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Feminist Theory in “A Family Thing” Movie Case Study

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2020

Discrimination and disregard of someones basic rights are one of the central causes for the emergence of significant psychological problems and the gradual deterioration of the quality of life. Under the impact of a prolonged negative effect, a person might acquire undesired behavioral patterns and habits. For this reason, it is critical to eliminate all barriers that prevent individuals from their personal and professional development to guarantee their soundness. In this regard, the feminist perspective on the given problem preserves the high topicality nowadays. The fact is that womens discrimination has always been an ongoing issue. Today, despite on numerous attempts to eliminate manifestations of this social stigma, there are still multiple cases of intolerance and biased attitude. It results in the emergence of psychological problems promoting crucial alterations in females lives.

For this reason, the use of the feminist therapy can be considered an appropriate choice to assess problems peculiar to a particular family and ensure elimination of all undesired behavioral patterns. The given case delves into the movie A Family Thing which presents a conflict triggered by abusive behavior against women and investigates opportunities for the application of the feminist theory to solve existing problematic issues.

A Family Thing

The film revolves around the life of Earl Pilcher who discovers that his biological mother was a Black American maid Willa Mae. She experienced sexual abuse and was raped by Earls father. She died in labor while giving birth to Earl (Hausman & Pearce, 1996). The given discovery alters his life critically as he has another family and a brother named Ray. The movie shows viewers numerous attempts to find a common language with new relatives. The fact is that Ray is not happy to see Earl because of critical differences in their mentalities, problematic issues regarding their mothers death, ethnicities, and lack of understanding (Hausman & Pearce, 1996). Willa Maes sister, Aunt T accepts Ray because she knows about the tragic incident that happened to his mother and insists on his integration in their family (Hausman & Pearce, 1996). Altogether, the move sets a background for the application of the feminist theory and its utilization to improve the atmosphere within a family.


First, it is critical to assess the current state of the family and the existing problems. Feminist family theory considers the mental health of an individual as liberation from biased or stereotypical views on genders, masculinity, and femininity (Brown, 2018). There is a set of factors such as high self-esteem, experience, independence, and ability to resist oppression which constitute a health mentality (Brown, 2018). In such a way, assessing Earl and Rays families, the sexual abuse can be considered a central factor that resulted in the emergence of problems with self-esteem, sophisticated relations within a family, and guilt ((Brown, 2018). Additionally, culture and ethnicity are two other factors playing an important role in the given situation. Earl has lived his life as a white man; however, he discovers that his mother is black. Additionally, she experienced rape and prejudiced attitude from his father. It affects all characters mentioned in the movie as the given dramatic event is always associated with victimization, shame, and problematic relations. The family is in the state of conflict


Regarding the existing situation, there are several interventions that should be suggested as the way to improve relations within the family and eliminate all negative effects of past sexual abuse. First, the group therapy should be utilized. It is an approach used for raising, support, and discussion of problematic issues that are associated with the existing situation (Brown, 2018). Earl, Ray, and Aunt T have different perspectives on the incident with Willa Mae. While two brothers have problems and problematic relations with each other, she loves both as they are her close people. For this reason, group work can help to discuss existing controversies and find common ground to solve existing problems, and avoid the further deterioration of their interaction.

Reframing technique can also be recommended for the given issue. It presupposes a shift from blaming to the consideration of all factors that preconditioned the emergence of a particular case of abuse or discrimination (Brown, 2018). Ray is not ready to forgive Earl as he is sure that their mothers death is his blame. However, he disregards factors that promoted Earls father undesired behavior and created the opportunity for rape. These include discrimination on race and gender. For this reason, it is critical to understand that the accident is to a greater degree preconditioned by social pressures and stereotypes peculiar to the society of that period of time. It will help to improve relations between brothers and restore Willa Maes image.

Finally, relabeling should be used. The family is vulnerable because of the adherence to the stereotypic patterns related to their ethnicities and social statues. In such a way, they label each other. A similar situation can be observed with Willa Mae. Having experienced rape, she became the victim, which also influences all family members and shapes their behaviors. For this reason, it is central to change the evaluation of these events to attain better results and ensure that Earl and Ray are able to communicate and act regardless of the existing stereotypes.


Resting on the suggested interventions, there are several objectives that should be achieved due to the application of the feminist therapy. The short-term goal includes a significant improvement of relations between all family members (Brown, 2018). Specifically, Ray, Earl, and Aunt T should accept the fact of rape and continue their living. Additionally, Ray is expected to stop blaming his brother for their mothers death. At the same time, the existing social environment that resulted in the discriminative behavior should also be understood by family members (Brown, 2018). As for the long-term goals, the central aim is to develop equal relations of support and respect between all family members who are involved in the conflict by liberating them from stereotypes associated with gender and race. It can be achieved by revising traditional roles and demonstrating the need for the further cooperation.


Altogether, the movie A Family Thing provides an example of how disregard of women rights and sexual abuse can result in the significant deterioration of the quality of peoples lives. Earl and Ray suffer from the fact that their mother was raped, and the given idea also introduces numerous dilemmas about the attitude to women, their rights, and vulnerable position in the society. The application of the feminist therapy might help to resolve the given problem by utilizing assessing its current state and suggesting specific practices aimed at the improvement of relations within families and elimination of factors that preconditioned the emergence of problematic situations and gradual deterioration of relations.


Brown, L. (2018). Feminist therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: American Psychological Association.

Hausman, M. (Producer), & Pearce, R. (Director). (1996). A Family Thing. [Motion picture]. United States: United Artists.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Feminist Theory in "A Family Thing" Movie." December 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/feminist-theory-in-a-family-thing-movie/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Feminist Theory in "A Family Thing" Movie'. 15 December.

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