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Gentleman's Agreement

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                            GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT

This very entertaining and often funny 1947 movie starring Gregory Peck and John Garfield won three Academy Awards is almost as meaningful today as it was back then. You can stream iron Netflix. The acting approaches perfection. Peck as a somewhat naïve Schuyler Green changes his name to Phil Greenberg when assigned by his magazine editor to secretly go from an upscale WASP to Jewish in order to do a feature article on anti-semitism.

As Phil's assignment proceeds, his Jewish childhood friend (John Garfield) has to give up a job because housing is scarce in post World War II New York and landlords won’t rent to a Jewish family. One wonders if Garfield actually being Jewish in real life doesn't contribute to the excellence of his performance.

When Phil wants to celebrate his honeymoon at a swanky hotel for rich people, the hotel manager refuses to register Phil because he’s Jewish. Also, when schoolmates learn that his son is Jewish, he becomes the target of bullies and Phil’s new wife consoles her stepson telling him their taunts of "dirty Jew" are wrong because he isn't Jewish instead of saying that the epithet is wrong in and of itself. Phil recognizes that as anti-semitism within his own family. She too, is part of the gentleman's agreement which might be defined as “an unspoken and sometimes unconscious contract entered into by people who agree to silently behave as if they belong to a social class that is superior to other groups”. Another example of it is that though the wife is upset when a party guest tells a bigoted joke, she has no answer when asked why she remained silent, thereby condoning the prejudice.

At the magazine, Phil is assigned a secretary who reveals that she is Jewish. She’d had to change her name in order to get the job. Her application under her real, Jewish-sounding, name had been rejected. After the magazine adopted hiring policies that were open to Jews, the secretary had reservations about the new policy, fearing that “loud mouthed Jews" will be hired and ruin things for the few Jews working there.

So it turns out that in spite of American tradition and America’s constitutional requirement that all people are created equal and are to be treated as such, even Jews can enter into the gentleman's agreement and be anti-semitic. Seems like the founding fathers brought social class attitudes over with them from Europe and that the Constitution was a gentleman's agreement that didn't include their slaves.

Perhaps it was because the prejudice against African-Americans was open and not part of the silent agreement that the slaves were freed after the Civil War and also that African-Americans eventually gained their civil rights in the demonstrations of the 1960’s. Unfortunately they then became part of the gentleman's agreement though Jewish people benefited after that in anti-semitism becoming even more covert. Just as Jews owe African Americans a degree of gratitude for that, the African-Americans can thank the Hispanics and Muslims for taking on the burden of our society’s current need for an underclass scapegoat. The brilliance of the script is it it speaks so very clearly to the point that the gentleman’s agreement can only be destroyed by those of us, including myself, who condone it by not speaking out against it when they observe it.