The 2017-2018 TAP International Essay Contest
The 2017 Essay Contest is now closed. Watch this space for the winning entries!
Middle School Question (grades 5-8):
Imagine that you are responsible for putting together a media package of five (5) items that are representative of your country's youth culture for someone who knows little or nothing about your country.
Write an essay telling us which five items you would select and why they are worth sharing. These items can be in any form of media, such as songs, websites, magazines, TV shows, or movies. After your audience views your media package of the five items, what impression do you think they will have about youth culture in your country? What biases or stereotypes could you dispel with your media package? Please be sure that your essay answers all of these questions.
Entries must not exceed 750 words, must be typed, must be clearly organized, and must answer all parts of the question.
High School Question (grades 9-12):
Popular media from magazines to movies to television offer images, stories, and information that influence our prejudices and the way we think about social issues.
Write an essay telling us about a topic in the media that made you realize a prejudice of your own. How would you seek truthful information to better understand the subject matter? Why did you feel you should learn more? Now that you have a better understanding of your own bias and more knowledge of the issue, how have you changed your behavior? Be sure to include all of your thoughts and the answers to these questions.
Entries must not exceed 1,000 words, must be typed, must be clearly organized, and must answer all parts of the question.
Criteria: For contact purposes only, all students must include their name, home address, contact phone number, school name, school location, and grade. Also include an e-mail address, if available.*
- Entries will become the property of TAP.
- Essays may be submitted in Word or text format or scanned in as PDF files. Please include your name in the filename (e.g., "Jane Doe--TAP.doc").
- Entries should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org (middle school) or email@example.com (high school) by December 15, 2017, and must be accompanied by this Contest Entry Form.
- Please indicate in the subject line "Middle school essay contest" or "High school essay contest."
- If Internet access is not available, entries must be postmarked by December 15 and mailed to:
Teachers Against Prejudice
381 Long Hill Road
Wallingford, CT 06492
Prizes: First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded in each age group:
(Prizes of comparable value will be awarded for those who reside outside of the United States.)
Based on previous results, we anticipate a good response and want to make sure that your students are included in this timely, relevant discussion.
TAP reserves the right to copy and modify any entry for reproduction. Entries will become the property of TAP.
Akeelah and the Bee (2005) - Third grade through Middle School
Reading. . .Writing. . .Arithmetic. . . That's what most of us, wherever we are from, were brought up on. Oh yes, spelling was also deemed important. Not everyone is good at all these skills, but we are all talented in something, no matter who we are or where we come from. And yet, not everyone has the opportunity to shine, to hone their skills, to demonstrate their abilities. Why not? Often, it's because we have no one who believes in us; rather, due to race, ethnicity or socioeconomics, we are relegated to being underachievers—not achieving NOT because we don't have the ability, but because we are alone in our quest.
Akeelah and the Bee addresses these challenges head-on. Some might call this a "feel-good" movie. I say, right on! I went to see this film with one of TAP's advisory board members, Virginia Stephens. We have seen many movies together; more recently we saw the movie Tsotsi, a film which I have previously reviewed and highly recommended—very intense. Both Virginia and I, upon leaving this movie, felt good! We also both agreed that for young and old alike, there is much one can learn from this film—the role of adults, the determination of young people meeting challenges, facing and dealing with the realities of life, both positive and negative.
In its own way, this film is hard hitting. It talks about disparity both overt and covert; it addresses issues of classism, conscious and subconscious. Ultimately, it is a shining example of what can be achieved when one has the strength, drive, and inner resources to believe in oneself and what is possible. Wouldn't it be better for all of us if the playing field, and expectations, were level for all our students? Akeelah did not achieve the impossible—she achieved the possible for each and every one of our young people in their unique way—if given the opportunity.
Amazing Grace (2006, 2007 U.S.) - Middle School, High School, College
Amazing Grace tells the true story of William Wilberforce who was instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire in the early nineteenth century. What made him an abolitionist and what drove him to keep fighting for fifteen-plus years to end the inhuman trafficking of slaves from Africa? As much insight as one gains on an individual's sense of justice and "morality," this film also shines a light into that dank corner of those who owed their livelihoods and power to the slave trade.
