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American Jews in Film
Narration is an old age tradition that has helped for centuries in protecting the tales and stories of humans and carrying it forth from one generation to other. Where before the tradition carried forth in an oral manner, today the mediums for these narrations have changed drastically, and have moved on from oral traditions to written and even visual mediums. These mediums, which include, Newspaper, books, Radio, Television, stage, etc., today have captured the human imagination and created scenes for the human eye to perceive as a form of reality, rather than an image just in their head. It is not astonishing to believe since visuals in the form of a medium has been used from time unknown and are still present today for us to witness in the form of cave drawings (Wright 1).
There is no doubt that the power of the visual image has more of an effect then that of any other medium. The impact of the media on the overall society has been great and it is not surprising then that many screenplays are now being adapted to the bigger screen, which has the potential to reach a much wider audience.
The film "Driving Miss Daisy" is an adapted screenplay from the play of the same name. The play first came to life in 1987 by Alfred Uhry at Playwrights Horizons and performed 1200 times Off Broadway (Brantley). Alfred Uhry is must distinguished in the theater community for his work and his achievements, and his trophies come close to "outnumbering the number of" plays by Uhry (Nathan). Alfred Uhry was born to Ralph K, a furniture designer and artist and Alene, a social worker, in the year 1936 (Film Reference) and graduated from Brown University, before joining late Frank Loesser as a lyric writer (American Theatre Wing).
But his major recognition came from his work "Atlanta trilogy" which has been labeled as his major work. The Atlanta Trilogy focuses on Jews in Southern America and has been described by Uhry as "a family memoir about my childhood" (Goldberg). He remembers his childhood experiences as being such which made him feel like being "Jewish was some sort of defect that you had to overcome like being lame or being blind" (Goldberg). And there is no doubt that his Atlanta Trilogy focuses on these issues and these experiences, it is not surprising then that he has been able to catch the true essence of such experiences in his work Driving Miss Daisy.
The trilogy consists of Driving Miss Daisy (1987), The Last night of Ballyhoo (1996) which was commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Parade (1999) (The University for Creative Careers); all of them follow the same theme of Prejudice against the Jews in the American society.
Driving Miss Daisy being the first of the trilogy follows the prejudices and social taboos and the American society as it evolved from 1950's to 1970's. The film takes it audiences through the many facets of changes that emerged within the American Society and it was these changes that are the defining characteristics of this movie. The two main characters of this film, Miss Daisy and Hoke Coleburn are instrumental in this regard since it is their relationship that is being impacted by these changes and how the change emerges in their understanding of each other and the differences and the prejudices that they face as individuals and as part of a race, that is increasingly being defined in the eyes of others by the color of their skins and their religion.
The play was adapted as a screenplay in the year 1989 and starred Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy and Morgan Freeman as Hoke, these two comprising the primary cast, while Dan Aykroyd played the role of the son of Miss Daisy. The screenplay for the movie was written by Alfred Uhry himself, and it was his sincere dedication and the simplicity of the storyline that made the story such a hit (Canby). The movie went on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Makeup, while also winning for Frank Uhry, besides the Oscar, the Pulitzer and the Tony award as well, making him the only American to have won the triple crown (The University for Creative Careers).
Miss Daisy is an old Jewish woman, who after an accident when driving is forced to accept the fact the she cannot drive anymore. However, this acceptance doesn't come to her that easy, and her reluctance to accept this which is shown by the fights with her son, who is trying hard for her to understand that her age and the fact that no company would insure her now is a factor behind this decision. The reluctance is also shown in her behavior towards Hoke; the behavior changes with time and she finally accepts, and even takes for granted as time and the story moves on.
However, it is this change which is the main feature of the entire film. The 1950's have been shown as a time when the African-American community was the one which filled in the Service sector in the American Society (Vogel). The opening scene shows Miss Daisy a woman much in command of her life and how she goes about her day, her determined manner of getting dressed despite her age and the manner she moves, with that air of command, is much prominent in the scene. It is even more prominent in the manner in which she puts the key in the ignition, however, after the accident, she is determined to save this air of command when her own son starts questioning her ability to carry her life the way she has been all alone.
The introduction of Hoke in the film is presented as a man who is very knowledgeable about the way things are done, and this is clear with the way he resolves the stuck lift issue. There is no doubt that this introduction scene is important to build the image of Hoke in front of Miss Daisy's son, Boolie, who is the owner of Werthan Bags. However, what is of importance in this scene and the opening scene shown above is that all the workers in the factory, as well as in the form of Idelle, who is the maid at Miss Daisy's house are all black. However, while certain closeness is apparent in the way Boolie is concerned about the stuck worker, Miss Daisy only seems to reflect a distant connection with the maid.
It is in this interaction that the first signs of prejudice against the Jews are shown. In the scene, Hoke asks Boolie if,
"Y'all people's Jewish, ain't you?"
"Yeah, we are. Why?"
"I'd rather work for Jews."
"I know folks say they stingy and cheap."
"But don't say none of that around me!"
"Good to know you feel that way."
This reflects the way the Jews were being perceived in the overall American society, and is the initial point in the film when this prejudice is described.
The initial interactions of Hoke and Miss Daisy are very troublesome, which are pretty predictable and are reflected by Idelle's statement to Hoke, "I wouldn't be in your shoes if the sweet Lord Jesus came down and asked me Himself." However, these initials interactions are not disturbed between the two because of race, and seem to be more so because of the fact that she needs to accept that she is getting old now and needs to let go of a lot of things that are part of her character and way of life.
Hoke continues to perceive the Jews from a certain perspective, which again, is prejudiced and therefore says,
"My other opinion is that a fine, rich, Jewish Lady Like yourself has no business dragging herself onto a trolley carrying grocery bags."
This observation, however in my opinion, is based on another prejudice against Jews who are considered to be rich in general. It can be argued that this is partially due to the high standard of living that she maintains which is much evident in her house, which is shown very organized. The first time Hoke steps in her house he seems to be much impressed by the way she has made it a "home" with the pictures. However, this perception of her as a "rich, Jewish lady" touches a sensitive spot with Miss Daisy, who replies back,
"….. And don't say I'm rich!.I was born on Forsyth Street. Believe me, I know the value of a penny! My brother brought home a white cat once. We couldn't keep it because we couldn't afford to feed it! My sister saved up money so I could become a teacher! We had nothing!"
Miss Daisy is also shown to have a strong religious background, which has been highlighted in the story by her attachment to the synagogue. Also her strong Jewish sentiments are…[continue]
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