In the movie, Forrest Gump,how does the film’s vision of African American civil rights compare to King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Forrest Gump traces the trials and successes of an unlikely proponent of the American dream and the vision of a more accepting and co-operative community. As a boy, the young Forrest, developmentally-challenged, must suffer the injustice of discrimination. He is different from his peers and thus excluded and snubbed; only Jenny offers him a seat next to her on the bus. 

Just as all of Forrest's achievements are not to be underestimated, so too Martin Luther King Jr in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The subtlety of what these men achieved through their action or non-action; especially King's genuine, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, response to his critics and, of course, bearing in mind that Forrest Gump's achievements are representative of potential as he is merely a fictional character; makes their success even more effective. Both men are consistent and their actions are for the good of others, never themselves. Both the movie and King himself reveal how we have complicated basic elements of human decency and turned them into social and political "problems." Forrest Gump is a seemingly unremarkable person who is able to rise above his challenges and therefore motivate and inspire others, presenting viewers with a remarkable message; he reinforces what King always said about being "patient and reasonable." There is no pretentiousness about the film', there is no pontificating and, even though Forrest is often in the right time at the right moment, opportunity is what it is. The film is, like King's Letter, something to keep returning to and, from which, a person can learn some new aspect of himself every time. The irony of Forrest Gump must not be ignored as he went from being the object of scorn to someone to emulate. Just as Forrest does not allow his challenges to stop him from aspiring to something great so too King who did not allow imprisonment to stop his call for justice and the fight against "unjust" laws. 

People often claim that they cannot make a difference, that their contribution is so small as to render it insignificant. It is fortunate that Martin Luther King Jr did not think the same way.