This film, which spans the years from 1787 to 1807, is a first of its kind in my experience. Everything from the actors to the story keeps you spellbound and not a little angry and disgusted. Yet, on the other hand, in this day and age where politicians almost all seem to walk in lockstep and where calls of "treason" or being "un-American" or "un- (fill-in-the-blank)" or worse if one disagrees with the established order, we would all be wise to take a lesson from a real human being who could not stand by and let horror and inhumanity prevail but truly "spoke truth to power."
The African slave trade may have ended, in different countries, in different years, but two things are with us to this day: in any and all countries which received slaves or from which slaves were taken, it may have been hundreds of years ago, but we are all dealing with the consequences to this day. Further, the slave trade, now known as "human trafficking," continues to this day with more than 12.3 million people the victims of forced labor, of which 2.4 million are a direct result of human trafficking. Three-quarters of these are women and half are children!
May we take a lesson from Mr. Wilberforce and his compatriots, chief among them Olaudan Equiano: inaction only breeds continued pain and suffering. It is incumbent on each of us to do all that we can to end this barbaric trafficking in human lives and to ensure respect for each of the world's inhabitants. The 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire will be on March 25, 2007. Please visit: www.stopthetraffik.org for more information on how to involve your students and schools.
FYI: If you ever wondered where the song/hymn, "Amazing Grace" came from, see the movie for the answer. I certainly did not know the background of John Newton prior to this film.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002) - High School, College
Cultural and generational differences in an Indian Sikh family living in England emerge when the youngest daughter idolizes English soccer superstar, David Beckham, and wants to play soccer professionally.
Blood Diamond (2006) - College
It took everything for me to stay in my seat during this film and not stand up in my chair and ask everyone, "who here is wearing a diamond and where did it come from?" Of course, had I done that I may well have received the answer, "from a jeweler" but this story will haunt you and probably make you swear off jewels bought and purchased by the blood of countless victims of the diamond trade.
How often do we ask where something comes from? Analogies can be made for everything from the clothes you wear to the lumber from which your furniture is made. Though this is a fictionalized story, and you might just be wondering how the two lead characters, Danny and Solomon, survive all that they do, it is an accurate reflection on life (and death) during the civil war in Sierra Leone during the 1990s.
At the conclusion of this movie, I watched the people around me. One of the theatre goers remarked, "I'm glad this is over." I wasn't sure if she was referring to the film or the chaos she had seen but while it may be over in Sierra Leone, horror, civil war and genocide continue to this day. Besides educating us on the absolute inhumanity of the diamond trade, this film, at least for me, is also a call to action and made me even more committed to helping "Save Darfur." While people might say they didn't know about Sierra Leone, we do know about Darfur. While people might not be massacred or forced to commit atrocities for jewels in Darfur, people are being massacred all the same. And no, I don't own any diamonds.
Boycott (2001) - High School, College
This television movie tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in all its complexity: the difficult decisions in the face of home bombings and imprisonment for the participants, the legal strategies, and evolving leadership. It features well-acted portrayals of Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, and others, with a script reenacting some of their original speeches.
The Boys of Baraka (2005) - Middle School, High School
Yes, this film is rated R. So how can TAP recommend this starting in 6th grade? The reason given for this documentary's rating is due to "language." In my humble opinion, it is not language that our students would be unfamiliar with nor does it in any way glorify what seems to be objectionable to some. As a documentary, the language and content is real—"sanitizing" it would be self-defeating and would put this movie into the fantasy genre as opposed to documentary.
The story opens and ends in Baltimore, Maryland with this opening salvo, "In Baltimore, 61% of African-American boys do not graduate from high school." It is a sobering thought whether this is news to you or not. We get glimpses inside the school environment, at the apathy and hopelessness the students feel and face, and walk inside the homes of five of these young men: Romesh and Richard who are brothers, Devon, Darius, and Montrey—all between the ages of 11 and 13. Early in the film, we meet a representative of the Baraka School in Kenya which was created in 1996 by a private educational foundation. (Interesting note: while the recruiter for the school is a woman of color, almost every educator and social worker at the Baraka School is white with only one exception that I saw. Food for thought. . .)
The film takes us along with the young men as they navigate with varying degrees of success the world of the Baraka School and the ensuing disappointment and consequences for many when the Baraka School is closed due to political and global events, shortly after these students finish the first of what should have been two years there—an achievement which had been celebrated and documented by their climb of Mt. Kenya.
