The film Berkeley in the Sixties covers several civil liberties and civil rights issues. At the basis of the narrative lies the Free Speech Movement (FSM), which started as a student process at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964. During the sixties, freedom of speech was crucial to many countries, including the United States. The impact of several previous wars led to state governments trying to control the spread of movements that seemingly opposed their views. This paper looks at the portrayal of students fighting for freedom of speech in the movie Berkeley in the Sixties.
Freedom of speech is considered a fundamental right is given to all people living in a democratic society. It refers to one’s ability to express their opinion without fearing censorship. For example, a person can freely discuss politics in a public setting and not expect to be persecuted by the legal system. This civil rights issue’s history started much earlier than the movie’s events, as it refers to one’s inherent ability to talk and share information with others. However, in the 1960s, the problem with restricting free speech was raised on an academic level and recognized by relatively privileged communities – young people with access to higher education.
The environment around the issue can be described from several points of view. First, many of the students involved in the debate against the restriction of free speech viewed the protests as a progressive movement necessary to fight for their rights. They tried to oppose restrictions placed on political discussion and the expression of ideas that did not align with American politics at the time. For instance, the beginning of the FSM was accelerated by the preparation of an anti-communist movie by the “House Un-American Activities Committee” (House Committee on Un-American Committee). On the other hand, the film presents another point of view of American businesses, which viewed the issue as a student riot without a real cause (Berkeley in the Sixties). Officials describe the protest as utopian and unreasonable, and protesters are called instigators. Therefore, one can see that the environment was tense between large organizations and communities of primarily young people.
The issue of free speech is portrayed through videos of the events as they unfolded and interviews with some of the activists involved in the protests. Therefore, it is apparent that the director has a clear goal – to show the protests from the point of view that supports free speech as defined by the students. The discussion follows a clear line from its conception to its resolution. First, the event that spurred the first protest was discussed. Then, significant demonstrations and meetings were shown in the movie and commented on by the activists. Finally, the ending of the protests was portrayed to solidify the success of civil disobedience. However, the director chose to include accounts of protesters as a retrospective of their actions. In these scenes, the participants reflect on their choices and the outcomes of the protests. They talk about how they gave way to a new understanding of anti-war ideology and the growth of protests as a part of society’s influence on governmental activity.
Overall, the director of the film Berkeley in the Sixties constructs a clear and linear narrative that explores the civil rights issues in the United States in the 1960s. Freedom of speech can be considered a topic that ignited a long history of civil disobedience in the academic sphere. The film portrays the events from the protesters’ point of view and represents both historical events and an examination of how they impacted the future of politics.
Berkeley in the Sixties. Directed by Mark Kitchell, California Newsreel, 1990.