Racism and Social Injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird, a Film by Robert Mulligan

Table of Content

The 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird is an adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel of the same name.

Lee, as a character, mirrors Scout in a traditional bildungsroman story, enabling the examination of racism and social injustice through the viewpoint of a young girl who directly encounters these problems from her own unique vantage point. The editing techniques implemented emphasize the relevance of racism and social injustice during that era, while highlighting the importance of narrating the story through the eyes of a six year old rather than an adult figure.

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The film uses fades to exit scenes and transition to the next, indicating a blending of events. This technique adds suspense and mystery to the story, while also highlighting the distortion of time, a characteristic of French New Wave Cinema (Make A Wave). Furthermore, during Scout and Atticus’ conversation about Jem leaving the treehouse, there is a departure from traditional editing patterns of action and reaction. Multiple cuts to Jem, who remains unseen in frame, suggest his presence in the treehouse as if he were revealing his face.

Only the character’s voice is heard, suggesting that the editor can convey the character as less important since his face does not need to be seen onscreen for others to hear and listen to his voice.

The Kuleshov Effect is when a character’s static expression is juxtaposed with different images to give the illusion of conveying emotion to the audience (The Cutting Edge). In To Kill A Mockingbird, this effect is evident in the interaction between Boo Radley and Scout and the others in the room. The camera zooms in on Boo Radley, capturing his emotionless expression. However, through clever editing, his face appears to convey sadness when intercut with a shot of Jem on the bed with a broken arm. The next cut shows Scout’s face, and upon returning to Boo Radley’s face, it seems to exhibit warm kindness and understanding. The use of the Kuleshov effect transforms Boo Radley’s initially static expression into one that appears to change.

To enhance the atmosphere, To Kill A Mockingbird incorporates sound, particularly background noises of the scenery. This approach is influenced by New French Wave Cinema, which emphasized capturing sound on set instead of re-recording it (Price). An example of this technique occurs during a scene where Jem and Scout stand in front of Atticus’ car while he prepares to shoot a rabid dog. The sound of the car engine is amplified, immersing the audience in the realistic and authentic narrative world.

The concept is further emphasized by background noise overpowering dialogue at certain moments. For instance, when Scout, Jem, and Dill are on a covert mission to locate Boo Radley, their conversation is eclipsed by the ambient sounds of the surroundings. The technique of adjusting the sound levels of various tracks was employed to ensure that car noises, air sounds, footsteps, and door closings are louder than the characters’ speech.

The editing highlights the movement of characters as they transition between locations; however, it often neglects to follow Scout when she wanders off. The editing emphasizes instances where people either leave without her or approach her. Instances of people leaving without Scout occur when she, Dill, and Jem head to Boo Radley’s house and Jem and Dill sprint ahead of Scout, causing her to call out for them to wait. On the other hand, Scout is shown as being trailed when she abruptly leaves a dinner that she had invited Dill to attend. The camera then focuses on Atticus as he walks towards the porch swing in search of her, only revealing Scout sitting on the swing, but not capturing her journey towards it.

The use of continuity editing in this case demonstrates a consistent theme of leaving and being followed, even though a different character is now being focused on. This theme is further developed in the plot when Mayella falsely accuses Tom of raping her, despite her inability to escape her home situation and the knowledge that she will be followed. During the court scene, the editing changes to depict Mayella attempting to flee the courtroom but being restrained by others. Unlike before, both Mayella’s departure and the reactions of those around her are shown. The continuity editing in all three instances emphasizes that these events occur in the same general location, enhancing the narrative of the story.

In the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, Aaron Stell’s editing patterns establish a sense of continuity that gives the impression of an invisible camera, enhancing the audience’s perception of realism. This editing technique faithfully represents the cherished novel by remaining faithful to the notion of a six-year-old narrator whose perspective is untainted. Instead of manipulating time, the editing choices create a seamless flow, which is consistent with the original narrative style of a straightforward account derived from genuine observations, unclouded by societal influences.

Works Cited

  1. Make a Wave – French New Wave. “Characteristics of French New Wave Films.” Blogger. Published 13 August 2012. Accessed 12 November 2016. http://makeawave-frenchnewwave.blogspot.com/2012/08/characteristics-of-french-new-wave-films.html
  2. Price, Joshua. “10 Ways the French New Wave Changed Cinema Forever.” Taste of Cinema.
  3. DISQUS. Published 10 November 2015. Accessed 12 November 2016.
  4. http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/10-ways-the-french-new-wave-changed-cinema-forever/
  5. The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing. Directed by Wendy Apple, cinematography by John Bailey, editing by Daniel Loewenthal and Tim Tobin, A.C.E., 2004.
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird. Directed by Robert Mulligan, cinematography by Russell Harlan, editing by Aaron Stell, Universal International Pictures, 1962.

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Racism and Social Injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird, a Film by Robert Mulligan. (2022, Dec 29). Retrieved from


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