Forrest Gump is one of my favorite movies and I have reviewed the plots of the movie for more than ten times. Recently I watched it again and I noticed many crucial historical events of the United States during 20th century. Among these events, several are related to the third and fourth stage of African Americans study and they show people’s attitude toward racism at that time.
Forrest Gump is a 1994 American film directed by Robert Zemeckis. The movie is mainly about the life of Forrest Gump, who is a retard but nice guy. He luckily witnesses many historical events of the United States during 20th century. The purpose of this movie is to tell people how to face the life in a positive way like Gump, being nice to everyone and everything in the life is a valuable quality. This movie is not especially about African American, but the depiction of the historical events and Forrest Gump’s attitude toward African Americans articulate black people status during 20th century.
At the very beginning part of the movie, Forrest introduces the origin of his name, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is a leader of Ku Klux Klan. I was impressed by his description of his name, “Mama said the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that just don’t make no sense.” I comprehend it in another way. It makes no sense that a mother gives his son a name of a notorious guy. Nobody wants to have the same name with a murderer, right? Considering Forrest’s family, which is in Alabama, I have reason to believe that his mother gives he the name because they still respect General Forrest because he is a “great Civil War hero”. So racism still exists during the beginning of 20th century at least in Southern states like Alabama.
Two crucial events about African Americans are Stand in the Schoolhouse Door and Black Panther. Stand in the Schoolhouse Door took place during the third stage of African American study, legitimization and institutionalization period. The movie shows the video of George Wallace, the governor of Alabama at that time, but the camera “concentrates on Forrest’s inability to comprehend what the controversy is all about”(Wang). Wang writes a journey about racism in the movie.Thus, racism at that time did not attract many people’s attention in the south. The racial conflict between the state and African Americans is avoided skillfully by playwright. The attitude of the movie toward this historical event is casual and amusing. Funny plots like Forrest helps the black woman pick up the books are everywhere in the movie, while some people hold that Forrest shows his kindness to all the people including black people. Another event is about Black Panther. It is another insult to the Black Party. “Our purpose here is to protect our black leaders from the racial on slaught of the pig who wishes to brutalize our black leaders, rape our women, and destroy our black communities.” This is one of the Black Panther member says to Forrest. His words are contradicted soon when Jenny is beaten by her boyfriend. A woman is abused by a man and all the Black Panther members are watching without any action. “The racial and sexual threat a ‘political’ African-American man embodies is grounded in the Black Panther’s stance against the traditional American values that Forrest Gump eventually champions.” (Wang) Wang believes that the movie belittles Black Panther Party in certain ways. Actually, Black Panther “decided to highlight the fundamental pillar of white supremacy and antidemocratic practice against Black people.”(David 6) But we cannot find these qualities of Black Panther instead of they yell at people and look at women being abused. The description of Black Panther is exaggerated and inaccurate.
There is a only main black character in the movie, Bubba. He is a friend of Forrest in the army during Vietnam War. He describes his name “just like one of them old red neck boys”, which somewhat belittles African American again. Bubba’s mother and mother’s mother cooks shrimp for white people. This is a universal reality and happens everywhere in 20th century in the United States. In the movie Bubba says he knows everything about shrimping business. In southern states white people still believe that African Americans are supposed to work for them forever. I notice another detail of the movie in this part, most people in the army bus are Africans Americans. They are much more possible to be sent to the war. Bubba is a nice guy like Forrest, but he is also depicted as a freak. He introduces shrimp stuff every time. I cannot tell the playwright’s thought. Maybe that is the typical figure of African Americans in White people’s mind. But Bubba somewhat shows the positive aspect of African Americans. They do have dreams, affection, faith and those are moving and impressive. It is possible for African Americans and white people to be friends. Bubba fell in the battle, African American soldiers fell. Many people may remember the last word of Bubba, “I want to go home.” In the plot of Black Panther, the soldier says “black soldiers are sent to the front line to die for a country that hates them.” I believe this statement because the country indeed does not take them seriously. After being slaved for hundreds of years, African Americans still cannot be treated equally as white man, but they have to serve and work for America, that is why they hate imperialism. Forrest gives up the opportunity to become a millionaire, chooses to accomplish Bubba’s wish to have a shrimp boat. When he comes to Bubba’s family, many people ask him whether he is stupid or not. He is not stupid because he promises his friend’s wish. Finally, Forrest makes Bubba’s family rich and it is white people’s turn to serve black people. This is a hilarious plot but it also symbolizes African Americans can create affluence by labor.
According to our classes, we can conclude that the movie undergoes the third and fourth stage of African American study. Americans begin to attach importance to social status of African Americans. the story of Bubba’s family can be classified as African Americans’ legitimization and institutionalization. Besides Forrest Gump, another movie showed in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption, is also one of my favorite movies. Morgan Freeman, the black protagonist in this movie, impresses me a lot. More and more African American movie stars emerged in the late 20th century and this deducted the difference between people in terms of race. Movies in some ways symbolizes the mainstream of the human’s mind. As the time goes on, everybody owns equal opportunity to succeed and accomplish. That is what we want to see in this prosperous country.
- Zemeckis, R., Tisch, Steve, Finerman, Wendy, Starkey, Steve, Burgess, Don, Schmidt, Arthur, . . . Paramount Pictures Corporation. (2001). Forrest Gump(Special collector’s ed. ; widescreen version. ed., Widescreen DVD collection). Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures.
- Wang, Jennifer Hyland. (2000). ‘A Struggle of Contending Stories’: Race, Gender, and Political Memory in Forrest Gump. Cinema Journal,39(3), 92-115.
- Hilliard, D., & Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation West, Cornel. (2010). Black Panther Party : Service to the People Programs. Albuquerque, NM, USA: University of New Mexico Press.