conflicts and social mishaps that readily changed the face of history. This division is far worse than the economic gaps between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is a transferable disease that continues to spread hatred and angst among different individuals as each and every race tries to assert their control, authority and supremacy. This situation is reflected in the workplace, songs, and cinemas. If films are considered as reality’s reflection, then it would not come as a surprise if such social dilemmas have become the center of attraction of several film flicks. This kind of issue has never failed to garner the camera’s scrutinizing eyes. Racism tends to branch out. Not only did it result to segregation and overt disregard for ones human rights, it has also affected the way marriages should be viewed and perceived. This in return created an impact to couples, whose racial roots are in a warring state. Aside from the hardships and sufferings embedded in married life, interracial couples must also relentlessly try to justify themselves amidst the criticisms and skepticisms of both societies and their closest relatives. Through the years the canonical norms and conventions of society has redefined the underlying mechanisms of interracial marriages. There was even a period in history wherein the communion of two loving individuals is considered as a crime. Involved couples must flee as if they are fugitives running from their enemies. These individuals give a new face to what both Romeo and Juliet went through.
On the other hand, it is also apparent that the controversies and seemingly antagonistic view of interracial marriages also resulted to conflicts and divisions among family members. This decadent cycle continues and the brunt of such unfortunate fate is experienced by the children. Issues regarding identity, traditional values and cultural belongingness tend to arise. The ethnocentric orientation between the two different families brings confusion. If families are considered as society’s fundamental structure, then given this situation at hand, society is placed within a very uncompromising situation.
Two renowned films which dealt with this subject matter is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Monster’s Ball. These movies reflect not only the romantic relationship between two individuals with a different race. Rather, these are also articulations of the interaction and societal relationships of two people from different origins. More than the love story per se, the movies showed one of reality’s facet that continues to exist today.
Both movies tend to focus on interracial relationships. However, while it is true that the movie revolve on the same subject matter, certain differences when it comes to film treatment can be readily seen. But of course, this is also affected by the era when the movie was created and made available to the public. If one has to critically examine Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the objections with regards to such kind of set-up are more overt and expressed. The same connotations can be readily observed with Monster’s Ball. However, it is rather implied than directly stated. As for the case of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the film is one of a kind. It can be best described as something that is unconventional. It deviates from the ordinary romantic themes that were presented during that era. Its focus on interracial relationship broke all the taboos that are attributed to the subject matter. As many has often said, it is the first ever film that dared to tackle such social issues. The attempt of articulating interracial relationships can be considered as a success both in the context of film industry and on the side of anti-racism supporters and advocates.
It can be seen that on the film, the conflicts and issues that are commonly experienced in interracial relationships are given focus and emphasis. Perhaps it can be described that the film was not simply made out of entertainment or commercial purposes. It has a specific goal and objective—and that is to educate the public regarding this matter. But of course, if there is the intention to educate, one cannot simply rely on symbolisms and connotations. It must be directly stated. Otherwise, the whole purpose of the film may not be thoroughly understood.
If one has to take a closer look, the moment that Joey (female protagonist) and John (male protagonist) was having a hard time convincing both their families to allow them to be together. There are objections from both parties. When Joey introduced John to her family, eyebrows were raised as if a heinous crime was committed. Joey’s family tends to elicit a derogatory stance when she chose John to be her partner in life. Even other individuals who have strong ties with the Draytons are surprised and bewildered by such an idea. During those critical times, blacks are seen as someone inferior. They are greatly showered with negative stereotypes and that their images as slaves are not totally erased.
On the other hand, the stereotypical view is also apparent as for the case of John’s family. His parents also expressed their remorse and regrets over the decision of their son. Basically, the sufferings and mishaps that John’s parents experienced have also allowed them to create stereotypes regarding the “white people.” The bitter memories of their past continue to haunt them and soon they also developed hatred and anger against those individuals whom they see as the main causes of their unfortunate experiences.
As a result, the couple had no other choice but to ascertain the “approval” of both families. John knew way too well that even if their marriage materializes, this will not guarantee that they will have a happy and harmonious life. Newman and O’ Brien expressed that the problem with interracial marriages or relationships is that racism is provided with greater degrees of focus and emphasis (211). As a result, the couple is having a hard time to adjust and live a healthy and normal life. This is also due to the fact that their very own families who should have supported their decisions are the ones that function as their primary stressors and to a certain extent—aggressors (Newman & O’Brien 211).
On the other hand, the struggles of interracial relationships in Monster’s Ball are rather presented in passing. It seems that the story focused more on the miseries experienced by Hank and Leticia. The two were united since both of them lost their sons and life partners. The romantic notions between Hank and Leticia were rather accidental and readily unexpected. It is also apparent that the tension between the two characters is due to the fact that Hank was the one responsible for the death of Leticia’s husband who was a convicted criminal. Hank was the one in-charged with the execution. Therefore, the seemingly good relationship between the two was in great danger of being torn apart. The racial discrimination presented in the film simply intensified the situation, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the focus of the whole story.
One of the reasons behind the differences of the two stories can be traced to the historical setting of the two films. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was shown during the time wherein there is interracial marriages cannot be easily accepted. Many objected to such situation and the mere even the idea of allowing marriages between different races is considered as unforgivable. In 1967, laws and regulations that prevent or prohibit such act were passed (Starr 163; Weinberg 264). Those who are caught in this situation are charged of violating a law which seems to repress one’s freedom. During that time, couples with different races do not have to go against society’s stigma. They also have to confront the law. Their individual rights to choose and make decisions for themselves are not thoroughly recognized by the government.
In relation to the said film, since it was described earlier as something that readily aims towards progress and change, objections to the dominating system are highly manifested and expressed. It is through this particular medium (cinema) that the voices of the unheard are given the chance to be transmitted to the whole public. Society was in a period of mishaps and unrest and such has affected the parties involved. Both whites and blacks suffer from this kind of situation. It is not a one-way journey. The two races were caught in the middle of these relentless wars. As Cohen and Tronto maintained, racism is prone to being a psychological, social, emotional and cultural bases of inequality (68).
In the meantime, if one has to contextualize the discussion Monster’s Ball, it can be seen that the reason behind not really highlighting interracial marriages is that the issues and conflicts attributed to it are (partially) resolved. Take note, that the term “partially” was used in this explanation. Indeed, the ban against interracial marriages has been already lifted and that affairs with someone who belongs to a different race and origin are now permitted, some of history’s remnants are not yet thoroughly erased.
However, it is a little bit ironic to see that in the midst of turbulent times, the call for action, as seen in film or cinema, is strong. These kinds of actions are prone to censorship and even condemnation from the public. But then again, this did not prevent the staff of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner to pursue the film and finally deliver it to the public. As for the case of Monster’s Ball, they have all the freedom to shift their focus into a more socially significant and relevant issues. But then again, as seen in the film, such issues were not the movie’s main priority. Perhaps, it can be safely argued that such has something to do with the commercial consideration that somehow governs the field of filmmaking.
Films and society are interrelated. These forms of media reflect many of the important issues and dilemmas of society. It can serve as a form of enlightenment and at the same time be the herald of problems that often go unnoticed. However, due to the impediments and requisites of commercialism, the functions of film and its relationship with the community that it resides tend to stagger and get compromised.
Cohen, Cathy and Joan Tronto. Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader. New York: NYU Press, 1997
Newman, David and O’Brien, Jodi. Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life. Calfiornia:Pine Forge Press, 2006
Starr, Paul. Freedom’s Power: The True Force of Liberalism New York: Basic Books, 2007
Weinberg, Meyer. Racism in Contemporary America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Inc., 1996
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