This film will leave you and your students with many questions for contemplation, discussion and potential action. Among them: why do young people have to journey so far from home to have a chance at success? What options do these children/young men have? Why, oh why aren't there, as one of the parents puts it, other programs in Baltimore (or for that matter in most urban areas)? This is a searing look into the reality of life for far too many young boys (and girls) in the U.S. today. NCLB (No Child Left Behind)? Way, way, too many.
Boyz 'n the 'Hood (1991) - High School, College
This film is the most hard-hitting movie I have ever seen. It is most important to point out that this is, in fact, a true story. It is the story of four young men whom we first meet as children and meet again later as teenagers. It is the story of the world in which they live; the trials and tribulations of growing up in a world where equality for all is guaranteed on paper, but not necessarily in reality. It is also the story of love and choices and the fact that real life cannot be forgotten no matter what your dreams.
The Butler (2013) - High School, College
I recommend The Butler especially for the performance by Forest Whitaker as White House butler Cecil Gaines, whose experience serving US presidents from the 1950s to the 1980s is inspired by real-life butler Eugene Allen. Oprah Winfrey is also convincing as the butler's wife. Working at the White House, Gaines gets an inside view of national events throughout the Civil Rights era, from the Little Rock desegregation, through the Kennedy and King assassinations, to US policy on South Africa.
Somewhat less plausible is the fictional part of the movie about Gaines' son Louis (David Oyelowo). After entering Fisk University, he joins the lunch-counter sit-ins, then gets involved in the Freedom Rides, joins the Black Panthers, protests at the South African embassy, and runs for office. His close involvement in all these events is a little unbelievable, but it provides a good survey of Civil Rights history and allows the movie to explore the strained relationship between father and son over their opposite approaches to society's racism (accommodation vs. resistance). In a scene at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Dr. King tells Louis that although he may think his father is "subservient" to whites, he is actually "subversive" by associating with whites and breaking down their prejudice.
While the coverage of events may seem a bit superficial compared with more focused movies such as Mississippi Burning or Selma, Lord, Selma, I found this film interesting in its alternation between activist struggles and government deliberation, the family dynamic, and the butler's perspective.
Coach Carter (2005) - High School, College
Yet another fact-based movie which dispels the notion that not everyone can be successful. Ken Carter, who manages a sporting goods store, is asked to become the basketball coach of his alma mater, where he himself had been a star athlete. Coach Carter finds himself with a group of talented basketball players who have never been challenged academically. In fact, he confronts the school establishment, who, for the most part, don't seem to care if the players get Fs, Ds, or As in class or in fact, if the players even show up for class at all. Coach Carter demands excellence of these student players, on and off the court. Though his ways might strike one as punishing, he wants more for these kids than to be burned out high school players. He believes in them and teaches them to believe in themselves. There have been other movies with a similar theme, yet this story reverberates after it is over; there is much talk of the achievement gap between students of different races and different socioeconomic classes. Ultimately, what this movie shows is an inherent truth: all students can achieve, if teachers go beyond what is asked of them and put themselves on the line. It is a question you will not be able to dodge: How much of you are you willing to give?
The Color of Friendship (2000) - Middle School
Based on a true story, this TV movie shows what happens when Mahree, a white South African girl, goes to live with the family of black US Congressman Ron Dellums, who is a leading opponent of apartheid. After being thrown together by mistake, everyone has to change the assumptions they have made about each other. Mahree and her counterpart, Piper Dellums, gain new perspectives on race, class, and the history of their two countries. Video guide available
Coming Home (1978) - College
This movie examines American attitudes toward returning Vietnam veterans and, by extension, the Vietnam War itself. There are three main characters—Bob, Sally, and Luke. Bob is going to Vietnam while Luke has returned from Vietnam. Sally, who is married to Bob, finds herself drawn to Luke. In examining who he is and whom she belongs with, she is representative of many Americans who found themselves examining their own attitudes toward Vietnam and the people who fought there.
Crash (2005) - High School, College
When first hearing of this film I thought that this movie would be about violence and car crashes—not something I would be interested in. However, on May 7 I heard an interview with one of the producers and realized it would be right up my alley. On Mother's Day, May 8, I went with my son and my partner to see a film that almost defies description.
