The Theme of Race and Oppression in City Freedom and Schindler’s List

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In the three films, Cry Freedom, Mississippi Burning, and Schindler’s List, an overall theme of race is portrayed through a struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor. This struggle is a similarity between the films, as each film efforts to bring to light a story of racism and the actions of people in their attempts to overcome it. The films have their differences, though, as each film focuses on a different time period and targets racism. Cry Freedom takes place during the Apartheid in South Africa, Mississippi Burning focuses on segregation in the 1960s Mississippi, and Schindler’s List occurs during the Holocaust in occupied Europe.

The struggles the films portray are further differenced in how the struggles themselves are portrayed. For example, in Schindler’s List, part of this portrayal takes the form of the protagonist, Schindler, against the antagonist, Göth, whereas in Mississippi Burning, the law and society itself are the oppressors, and the African American people are oppressed. Despite these differences, the oppressed and oppressors have similarities between the films as well. For example, Oskar Schindler and Donald Woods both have enough compassion to help the oppressed despite their being a member of the oppressor society. As shown, the three films share both similarities and differences, specifically between the portrayal of the oppressed and oppressors.

The oppressed in the three films share differences and similarities. In Cry Freedom, the oppressed are the black natives who are lawfully restricted to their ethnic village. In Mississippi Burning, the oppressed are the African Americans whose rights are limited because of their ethnicity. These two films share a similarity in that the oppressed are those of African ethnicity, and they are oppressed because the law and society hold them down. While it is a stretch to connect this with Schindler’s List’s subjugated Jews, it is similar in that it is always the law that holds the oppressed down, for without the support of the law, the oppressors would not be allowed to oppress.

The oppressed hold differences between the films, though, in that Jews are not black, and African Americans are not African by birth, only by ethnicity. The black and white differences are obvious, though; the real differences are the way the oppressed fight back. In Cry Freedom, the blacks actually struggled to fight back. They were not going to accept the place their government gave to them. While those who followed Biko’s example used non-violence, those under the likes of Mandela did. The African Americans in Mississippi Burning did little to attempt to fight back; they just sat there, accepted their “place,” and took the beating; they did not even want to help the FBI investigators for fear that the KKK would hurt them. Of course, the same African Americans did fight for their rights during this time period, just not during the film’s setting, as the film was set early in the 1960s.

In Schindler’s List, the Jews attempted to fight back, but it was fruitless and often left them in a worse position. The oppressors were far too powerful and far too violent. Any attempt to fight the system frequently resulted in not only the death of the perpetrator but also a number of innocent fellow prisoners. Even a simple suggestion, like the Jewish architect who realized the design of the bunkhouses was unsafe, got killed for voicing her opinion. As we can see, the oppressed share differences and similarities.

The oppressors also share differences and similarities. In Cry Freedom, the oppressors are the government and the whites who run it. In Mississippi Burning, they are the members of the white society and the local authority. Again, this is a similarity between the films, as the oppressors both are racist towards blacks who are oppressed. In Schindler’s List, the oppressors are the Nazis. Also, again, the common thread is the law that allows the oppressors to oppress. The difference between the oppressors, though, is the level of violence and hatred for the oppressed.

The Nazis were obviously the most violent, fanatical, and racist, and the white government in Cry Freedom was the most accepting of the black natives. After being exposed to their hardships, people like Donald Woods more than wanted to help the natives gain rights. The Nazis and the white society in Mississippi Burning are similar in that they both hate the oppressed with a passion; the KKK even takes after the Nazis. Yet even they are different in that the Nazis were brutal in their systematic genocide of the Jews, whereas the KKK was restrained from mass killing. It is not very easy to compare oppressors to Nazis, as the Nazis are the quintessential example of evil in history and easily take the number one place as the most oppressing group in history.

The oppressors in Cry Freedom and Mississippi Burning don’t even come close to the Nazis. They are still similar in some respects, though, as mentioned. The fundamental core details of oppressors are common in the extreme Nazis, Dixie, and the South African government. The three films show the struggle between the oppressed and oppressor in order to convey a theme of race to the viewer; to show the similarities between all oppressed, no matter their race or background. All oppression and racism are evil.

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The theme of Race and Oppression in City Freedom and Schindler's List. (2023, Mar 06). Retrieved May 24, 2024 , from

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