Drug Addiction as Depicted in the Movie “Ray”
I have watched two movies: “Ray” and “Traffic.” I choose to focus on the movie “Ray” for a more realistic portrayal of drug abuse. In this movie, drugs were used as a chief escape of the blind protagonist, Ray Charles Robinson, from the loneliness of being apart from the normal crowd of people who can see. He resorted to drugs to forget his condition and to have a sense of belongingness.
The movie begins in the year 1948 up to 1979 when the state of Georgia made a public apology to Ray Charles for banning him for life from his refusal to perform in a segregated concert. It was a time when racial discrimination was institutionalized, where Negroes (as they were politically called back then) were made to sit at the back of a bus with a “colored” demarcation line, where certain places where “for whites only.”
Such attitudes are not prevalent anymore today. Much has happened since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and America and the world has now learned to accept diversity of people’s colors and culture as part of life. Black people who were called Negroes are now politically termed African-Americans.
Much has also changed in musical tastes since Ray Charles’ time. He introduced what is now known as soul music which was a blend of gospel and R&B in “I’ve Got a Woman,” a song dedicated to his wife Della Bea. It was considered sacrilegious at that time. Nowadays, although soul is still alive, the music scene is full of hip-hop songs with sexually charged lyrics coupled with videos of the same taste. Gospel music is also slowly carving out a significant market niche and not anymore confined to places of worship.
The central character of Ray Charles is the compelling drug addict in the movie. His downward spiral towards drug abuse started in 1948 in a small gig in a seedy Seattle club called The Rocking Chair. The announcer, a midget man called Oberon, offered him marijuana or “weed” to calm Ray’s nerves before an impromptu performance. This is a very believable scene since it was Ray’s first club performance and venture outside of Florida. He was a nervous journeyman and considered a greenhorn. It was within his character to be accepting of anything new and seemingly helpful to the current situation.
Later in the movie he was introduced to heroin by a member of his band, Fathead Newman. Ray tried the drug out of curiosity despite his bandmates’ caution. He found out that it could take him to places he had never been before, a description and justification of most drug addicts. This was a believable portrayal because the movie shows his pitiful isolation from his mates while on the road. They would all go out after a performance while Ray was left to tend to himself alone. His mates would oftentimes shoot themselves up with drugs in a room and prevent Ray from coming in. There was an undertone of a need to belong and be part of a group coupled with the usual sense of adventure to try something new.
Throughout the whole movie, I see Della Bea, Ray Charles’ persevering wife, as an enabler. She exhibits avoidance when she found out about Ray’s addiction to heroin. She could not put up a strong argument with Ray so she compromised when their first child was born by telling Ray not to bring the road to the home she was trying to build for him and their kids. This somehow meant that he must not openly do his drug routine at home so as not to badly influence the kids. This was also Della Bea’s way to keep the peace since Ray is a very strong-willed person to deal with. She also repressed and restrained her own feelings of hurt at first to try to understand Ray’s addiction thus in a way became an enduring spectator of her husband’s addiction hoping that he would come to his senses for the bad habit to pass.
I have seen the movie previously and I see that Ray’s drug abuse could have been unnecessary. He had a loving wife and they were blessed with three kids and affluence that was beyond his dreams. Any ordinary person would have been thankful for the things he had. However, he had his own demons to deal with and probably they were driving him to the edge of sanity and his only escape, a fast one, was the high that heroin brought to his senses. One answer is clear though, drugs never contributed something good to his life.
Ray. Dir. Taylor Hackford. 2004. Videocassette. Universal Pictures, 2006.