It makes perfect sense for issues of race and class to arise when analyzing American films because of this country's historically fierce struggle with race and class hierarchy.
Race and class theory is often applied to analyze films that deal with racial or socioeconomic issues.
The White Savior theory can be used to quickly identify a subtly racist or classist film (e.g., The Help, The Blind Side, Wildcats, Dangerous minds, etc.).
These films depict a White person who arrives on the scene to essentially save a minority person or group from some sort of demise, which would otherwise be an impossible feat without their assistance.
Race and class discrimination within film can also be identified by the instances when middle or working class characters are overshadowed in the storyline by the affluent characters who are ultimately depicted as White and superior.
I think the film John Q illustrates this theory via addressing the constant dismissal of abject poverty in the US; these destitute conditions are created and embedded in our capitalist society.
Log line for John Q: A desperate dad takes a hospital ER hostage to secure a heart transplant for his uninsured son.
This Black male factory worker raging against the medical industry and the criminal justice system to help his son drew sympathy from me; his dilemma itself certainly tugged at my heart strings; however, I find it hard to definitively call him a hero in the end.
Locking down an emergency room, holding sick and injured people hostage, or resorting to threats is not admirable despite the cause for dissension (i.e., winning without dignity or grace is not winning).
I think the interplay between race and class is evident when analyzing John Q's character.
On face value, he appeared manipulative yet benevolent and likable underneath his mask, which seems to be a cultural theme synonymous with Black men (e.g., mostly benign but forced by society to go berserk and potentially turn criminal to support their families).
This seemed designed to compel the audience to applaud John Q's seemingly justifiable actions (i.e., illustrating that all the blame should be placed on HMO for their unscrupulous policies that perpetuated covert and overt discrimination against his family and left him with no other recourse).
However, there were alternatives John Q could have considered to get the results he wanted (i.e., less hasty & less haphazard approaches) such as, organizing community members with similar health care issues and planning a protest outside the hospital, which should have garnished enough press coverage for his cause to facilitate a public relations disaster and force the hospital's administration to the point of compliance in order to save face.
Alternatively, he decided to go on a careless crime spree (e.g., chaining doors together, turning emergency medical technicians away, kidnapping doctors, holding patients hostage, etc.).
Later in the film, John Q completely disregarded what the police negotiator told him about his dilemma:
" You think these people give a sh*t about you? They don't. You're just the cause of the moment. Nobody cares. That's the real truth. Nobody cares. Only you. And it's only you and me out here and all these guns pointed at you. What do you want to do? It's your call."
Watch This Sad Scene Play Out Below:
No one really "cared" if his son would receive the care he needed to survive; the crowd was mostly instigating and spectating rather than producing options to achieve his goal.
In regards to the media, he was just another breaking news story to help them gain higher ratings.
John Q personally asked the main reporter on scene to air his story weeks prior to him holding up in the hospital but the reporter did not "care" until the story was of benefit to him in some way.
Later, the reporter could use his images to directly fuel the stereotype of the "angry black man" and make the story more sensational.
Despite his attempt to achieve social justice, John Q would translate as merely a dangerous man with a pointless cause because no one expected his son to receive the heart transplant.
Nevertheless, for catharsis purposes within the film, the White Savior theory seemed to be applied via John Q's antagonist, Rebecca Payne.
This White female hospital administrator was the only person that could potentially change the outcome for John Q's son by signing a measly form (i.e. putting his name on the organ donors list), which she did reluctantly sign toward the end of the film.
While eavesdropping on a heart-wrenching, telephone-tapped conversation between John Q and his son, Payne finally appeared to experience the same palpable sense of grief surrounding this family, which she too was responsible for inflicted upon them.
Whether it was her guilt or personal ethics, she did concede to putting the child's name onto the donor list.
A match suddenly became available and the heart even arrived on time to operate, which seemed a bit far-fetched; however, a fair amount of reality must be suspended to watch this film anyway.
In a convoluted nutshell, John Q fought for his child's future while administration tried to block him, the law enforcement plotted to kill him, community members engaged in aimless group think around him, and desensitized TV viewers idly watched while a little Black life hung in the imbalance of resource distribution.
Even though Payne appeared to have saved the day for John Q's family, it was only in terms of their immediate health need (i.e., a basic human right that should not be denied) and her help was not rendered without a silly waste of temper and time, which illustrated how difficult it is to compel a powerful group to do what they are determined not to.
This also seemed like a major waste of money given that the large group of people assembled outside of the hospital might have damaged property or other protests may have arose elsewhere, which could have costed taxpayers millions of dollars, in addition to the cost of the SWAT team operations.
So, when you consider the intersectionality of it all, Payne semi saved the day but overall John Q was incompetent with his manipulations and ultimately left his family vulnerable despite his best efforts.
His intentions were good but they could have inadvertently caused more problems for his son in the future (e.g., bidirectional influence).
Although he succeeded at his nefarious plot, his fate was to be jailed for his turbulent behavior, leaving his wife behind to solely care for their household and raise their son during imperative stages of his development.
Check out this very thorough and informative post speculating about the length of John Q's prison sentence.
Perhaps the child would not be led astray in the end but it would be more probable to assume that with John Q absent from their family picture in the foreseeable future, his son might be the next charming criminal to join him in living life behind the walls.
Watch the full film, John Q, for free here.