Movies with Racism Themes: “Gosnell” and “The Hate U Give”
by Rachel MacNair
A note at the beginning of the movie Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer lets us know it’s based entirely on court transcripts and eyewitness accounts, being as true to events as a movie can attempt. The Hate U Give, on the other hand, is fiction. Yet it’s clearly based on actual events currently in the news – U.S. police killings of unarmed African Americans. Both show the nuances and complexities of real life, and of racism.
The title of The Hate U Give has an acronym: T.H.U.G. The full phrase is: the hate you give infants fouls everyone up (non-swear-word version). The movie is an excellent illustration of the point, which comes up frequently.
The theme of racism appears early in Gosnell, because in addition to all the sensitivities of investigating an abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell is black. So is there a racist component in picking on him?
Yet it’s made clear in the movie (in a point we reported when this case became a major news story) that Gosnell put white women upstairs under more pleasant and professional circumstances. It was black and brown women who were selected to be in the most horrifying conditions of his facility.
The revolting state of his abortion practice, as well as his house where the basement was flea-infested, may puzzle many. But my own studies in psychology give a possible explanation: he was emotionally numb and detached from other people as symptoms of being severely traumatized. Killing people is traumatizing, and I’ve found this across all different forms of killing (including abortion, war, executions, police shootings, and criminal homicide). Gosnell’s behavior while being investigated shows these particular symptoms in abundance.
His behavior also portrays a difference between Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS), a form of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and a more recent concept: Moral Injury (MI). MI has the advantage of covering much more by way of symptoms, since it includes substance abuse and spiritual struggles. But it has a major restriction, one that helps explain why it arose in military veteran therapist circles and is primarily applied there. It requires, in the case of an act of killing, that the killing is seen by the person doing the killing as something he or she did wrong. Most violence, including what soldiers are expected to do, is done by people quite sure that what they’re doing is right. That keeps the MI label from applying. That label certainly didn’t apply here, as Gosnell declared he wouldn’t take a plea deal because he had done nothing wrong.
Thinking the violence is justified also applies in the case of police shootings. The racism in The Hate U Give is obvious, since it’s the reason why a young man reaching for his hairbrush was mistaken for someone reaching for a gun and shot dead. The idea of justifying the shooting on the idea it could have been a gun was exposed as racist: another cop confirmed that had he been a white man, the same behavior would have brought a yelled instruction to move away from the car, rather than a shooting.
The subtlety that racism can have was also on display: among the white students who walked out of school in a Black Lives Matter protest were those gleeful that they could now miss a chemistry test. This naturally distressed the black heroine of the movie, who’s also a student at the primarily white school. She was in the passenger seat at the time of the shooting, and the victim was a childhood friend of hers, so of course her sense of trauma was intense. But when one of her white friends expresses sympathy for the white officer having to go through family and job troubles and stigma because of the shooting, the underlying racist assumptions become clear to the audience. The white student herself can’t see them.
So both movies offer insights on the current problems of racism in U.S. society, and they both end positively with the immediate problem dealt with. Yet neither one addresses the far more permanent and society-wide solutions. For Gosnell, that’s making abortion unthinkable. For The Hate U Give, community policing is a major alternative. If police officers and the communities they serve have frequent friendly interaction, the officer is far less likely to say the racist things that, in this case, made the interaction far more tense than there was any reason for – the stop was only for failing to signal when changing lanes. Nor would the officer be so freaked out about a fellow reaching into his car if he’d conversed with the same fellow just last week.
Among those who favor abortion availability, their proposed solution is to have upstanding places such as Planned Parenthood available as an alternative to such back-alley practices. This ignores the fact that PP was quite available all through the years that Kermit Gosnell operated and didn’t seem to have stopped him; it was the court case that stopped him. And he would have been stopped earlier if the state of Pennsylvania weren’t deliberately ignoring health code violations inflicted on his non-white clients. Also, another movie is on the way to address this proposed solution: on March 22, 2019, the movie Unplanned, based on Abby Johnson’s book of the same name, is due out. It tells Abby Johnson’s story of having been Planned Parenthood facility manager who left and joined the pro-life movement. Abby showed us some clips at the Sidewalk Advocates for Life conference, and it promises to be an excellent follow-up to the Gosnell movie in showing that “reputable” abortion centers aren’t the solution to unreputable ones.
The Hate U Give is a movie that came out around the same time as Gosnell, which is why it was chosen for comparison. There are many excellent movies on themes of lethal aspects of racism (for this year, BlacKkKlansman also deserves a mention). There have been many throughout the years and will undoubtedly be many more.
I think Gosnell should also be in that category. It was ranked #10 in audience size on the weekend it came out, but I had to travel way across town to find a theater showing it. I normally walk to the movies I want to see. So it didn’t get the kind of coverage most other movies do. But it shows a case where abortion is one of the lethal impacts of racism.
For more of our posts on movie and television reviews, see:
Hollywood Movie Insights (The Giver, The Whistleblower, and The Ides of March) / Rachel MacNair
Mothers and Daughters / Mary Bennett
Three Nonviolent Lessons from Dr. Who / Andrew Hocking
The Darkest Hour: “Glorifying” War? / Rachel MacNair
For more on lethal racism, see: