Friday, October 8, 2010

Race and Respect in Escape from Alcatraz

As we follow Frank through his discourses and relationships, we see that
interactions the character English always foreground the race issue. In
the library scene, English says he was charged with murder instead of
self-defense because “the dudes were white – just like you [Frank].”
Frank later sits atop English’s and many other Black prisoners’
territory, and declares that he "hates niggers." Clearly there is some
degree of tension. Perhaps because each is so boldly forward, their
relationship soon develops into a silent mutual respect. It starts when
English challenges Frank to a two-person psychological king-of-the-hill
by repeatedly calling him “boy”, an interesting role reversal. Dauntless
Frank calls English “boy” in response, asserting his status relative to
English’s as no less than equal.

We later see a large group of Black people sitting confidently on the stone steps. They seem to own territory. English is at the top of the steps; he plays king of the hill with everyone, it would seem, and he wins among all the Black people. Irreverent Frank walks right through the middle of them. He eventually decides to sit with English, at the same level (he could have hovered above English), and only after being
notified that would be acceptable. So we see respect both ways. Also note how easily White Frank has risen past the vast ranks of Black prisoners. He probably doesn’t see himself as another king among them, though; disdainful Frank only plays that game with English. In his final scene we find (through no cues other than beautiful acting) that “boy” has developed into a sort of nostalgic, personal handshake.

Actually, I might say English is the only person Frank respects out of anyone: he was nice to Doc but perhaps out of pity, and something similar for Litmus; he was leader among the conspirators and would just as easily have left any of them behind. I might also infer that, while he only specifies the group “niggers” as one he hates, he dislikes everyone equally, indiscriminate of such matters as race.


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