Overcoming Racial Discrimination in the Heat of the Night

Overcoming Racial Discrimination in the Heat of the Night

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Through the film “In the Heat of the Night” racial tensions are high, but one character, the Chief of Police, Gillespie overcomes racial discrimination to solve a murder. The attitudes that he portrays in the film help us understand the challenges in changing attitudes of Southern white town towards the African Americans living there.
As the film progresses, Gillespie moves from a desire to maintain peace to a realization that justice is better than peace. This is evident through two separate occasions during the film. The first event was when Virgil Tibbs was arrested solely based on the fact that he was black. After searching Virgil they found over $100 in his wallet. The second event was when the Chief arrested the suspect who stole the dead mans wallet. Since the man had his wallet, Gillespie laid the murder charge on him without further investigation. Through Virgil and the course of the film, Gillespie realizes that there is more to being a police chief than maintaining civil order.
As the plot deepens, the Chief risks his neck several times to maintain a good relationship with Virgil. Through these events I feel that the Chief has overcome his racism, and can become friends with an African American. One event that proves this was when the four hoodlums were about to attack Virgil when Gillespie came to the rescue. The boys called the Chief a nigger-lover, which he just absorbed and didn’t let it get to him. In my opinion, if this same event happened a week earlier before Virgil came into the picture, Gillespie probably would’ve snapped and either arrested the boys or give them a good lashing. Another event that backs this point is when the Chief invites Virgil over to his place. Now normally this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but since Virgil was a Negro, it was a big deal. Through these events, I feel that Chief Gillespie overcame his racist ways.
Through time, Chief Gillespie starts to realize that Virgil is his equal, and he learns that he can have a relationship with a black man as his equal. During the autopsy, Virgil starts to display knowledge of forensic science superior to anyone on the police force. While this is going on, Gillespie realizes that Virgil may have superior knowledge than himself. This is when the chief starts to view Mr. Tibbs as his equal. Later on in the film, the chief allows Virgil to remain in his office while the pregnant girl was telling Gillespie how Sam Carr supposedly impregnated her.

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Through these events, especially the conflict in the chief’s office, Gillespie shows that he trusts Virgil, and looks to him as his equal.
Throughout the film we see Gillespie being racist. I think that he did this out of ignorance to the Negro community, not out of hatred for them. But with Virgil’s help, Gillespie turns around his act and becomes a better man. I believe that this film was a great leap for the producer, but because it was made so well, it turned heads and won several Oscar Awards. I think that this film was also a great choice for this class because it took us in a time machine back to the 1960’s when racial tensions were high.
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