Monday, January 07, 2008

In the Heat of the Night

In the Heat of the Night, Virgil Tibbs (Sydney Potier) plays a homicide expert from Philadelphia, who is literally dragged into a murder case in Sparta, Mississippi because he is believed to have been a suspect. When Officer Woods finds a dead body, he is told to try and find the suspect, but he merely finds a lone black man, Tibbs, who he orders at gunpoint to get into the car and is taken to the station. Upon arriving at the station, he reveals to the audience that he is a police officer from Pennsylvania. The chief is told that he must take Tibbs along as help, since he is one of the few people able to solve the crime. Tibbs endures blatant racist attitudes from the southern men he works with, and even those he helps.

MY reaction to the movie was that I believed that it accurately would suggest how people would react to a professional black man in the situation that Tibbs was put in. When he is a suspect, he is constantly referred to as "boy", but when he tells the police that he is an officer, and an expert in homicide crimes, he is called "officer", Tibbs, or Virgil. The tensions throughout the film are well shown when the men of Sparta are constantly threatening him, whether it was through racial slurs such as "nigger" or "boy", or physically with guns and/or fists. The people were sometimes afraid of a professional black man, and was even asked when he was put in jail, "Why you wearing a white-mans clothes?” referring to the suit Tibbs wore. This movie frames blackness as a handicap, at least in the south, but has not prevented him from becoming an officer who earns $162.39 a week (which was a reasonable sum).

This was a good movie that portrayed the reality of a situation that, though fictional, seemed plausible. Potier did an excellent job of portraying Tibbs, and the film also showed the racist side of “blackness”, which is something that we had not seen in either “Beverly Hills Cop” or “Lethal Weapon”.


Blogger paigecole said...

I agree that this movie showed a more realistic view of racism in law enforcement. Each white man that Tibbs comes in contact with, is initially arrogant to his face, until they are informed of his success as a homicide expert. Though he was harassed and treated poorly, Tibbs never stepped out of line, and always stayed composed, with the exception of the scene at the cotton plantation.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Emily Wilson said...

I agree with your point, I think that this movie did accurately portray how a black man would have been treated in Mississippi during this time period. Virgil was minding his own business at the train station until Sam came to arrest him for murder. He was arrested for no reason other than the fact that he was an African American man in a small racist southern town. To prove this point the police officers were stunned to find out that he was an intelligent, well paid cop from Philadelphia. It was a story that could have been real for many black people during that time.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Vladigogo said...

So, your comment draws us back to what other folks have said. Is the film about race? About class? About intelligence? About experience? About expectation?

9:04 PM  

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