A small-town lawyer defends an innocent black man accused of rape. [Dir: Robert Mulligan/ Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford/ 131 min/ Drama/ Social Tolerance]
Social tolerance is the theme here, as events in a southern Depression-era town are used to show a young girl’s development of a live-and-let-live attitude towards those unlike herself. These events center on the trial of an innocent black man accused of rape. It’s the job of the young girl’s father, a local lawyer, to defend him. This lawyer is an admiral character – a dramatic embodiment of the “rule of law” and a guardian of justice in an otherwise barbarous situation. Throughout the trial, he heroically faces down prejudice and potential violence to protect his client. On the surface, this film is a remembrance by the young girl of her father, a portrait of him woven from fond memories. That’s how the events are connected, via a voice-over of the now grown-up girl, telling of her youth and of him. But underlying these events is a transparent advocacy of tolerance. This meaning is underscored at a point in the dialog that includes a reference to the film’s title. In particular, the young girl at the center of this story is told that “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,” because mockingbirds do no harm to others. By the end of the film, she has transferred that concept to human relations: doing harm to harmless others, no matter how different they might be, is likewise wrong. This is a theme that libertarians will certainly like, and it has well a suggestion of the non-aggression principle. Even apart from its philosophical content, this is a terrific film. It’s thoroughly moving from beginning to end. All the characters are carefully sketched, even the lesser ones. And the two southern children at the center of this story really were southern. No faked accents here. The haunting music and small-town scenery add tremendous atmosphere. All this combines to create a nostalgic quality that’s like walking into one’s youth and another age. This is one of the great social tolerance films and one of the best films ever – period. It won three Academy Awards.
This article was reprinted from Jon Osborne's Miss Liberty's Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millenium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.