Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More than 'Courageous'

On Sunday I finally got to see the film "Courageous," produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. and released in September. I admit that I found myself rooting for the lead characters, a quartet, three white and one black, of sheriff's deputies in Dougherty County, Ga., which includes Albany; and a Hispanic man who started out as a laborer and, by the end of the film, had worked his way up to management of a textile mill. The film culminates in a shootout between some deputies and street gang members, including a leader, who end up being arrested for drug possession and distribution.

The underlying message of the film is that men need to step up and reclaim their rightful roles as fathers -- which, of course, is a worthy goal. That said, however, I detected a number of weaknesses in how that message was portrayed.

1) There were no grandfathers in the movie; indeed, the only reference to any of the men's own fathers that I recall was Deputy Hayes' biological father, whom he said he never knew or even met. As a result, you never got a sense of what their own dads may have or hadn't taught them, whether actively or passively; you best believe that their own upbringing would have a major impact on who they became. It seems to me that, in pledging more responsible fatherhood, the men in question should consult with some older men, perhaps their own fathers if they're available, to learn how to become not just fathers in particular but men in a general sense. It was good that the men committed themselves to Biblical principles; still, they needed to see them worked out in the lives of other men that they respected.

The larger issue is the lack of true community that's required for children to develop, in times past usually including extended family such as uncles, aunts and grandparents. Since the 1950s our culture has focused on the nuclear family as being the be-all and end-all of what we call "family," and I don't think that the dissolution of our culture, which began then, is a coincidence. The old African proverb still applies: "It takes a village to raise a child." (We Christians don't always realize this because almost all of us are involved in such a community -- the local church.)

2) The legitimate Biblical concept of economic justice was totally glossed over, most noticeably with the one deputy who, it turned out, had been stealing drugs that had been seized as evidence with the intent to sell them and ended up being arrested. I caught that he noted the difficulty of raising a family on an annual gross salary of just $36,000, which is a little less than what I make for a job that's far less demanding and has less prestige. (And I'm single and childless.)

In times past in the African-American community, in large part due to racism, men were often unable to find work that paid enough to feed, clothe and shelter their wives and children; to make ends meet, in many cases the wives had to get jobs, often as domestics. Needless to say, that caused friction in the home and the men, feeling useless, either left or ended up getting kicked out. Situations like that cause children to lose respect for Dad; as a result he can neither teach his sons to become men nor "cover" his daughters so that they don't fall for the charms of the lech up the street.

Bottom line, a man needs work that pays well enough so that not only his family can survive financially but also that he doesn't always have to take second or third jobs that would take him away from them. Indeed, the very concept of "sabbath" represents, really, a guard against workaholism.

At the end of the movie, Hayes asked one young man who had shown interest in his daughter but was caught up in the shootout with the gang why he got involved with it, and he responded, "I don't have anybody, man." Sorry, but that also is a tad simplistic -- drug-dealing has always been a lucrative business and many in some areas see it as the only way to make any money and thus gain status. "Family" has little to do with it.

3) Being that this was the Deep South I was stunned, for reasons I've already mentioned, that racism was completely ignored. Christianity Today reported that Sherwood Baptist Church has thankfully been involved in racial reconciliation efforts in that city and thus has the authority to speak about that but chose not to; however, Albany was one of the first cities after Montgomery, Ala. that Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to integrate during the civil-rights movement. Furthermore, according to that same article, some of those same racist attitudes from back then still exist today. (One of my roommates at Georgia Tech, who was white, came from that city; he told me over 30 years ago that it experienced "white flight.")

4) One scene that jarred me was the promotion of Javier, the Hispanic man, who was asked if he would fudge a shipment -- when he said he wouldn't, he was offered the position because management said was looking for someone with integrity. It's more likely that companies would look for someone who would lie to make more money and believers certainly aren't immune; let's remember that Bernie Ebbers and the late Ken Lay, both CEO's of their respective corporations and who were supposedly devout Christians, were busted for unethical behavior.

5) There was virtually no mention about the men's marriages in "Courageous," a problem because a strong marriage is virtually a must to raise Godly children; I recall the saying: "The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother." The deputy who was caught with the contraband was divorced; another, who had just finished his rookie year on the force, had fathered a child out of wedlock. (In fairness, the same church also produced the movie "Fireproof," which focused on marriage but which I haven't seen.)

Basically, the producers of the film tried to make things as black-and-white -- no pun intended -- as possible. But in the process they isolated fatherhood from issues that surround it and thus, I believe, ultimately sabotaged the message they were trying to convey.

1 comment:

Mark said...

You make very good points, about the elements the movie missed. I don't know if it would have to be a "War and Peace" length script to cover the matrix of complications. The principles may be black and white, the applications rarely are. Grandfathers legacies to their grandchildren is ideally , a well raised son or daughter.My father's work ethic was indominable. From it I learned persistence in ethics is foundational, whether the reward is in this life or not. Perfection is not required, but, selflessness will help you from being bitter. Love your neighbor( In The Village , and Family ) as yourself. See, yourself is in the sentence. But, prefering one another in love, defer self gratification. Forgiveness, and selflessness works when you remember; Jesus bought everyones debt. He , being God can always pay you back. Your neighbor in this life probably will not be able to.Here, We are all Americans; racism divides Us ;when outsiders already hate us. What hurts the Republican hurts the Democrat, What harms the Black harms the White.Look at the other nations globally; do we really want unsafe neighborhoods, or futures for our children.If I live a hundred miles from your town, I am not O.K. if your life is bad. Cain Said " Am I my brothers keeper? " Cain was a murderer... God Bless All Amerca and Save her...Mark David Madden