Every Saint Has a Past... and Every Sinner Has a Future

Every Saint Has a Past… and Every Sinner Has a Future

Saints and sinners. You probably think I’m talking about politicians. (Question: What do you call a good lawyer gone bad?… Answer: Senator) But I’ve heard enough about politicians for a while, haven’t you? What I’m talking about is the movie Flight with Denzel Washington. Run (or fly) to see it. I’ve been looking for the […]

Saints and sinners. You probably think I’m talking about politicians. (Question: What do you call a good lawyer gone bad?… Answer: Senator) But I’ve heard enough about politicians for a while, haven’t you? What I’m talking about is the movie Flight with Denzel Washington. Run (or fly) to see it.

Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Oscar Wilde.
Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Oscar Wilde.

I’ve been looking for the right time to trot out this Oscar Wilde quotation, and this is it. Flight is full of sinners and saints, and Denzel’s character is both–like most of us I suppose–unless you are Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind. She was 100 percent saint. Make me nervous to think about it.

Ashley and Melanie in Gone With the Wind
Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland as Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind, courtesy mptvimages.com, via imbd.com

Denzel’s Captain Whip Whittaker is a bad boy but a good man (just my type), and it finally catches up with him. To read more about the movie and see a trailer, check the Hollywood Reporter here and at the Paramount Studios official movie site here.

Here’s something else the movie made me think about: race.

Denzel Washington as Capt. Whip Whittaker in Flight
Denzel Washington as Capt. Whip Whittaker in Flight
John Goodman as the drug dealer in Flight.
John Goodman as the drug dealer in Flight.

Work with me here. Let’s say the “sinner” is a bigoted or biased popular culture/film business. I’m thinking this metaphorical sinner might be redeeming itself and that it does have a future if this particular piece of our popular culture is any indication. I’m not saying stereotypes or bigotry are dead; I’m saying I do not see a racial bias in this film and I think that is cool. Was it intentional, or did they just cast the best actors for the parts? The hot shot pilot is black. The junkie is white. The nerdy, whip-smart lawyer is black. The wanker, God-fearing co-pilot is white. The hot babe flight attendant is black. The (hilarious) dealer (John Goodman) is white.

In a film with clearly black and white actors, about the only thing black and white about their characters is the color of their skin. The legal, moral and ethical issues are much less clear. Dramatic conflict and emotional tension combined with good writing, acting, and directing, are what make it a great movie. That, and one hell of a plane crash.

Ultimately it’s a movie about redemption–for Whip and, collaterally perhaps, for an aspect of our metaphorical sinner-culture. Whatever your politics, Flight is a positive sign that a society which had no trouble electing a black president* is possibly cultivating a popular culture that is not color blind but color neutral.

Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind

From Gone With the Wind to Flight is quite a leap. Lord knows we have a long way to go, but look how far we’ve come.

Amen.

*That’s not an endorsement, by the way; this is a non-partisan blog.

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