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African-American Studies in the Movie “Defiant Ones” Report


The interracial bonding that takes place in the film testifies to the cultural and social discourses encountered by the two males. It challenges notions of race because these two individuals eventually surpass their biases in order to achieve a common goal. More importantly, the bonding between the two individuals renegotiates the role of the white male as an oppressor, and makes him appear as much a victim as the black male.


The two protagonists in the middle of the film started as fierce rivals who judged and hated each other because of race. Furthermore, both inmates committed varied crimes that attest to their divergent experiences and former lives. However, as the film progresses, one realizes that these differences are only on the surface; the two convicts are more similar than they would like to admit.

They share the same aspirations and experiences as victims of oppression. It is through the difficulty of their circumstances (fleeing from an angry mob, fighting the forces of nature and escaping the treacheries of a lonely widow) that a member of the audience can realize these two individuals are like brothers.

The film demonstrates that in life and death situations, two people can surpass their racial prejudices in order to survive. In the middle of the movie, Joker and Poitier had no choice but to cooperate with one another because they were chained together.

Towards the end of the movie, they did not have to because they had unchained themselves; nonetheless, they still chose to do so because they had developed a bond.

This is evident when the lonely widow reveals that she has led Poitier to a dangerous swamp where he will not survive. Jackson runs off to the swamp to warn Poitier about it, yet he did not have to. The end of the movie also testifies to this bond because Poitier jumps from the train to help his friend.

This movie also challenges the notion of the male oppressor through the text of the narration as well as through its symbolism. Both men are chained together, and these chains represent the level of oppression that they are subjected to at the time. The movie wanted to illustrate that white males can be disenfranchised, as well. In this case, the audience is supposed to notice that just like the black male, Jackson is a victim of the social order.

The sheriff and other law enforcers now represent the new face of the oppressor while Joker and Poitier are the new faces of the oppressed. The film seeks to challenge historical understandings of what society perceives as a dominating group. While this approach serves to articulate the perspective of the white male, it undermines the importance of race in the African American male’s life.

Therefore, the redefinition of white masculinity comes at the experience of the black man’s role as a victim. One should note that this movie was released at the onset of the civil rights movement. Segregation as well as discrimination against blacks was rife.

Images that placed African Americans alongside other races in a manner that disempowers the other group would neutralize black struggles. Consequently, the movie was a victory for humanity and brotherhood but a loss for the African American liberation struggle.


Poitier and Jackson overcame racial barriers in order to survive; they perpetuated the new masculinity agenda. On the other hand, the portrayal of a white man as a victim lessened the African American male’s roles as one.

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Namor. (2019, June 27). African-American Studies in the Movie "Defiant Ones" [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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Namor. "African-American Studies in the Movie "Defiant Ones"." IvyPanda, 27 June 2019,

1. Namor. "African-American Studies in the Movie "Defiant Ones"." IvyPanda (blog), June 27, 2019.


Namor. "African-American Studies in the Movie "Defiant Ones"." IvyPanda (blog), June 27, 2019.


Namor. 2019. "African-American Studies in the Movie "Defiant Ones"." IvyPanda (blog), June 27, 2019.


Namor. (2019) 'African-American Studies in the Movie "Defiant Ones"'. IvyPanda, 27 June.

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