What is prejudice? What is racism? Are these issues only one race towards another or only one religion towards another? Do we not all have some form of prejudice even within "groups?" There are many films which I have seen that when the movie is over and you leave the theater, the film has struck you so hard and so deep that you can't talk. With Crash, this film strikes you in so many ways that you can't stop talking for hours.
If you are looking for a film that doesn't let up, leaves you holding your breath, challenges assumptions, and most importantly, gives you a window in on many forms of prejudice, I strongly urge and recommend that you see Crash. This should be required viewing for high school students, college students, and everyone older than that. Prejudice comes in all shapes and sizes—none of us are immune. Video guide available
Driving Miss Daisy (1989) - Middle School, High School, College
This film covers a long timespan—from 1947 until the mid-1970s. In this film there are two main characters, Miss Daisy and Hoke. The film shows the evolution and growth in their characters and their relationship, against the backdrop of the prejudice that existed in Georgia throughout this time.
A Family Thing (1996) - High School, College
Two families discover, upon the death of one woman, that they are related. The twist: a white southerner finds out that his newfound brother is black. Both brothers must look deep inside themselves to cope with and confront the unimaginable. Can races exist within the same family and learn to love and respect each other for who they are? Video guide available
Far from Heaven (2002) - College
Very often, when looking back at history, we hear the common saying, "that could never happen here!" It is a false comfort and inaccurate. When examining the history of emancipation and civil rights, Northerners often tell themselves that, while they may feel badly about how African-Americans have been treated in this country, true inequities existed in the South, not in the North. Far From Heaven destroys that comfort zone—it takes place in Hartford, CT from 1957 to 1958. In telling its story, it sets itself firmly against the backdrop of Northern suburbia. Over the course of two hours, a housewife has two relationships to come to terms with: 1) her husband's realization that he is not heterosexual and the impact on her and her family and 2) her budding friendship with her gardener, a self-employed black man. Which do you think is harder for the town to accept? This film will make you uncomfortable but never bore you as it takes you to a time not too far in our collective past and demonstrates that no region of the U.S. was immune to prejudice, overt and covert. Video guide available
Finding Forrester (2000) - High School
An old man with seemingly nothing but time on his hands, living in the past, barely existing in the present. A young man dealing with dreams and reality—his journals his constant companions. These two men, separated by generations, have the power to enrich each other's lives. It all comes down to trust, the power of the written word and the ability to look beyond stereotypes. Video guide available
Finding Nemo (2003) - Elementary School
One little fish and his father experience the joys and fears of trust, faith and letting go. Nemo and his brothers and sisters are eagerly awaited by their parents. Alas, Nemo loses his siblings and his mother in what may appear to be a gruesome, but is in fact an entirely natural, attack. Nemo's father, overly protective of his sole surviving son, doesn't want to let Nemo "spread his fins" as all the other young fish are doing. Of course, as with any "child" Nemo cajoles his dad into giving him a measure of freedom. The result—Nemo ends up lost and in order to find his way home, enlists a cast of "colorful" friends. If you ever wanted to know why sharks are prejudiced against fish and what can be done to break the stereotype where the most unique "anonymous" meeting (in this case "Shark's anonymous") takes place, watch Finding Nemo. You too will learn why "fish are our friends!"
Freedom Writers (2007) - Seventh grade through College
Freedom Writers is difficult to put into words. The idea that writing feelings and experiences down in a diary, on a notepad, is not a new concept but rather hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. The idea of making learning relevant to students is also nothing new, perhaps not practiced as often as we advocate but certainly the idea that students are more motivated when what they learn relates to them is, again, nothing new.
The linkage of using authentic reading (books, articles) and writing (diary, essay) is something many of us have been doing for years.
