Social Reform Term Paper

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films may have in common are performers, directors or subject matter. The films, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and the Hurricane, have several things in common. All three films follow the results of men wrongly convicted of murder. Two of the films, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, were adapted from original works of the same author, Stephen King. They also were directed by the same person, Frank Darabont. In addition, all three films share something else. They are all films about individuals who have been judged because of the way they look.

In The Green Mile, John Coffey, played by Michael Clarke Duncan, is on death row after being found guilty of murdering two little white girls. The Green Mile is the name given to Coal Mountain Louisiana State Penitentiary's death row. Coffey, a black man, was found with the broken bodies of the two dead girls in his arms, and despite protestations of innocence, he is convicted and sentenced to death. The story is told in flashbacks by Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks). Edgecomb is the main character and the head guard on death row. He comes to believe that his newest charge is innocent when he sees the goodness in him. He is able to get past the obvious appearances.

Coffey is an imposing figure, and a jury in 1930s Louisiana must have had little difficulty believing that this man could have committed the crime. It turns out that Coffey has been completely misjudged. Not only is he not evil, but he has a gift of healing, able to cure people by a laying on of hands. "Coffey cannot read or write, seems simpleminded, causes no trouble and exudes goodness. The reason Paul consults the lawyer is because he comes to doubt this prisoner could have killed the little girls" (Ebert, The Shawshank Redemption). One reviewer has even drawn a parallel between John Coffey and another major historical figure with the same initials. "The film includes a high level of Judeo-Christian spiritual content, and some of the symbolism is spread on a little thickly. Those who can't see similarities between The Green Mile's J.C. And an historical figure with the same initials are wearing blinders" (Berardinelli, The Green Mile).

In The Hurricane, a gifted boxer is wrongly convicted of murder in Patterson, New Jersey, in 1966. Like the character John Coffey in The Green Mile, the victim is a powerful black man. Unlike Coffey, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, played brilliantly by Denzel Washington, is not a fictional character. This is the story of Carter, a championship fighter, who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Carter grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, a middle son among seven children. His parents had a stable, long-lasting marriage, provided well for the family, and raised their other six children without significant problems. Only Rubin seems to have acquired a criminal record, one that resulted in his being sentenced to a juvenile reformatory for assault and robbery shortly after his 14th birthday.

At age seventeen, Carter escaped from the reformatory in 1954 and joined the United States Army. Several months after he completed infantry basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was shipped to Germany, where he became interested in boxing. By all accounts, Carter was a poor soldier, and was court-martialed four times for charges ranging from insubordination to being AWOL. In May, 1956, the Army discharged him as "unfit for military service," well before his scheduled date of separation.

Shortly after his return to New Jersey, Carter was arrested for his reformatory escape, and served an additional year. He was released in 1957. Less than two months later, Carter robbed and brutally beat three people, including a middle-aged woman, allegedly after drinking heavily. Convicted of these crimes, Carter spent four years in Trenton State Prison and Rahway State Prison. Upon his release in September 1961, he became a professional boxer.

The story is that Carter ran afoul of a corrupt Patterson police officer, as a youth, and was later framed for murder by this same officer, now a lieutenant. Convicted on false evidence and perjured testimony, Carter spends nineteen years in Trenton State Prison, in spite of pleas by celebrities and a 1975 song by Bob Dylan. His appeals exhausted, Carter appears destined to spend the rest of his life in jail, until new evidence is uncovered that leads to his release. The convictions were set aside on the grounds that he didn't get a fair trial. The State of New Jersey decided not to re-try him a third time because so much time had passed, and withdrew the indictments against him.

The real hero of the film is Lesra Martin, played by Vicellous Shannon, a Brooklyn teenager living on a commune in Canada. After reading Carter's autobiography, The 16th Round, he develops a passion to meet Carter. He is encouraged by the three adults he is living with - Sam (Liev Schreiber), Terry (John Hannah), and Lisa (Deborah Unger) - and opens a correspondence with Carter. Eventually he travels to New Jersey to visit Carter, and following a face-to-face meeting with him, Lesra becomes determined to free him. Eventually the four move to New Jersey and uncover evidence that clears Carter.

As in The Green Mile, the black victim is convicted of murder and becomes the victim of "racism, corruption and - perhaps most wounding -- indifference" (Ebert, The Hurricane). Unlike The Green Mile, however this story has a happy ending. After his release, at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, Rubin Carter is present to watch the film and makes a ten-minute speech to the audience. "More than two hours later, when the film's final frame had faded to black, The Hurricane received a rousing, three-minute standing ovation. The applause was well-deserved" (Berardinelli, The Hurricane).

Or was it? A former reporter, living in Florida, named Cal Deal, launched a campaign to educate the public on other facts that did not come out in Jewison's movie. He was instrumental in seeing that Denzel Washington did not win an Academy Award for his performance. "In early January, I took Deal and three other people who had been involved in the case to view the movie and then wrote about their reactions. They strongly attacked the film's credibility and insisted that Carter was guilty. They noted that no court ever found Carter not guilty of the murders, or found that the police had framed him" (Reisinger). According to the movie's detractors, the biggest and most crucial distortion the movie serves up is that one evil, racist Paterson lieutenant had it in for Carter. They point out that there was a lead detective in the Lafayette Grill case, by the name of Vincent DeSimone, but he had nothing to do with Carter's earlier convictions.

The third movie The Shawshank Redemption, is also the story of a man unjustly convicted of murder. The movie is narrated by Red Redding, played by Here is another case of an innocent man found guilty, because of what people think he is, rather than what he is. In prison, we see that Andy is a "standup guy." When he is assaulted, he doesn't run to the guards, but fights back on his own. His financial expertise leads to favors from the guards which he shares with his friends.

Even as he enters the prison, Red is betting that Andy will break. He loses that bet because Andy does not break. As Red says, "new fish come close to madness the first night. Somebody always breaks down crying. Happens every time. The only question is, who's it gonna be? It's as good a thing to bet on as any, I guess. I had my money on Andy Dufresne" (The Shawshank Redemption. Dir. Frank Darabont). He endures prison, "because within him is such a powerful reservoir of determination and strength that nothing seems to break him" (Ebert, The Shawshank Redemption). His trials only seem to strengthen him as the years pass. "mostly the film is an allegory about holding onto a sense of personal worth, despite everything. If the film is perhaps a little slow in its middle passages, maybe that is part of the idea, too, to give us a sense of the leaden passage of time, before the glory of the final redemption" (Ebert, The Shawshank Redemption).

This movie is different from The Hurricane. This is not the story of a crusade to right an injustice. It is also not a story based upon fact. "The Shawshank Redemption takes the 'innocent man in prison' theme and bends it at a different angle. Instead of focusing on crusades for freedom, the movie ventures down a less-traveled road, concentrating on the personal cost of adapting to prison life and how some convicts, once they conform, lose the ability to survive beyond the barbed wire and iron bars" (Berardinelli, The Shawshank Redemption).

In their different ways, each of these three movies shows us how…[continue]

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