From the very first shot of black-and-white 1940s Manhattan, I was worried about how this movie would handle its discussion about race. Its script is (unsurprisingly) tacked with racial slurs, after all, and includes characters with some admittedly questionable views about women. To my surprise, though, “A Gentleman’s Agreement” handled its discussion of race with a tact and sincerity I was not expecting of the time. Moreover, it tackles it on a much smaller, more “micro” level than I was expecting, perhaps aided by its decision to follow the harassment of Jewish Americans (as opposed to literally any other non-white race). In these scenes, we find an interesting dichotomy in the way antisemitism is treated in America. While a belligerent businessman trying to fight Mr. Green’s Jewish friend may be ridiculed for doing so in public, no one bats an eye when a prestigious country club is “restrictive” in some way. This is something Gregory Peck’s character admits to doing himself at the beginning of the movie, failing to fully answer his son’s questions about antisemitism and originally trying to refuse the job of reporting about antisemitism in America.
As the movie goes on though, and Mr. Green’s alias begins to take on a life of its own, we see a man driven mad by the implicit biases he sees around him. While he may be hard-pressed to find anybody that will outright say the words “I hate Jewish people,” he finds a whole city full of people willing to stand by as blatantly discriminatory policies continue to be practiced. “That’s just the way it is” is a common response given to him by other characters throughout the movie. Even his love interest participates in it, asking him to forgo his undercover identity when meeting her family, and assuaging his son’s grief at being called a “kike” by telling him that he isn’t Jewish, instead of addressing the antisemitism head-on. As Mr. Green goes on to put it in an argument with her near the end of the movie, while she and people like her may not be racist themselves, they still willingly participate in a system that embraces it (all the while, “wondering why it grows!”). What I appreciated so much about this movie and its discussion of race is that it tackles it from a much subtler perspective. Far too often as liberals, I think we’re all too comfortable pointing the finger at crazy-eyed, confederate-flag-wearing racists spitting racial slurs on the side of a highway, but not nearly as much when it comes to discussions of discriminatory policies or micro-aggressions. This is why I think “Get Out,” a movie with surprising similarities to “A Gentleman’s Agreement,” got the acclaim it did when it was released in 2017.
I love that you indicated most of the anti-Semitic behavior taking place in the movie was not stark acts of violence, but instead subtle remarks and discriminatory practices based in stereotypical preconceived notions. It is important when discussing how to tackle the issues of racism and other forms of discrimination that we understand that racism is not confined to high-level hate crimes or other acts of violence. Discrimination encompasses a spectrum of behaviors, and we must recognize that none of it is acceptable. That’s why Green pushes Kathy so hard when she asks him to no longer identify as Jewish to make the others around them more comfortable, or when she tells Tommy not to take his classmates’ words to heart because he is not really a Jew. As you stated, this behavior does not counter the anti-Semitism. It excuses, normalizes, and participates in it.
Good job connecting to today.