“Would you be willing, for one chance, just one chance, to tell our enemies that they may take our lives. But they’ll never take….our freedom!”
These words were exalted by William Wallace (portrayed by Mel Gibson) to inspire his fellow Scotsmen at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in the classic movie Braveheart, which celebrates its twenty year anniversary today, Sunday May 24th. The movie, also directed and produced by Gibson, tells the tale of one of Scotland’s greatest heroes, William Wallace, and how he inspired the country to fight for, and eventually win, their freedom and independence from England in the late 1200’s/early 1300’s.
“Braveheart” is one of those movies that people can watch over and over again. Not just for the action, but for the images of inspiration and the passion audiences felt as they were captivated by the story of one man’s quest to unite his country and gain their freedom. Wallace, living quietly in a Scottish village under British rule, was drawn into a violent battle against the latter when his wife was mercilessly executed by the British lord ruling over his Scottish village. That single action in the movie gave birth to vengeance in the form of Wallace, who proceeded to exact his revenge against all of England, becoming a man who inspired and united many of the clans scattered across the county.
A man who became a leader.
A man who inspired. A deeply religious man, one who was well educated and of great faith. A man who made others believe when there wasn’t much to believe in. A man who united the oppressed under a single banner and for a single cause. A man who created a movement against tyranny and oppression, a movement that fought for freedom and basic civil, and human, rights. One who made others believe in right to be free.
"I want a home and children. But it's all for nothing if you don't have freedom."
Wallace beseeched Robert the Bruce to unite the clans, displaying his devotion to the country and the clan hierarchy. He knew what the country needed and he fought vigorously and tirelessly for it. These are the same qualities possessed by many great men in history; but, more importantly, these are qualities possessed by many great men in history who fought for human and civil rights, and “Braveheart” proved that the fight for freedom can be absent of color.
Most great men have a higher calling. Some of them are destined to become leaders of those in need of inspiration. To become a symbol, a tangible entity that unites groups in a common cause; in this case, the pursuit of freedom and civil rights. By becoming this symbol, Wallace should be thought of in the same vein as other great civil rights leaders.
"Men don't follow titles. They follow courage." - William Wallace
Mahatma Gandhi fought for India’s independence from the British (like Wallace) by employing non-violent civil disobedience. He was highly educated, using religion and practices such as fasting as ways to fight against oppression. He led campaigns against poverty, expanding rights for women and building religious and ethnic amity. Through his leadership and actions, India won their independence in August of 1947; although it led to the British to split India into a Hindu dominated India and a Muslim majority Pakistan, his quest for civil rights succeeded. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30th, 1948, but his fight for human rights survived after his death, and it continued in the United States in the form of the Civil Rights Movement, led by great men such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Dr. King adopted the practice of non-violent protest as he organized marches and rallies across the South in pursuit of civil rights for Black America. Malcolm X also fought for civil rights for Black America, but used Islam and the “by any means necessary” mantra to help Black Americans. Though the beliefs, practices and results of these two great men have constantly been compared and debated, there is no question as to the impact of their leadership and legacies, both of which continue to hold significance 50 years after their assassinations, Malcolm X on February 21st, 1965 and Dr. Martin Luther King three years later on April 4th, 1968. Both great men, highly educated, deeply religious, highly inspirational and ultimately assassinated for their pursuit of freedom and civil rights for a group suffering in their country under oppression by the majority.
During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, there was a powerful sound emanating from the tiny island of Jamaica, a sound that would connect, impact and influence globally. A sound created by the legendary Bob Marley, and that sound cried for the same things as the speeches and actions of Wallace, Gandhi, Martin and Malcom- human and civil rights. Marley’s music was for the people. They were songs meant to bring attention to the problems of the poor and to inspire action against oppression. They were “these songs of freedom” as he recited in “Redemption Song.”
The lyrics to this song was all about freedom and how nothing can take your freedom away if your mind is strong and you fight for your rights. It’s a perfect theme song for all of these great leaders.
Marley needs to be mentioned among the names of the great proponents of civil rights, as he sang about it and fought for it. In 1978, when Marley returned to Jamaica for the “One Love Peace Concert”, he helped bring peace and unity to the island by bringing Michael Manley (leader of the People’s National Party) and Edward Seaga (leader of the rival Jamaican Labour Party) together on stage. It was a major moment in Jamaican history, demonstrating Marley’s influence as both a freedom fighter and a peace maker. Although Marley eventually died of cancer on May 11th, 1981, his life almost ended five years earlier in an assassination attempt before a concert in Jamaica. An attempt to silence the voice of freedom, similar to the lives of Gandhi, Malcolm and Dr. King; although it failed in Marley’s case, as it did in Wallace’s case when he trapped the British soldiers laying in ambush in the barn and burned them alive, it appears that threats on the lives of those fighting for civil rights is a constant factor that these leaders assume as the pursue their goals. In addition, Marley was a deeply religious and spiritual man, a follower of the Rastafarian religion, and his weapon of choice was not the Claymore sword of Wallace, but the arousing lyrics, legendary sound and inspired performance of his music.
Although William Wallace existed centuries before the other aforementioned men, when you watch "Braveheart" you can see similarities between Wallace and these men. Their belief in religion, their rallying of the common people, their unifying presence and efforts. Their inspirational speeches, high level of intellect and their ability to understand their adversaries. Their powerful weapons of choice and their undying belief in their missions. The assassination attempts and the impact of their message through the continued fight after their deaths. Not by any coincidence, as they are all great men, they all have had their lives told on the silver screen.
They fought for civil rights through violence and non-violence. They fought using weapons such as protests, rallies, speeches, music and the sword. They took the poor and disenfranchised and gave them belief and purpose. They had loyal followers who supported them in life and death. Wallace had Hamish, Campbell and Stephen, the wild man from Ireland who gave us memorable moments and lines, including one after saving Wallace from an assassin (comic book fans, you'll notice Stephen, played by David O'Hara, had a role in the hit show "Gotham" as Alfred's friend from his military days).
“Braveheart” is an incredible movie, a must have for every movie collection. It’s a lesson in classical history, but it’s also a lesson in modern day history, one that holds significance in today’s current events. Through the happenings in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore, we see that the fight for civil rights is no where near complete. We see new leaders emerge in the fight for human and civil rights, ones that wield technology as their weapon of choice and who use “Black Live Matter” as their rallying cry. We also see that the fight has evolved to include all colors and ethnicities, echoing a message evident both in the movie and in the history of William Wallace- that the fight for human rights is color blind.
So as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Braveheart”, we should recognize it as more than just an amazing movie; we should consider it as an example of a movement that still continues today.
The civil rights movement.
The movement for freedom.