In the movie A Time to Kill, based on John Grisham's novel, there are several ways in which racism has changed in the South, though there is still racial discrimination, and anger and violence fueled by bigotry.
Change has come about with the passage of time, which has been the case since the abolitionists in America began to fight for the freedom of the black race from slavery. Time brought about a strong abolitionist presence that not only struggled politically for the end to slavery, but also provided help (via the Underground Railroad) for runaway slaves to find their way out of the South, even as far north as Canada. The Civil War proclaimed the dedication of both sides to address the question of slavery.
If we look at the film To Kill a Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee's novel, we can measure more change over time. It is the story of Atticus Finch's fight for the rights of Tom Robinson, a free black man—still shackled by the prejudices strongly rooted in the South, which continued to smart from its defeat in the Civil War. Some members of the community still clearly remembered and resented how the once-grand and powerful South had been decimated during the War of the States. At this point in time, Atticus was very much alone in his fight to prove Tom Robinson's guilt. Among his professional peers, he did not receive a great deal of overt support, though members of the community (such as Miss Maudie) believed that what he is doing is the right thing.
On the other hand, one important difference we find in A Time to Kill is that Jake Brigance has strong support in his battle to prove Carl Lee Hailey innocent by reason of temporary insanity—with people like Harry Rex Vonner and Lucien Wilbanks (lawyers of weakened credibility, but men of intelligence with a willingness to help). An intern from the ACLU, Ellen Roark, also offers her assistance.
The other primary difference, and the most pivotal and startling, is the knowledge (by the story's end) that the country (and minds of the people) have advanced enough over time to be able to see Carl's reaction as a human one—one any father, regardless of color, would have had—rather than a racial crime. During the defense's closing statement...
Brigance tells the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. He describes...the rape of a young 10-year-old girl...
This brings to mind Tonya Hailey's rape. Brigance then tells the jury:
[I]magine she's white.
Exchangeing the mental image of Tonya Hailey for a little white girl—one of "their own"—stuns not only the jury, but also the spectators and court officials. In essence, Brigance proves to the jury that...
...the actions of Hailey would not have been called to question before the court of law had the victim been white. Had it been so, it is implied that the father's motive in murdering the rapists would have been seen by the public as justified, and there would not have been any prosecution.
Jake takes away the issue of color by describing the terrible things that happened on the day that two white men attacked, raped and tried to kill a ten-year old black child. Then he places a white child in Tonya's place in their mind's, demanding that they imagine how they would feel in these circumstances—if killing the men would be justifiable for a white father, it would also be justifiable for a black father.
This shows that whites and blacks can be seen as equals—that some things have changed in the South.