TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD premiered in 1962. I was a freshman in high school and was quite oblivious for a few years about our troubled country. I was taught to treat everyone with kindness and consideration. When I left home for college, my world changed drastically. I began noticing all the injustices of society. I had trouble understanding black vs. white. I could “see” the different colors of skin tones, but I was raised to look for the person inside. I felt compelled to protest and make my voice heard for human rights. It was those crazed years of Kent State and flower power. I missed a few classes at ASU protesting down Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona. I was even a part of a “sit-in” at Old Main on campus. Did I make a difference? I like to think I did, especially after watching Atticus (Gregory Peck), as the soft-spoken, gentle, giant lawyer who stood up for equality among all humanity in the 1930s. He was ahead of his time. 

The film was based on Harper Lee’s magnificent novel. I had read and reread the book beforehand. It was a masterpiece that could transport you into the mindset of post-depression Meacham, Alabama, a small town with values and morals to match. The pace slowed down to a crawl. Could these words on a page translate onto a screen? The answer is a resounding yes. 

Atticus was a widow with two small children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham.)They were a “dirt-poor” family who often was paid in poultry, yet he always wore a three-piece, white suit and looked fresh as a daisy every day in the sweltering heat and humidity. Atticus was asked to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), accused of raping a white woman. He believed it was essential to see things from the perspective of those around him. “You never really understand a person until you climb into their skin and walk around it for a while.” The problem was Tom never had a chance even though he was innocent. The town was smothered in rumors, innuendo, and hatred. Ugly things were said about Atticus, and some tiny-minded men wanted to harm him and his family. 

What I loved about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the rhythm and pausing of the dialogue. The actors were not afraid to hold back and let the words simmer for a while. Those extra beats gave Gregory Peck the necessary timing for him to breathe life into Atticus. He personified every trait you would want for a father and a man. It was a powerful, bold, creative actor’s choice. 

The children played a huge part in the story. They were allowed to wander their town’s streets from sunup to sundown. They explored, defied rules, and discovered their limits and boundaries. They were loyal and looked out for each other. The film was shared through the perspective of Scout, looking back at her life when she and Jem learned who or what was good and evil. Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), “a six-and-a-half-foot, big legend living in the house at the end of the street,” was not evil, no matter what the town said. Scout and Jem were given a golden lesson of never judging a “book by its cover.” It almost cost them their lives. 

I also must mention how normal and ordinary Hollywood showcased Jem and Scout. They were allowed to ask questions and participate in their learning process. They were given the tools of knowledge and insight to decide what was right and wrong in this world. They concluded that hatred was wrong. What a shame more “innocents” are not given this gift in their formative years. In her gentle, childlike fashion, I loved how Scout pointed this out to a grown man who should have known and acted better. 

My favorite parts of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the courtroom scenes. Fighting for a black man’s life against an all-white male jury was an uphill battle. Atticus’s closing argument was phenomenal. In a few words, he summed up how America should be. It made you think and compare what should be the mantra of our country. It is as current today as it was 50 years ago. This makes me stop when I think about the United States. 

The cinematography, the starkness of the black and white, the shadowed film, and the simple, precise plot depicted everyday small towns. These techniques solidified over and over what TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is all about at its core. This movie shows where we used to be, but in reality, parts of our country are still stuck in an antiquated mindset of decades ago.

A mockingbird’s only job in its life is to sing and bring pleasure to those around. Therefore, it was considered a sin “to kill a mockingbird.” The title conveys the movie full circle. Who is to say what or who brings pleasure and joy to their family and community? No human being should judge another. It would be a shame to harm any living creature just because they look or sound different. The sooner we all learn this, the better our planet will be. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a classic of the highest caliber and pushes its viewers to be better and kinder. “Atticus would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there in the morning….” Who could ask for anything less? 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is available to stream on AMAZON PRIME. 

Esta Rosevear

Esta Rosevear has been a Theatre Arts teacher and director for 35+ years, published Children’s author of the Rebecca series, and is passionate about playing her violin, walking, gardening, and reading murder mysteries.

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