So, why is this film on TAP's recommended list? Yes, the film takes some liberties with the original story and yes, Hollywood does creep in but what this film does so well is illustrate how and why young people join groups, cliques, and yes, gangs, and does so using the words of the students themselves. It demonstrates that his cycle can be broken but not by waving a magic wand: Presto! Chango! Nor does it happen because students are threatened with consequences such as expulsion. It only comes when teachers reach their students and understand the daily challenges with which they must live. The film also illustrates why young people join gangs. Reading about gang violence in newspapers, watching gangs incorporated into TV programs within the "crime" genre, never truly gets to the heart of the matter. This film provides a window into worlds many educators and students only glimpse. Based on the book, The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, Freedom Writers may appear to be the story of Erin Gruwell, but to me, it is equally if not more the story of Eva, Jamal, Brandy, Andre and all the other students portrayed so hauntingly by the young actors, many of whom are making their screen debuts in this film.
Note: On a related note, but not with the happy ending that Freedom Writers enjoys (all freedom writers graduated from high school and went on to college), the movie which comes to mind is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen, John Singleton's Boyz 'n the 'Hood, also a true story. Difficult to see but was one of the first three movies I ever taught. . .and all these years later, continue to teach.
Gangs of New York (2002) - High School, College
Long ago and far away. . .maybe long ago but not so far away. Martin Scorsese has created a historical masterpiece, 20 years in the making. This film takes a look at the 1800's in New York City, at the relationships and intense prejudices between native-born and foreign-born New Yorkers, and at the inequities between rich and poor. How many of us know about the draft riots, and about the lynchings which took place in the "deep north" of New York City? Unflinching in tone, bloody and realistic, this film not only looks at history but also at the horror that unfolds when unbridled hatred is allowed to flourish.
Gentleman's Agreement (1947) - High School, College
This film depicts the widespread, socially acceptable anti-Semitism that was rampant in the 1940s and which still exists today in many places. The main character is a reporter who is approached about and takes on the assignment of writing about anti-Semitism. The editor tells him the best way to get a true understanding of what it feels like to be Jewish is to pretend to be Jewish. Although reluctant at first, the reporter takes on the assignment and lives the reality for himself.
Good Night and Good Luck (2005) - Middle School, High School, College
This film is based on the lives and work of Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, and others who worked in TV news broadcasting before, during, and after Senator Joseph McCarthy's infamous communist witch hunts. It echoes with parallel applicable today—not only as to what is going on in the world but also effectively questions the role and responsibility of news broadcasters, journalists, and the medium of television. Ultimately, it also examines individual risk and responsibility. How many of us would put our livelihoods on the line for what we know to be right? This is a film which you can actually just listen to and not view. If you were to do so, I wonder if you would think that the years the characters were talking about were the 1950s or this decade? A must see for those who believe that journalism and journalists, be they newspaper, broadcast or Internet based, have responsibilities to investigate and report, not just to give opinions. I can guarantee that this film will provide endless opportunities for discussion and exploration, in and out of the classroom.
The Great Debaters (2007) - High School, College
It is unusual that I recommend a film before I've seen it but there is always an exception to the rule and this is it. The film, The Great Debaters, premieres on December 25, 2007. For those that are so inclined, please make the time to see this film. All too often, films such as these are pulled after a brief run due to lack of interest. I hope that we will all do our parts and drum up interest. Why do I say this? Beyond the fact that it tells the story of an important piece of history that many of us might not know of but should be aware of, it tells the studios to keep making movies that matter—not all special effects and "rock and sock 'em" films.
Whenever I see a movie based on historical facts, I try and find out as much as I can about the real events. When I use these films with students, I have them research reality and compare it to the film as this also points out to the students a director's perspective—what did she/he include or not include, why did they emphasize this particular scene over another, etc. Call it an exercise in critical thinking. As with any two-hour film, I also point out to the students that a story that, in reality, lasted months or years cannot possibly cover everything in such a short period of time. The question is not what the critics think, the question is what those who lived through it think and what they, the viewers, have learned.
The Great Debaters tells the true story of Wiley College, an Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas, and the story of its 1935 debate team. This film and the events depicted here, takes place during Jim Crow—a period in our history given short shrift in our classrooms. Further, it draws your attention, both in the article and the film, to the history, past and present, of HBCs and, to a greater or lesser degree, shines a light on the history of the U.S.
I urge you, give yourselves a gift and see this film.
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) - High School, College
Ghosts of Mississippi is a film based on true events where Myrlie Evers spent 30 years bringing her husband's murderer to justice in a case that is still in the news today. It clearly demonstrates that bigotry and prejudice are not things of the past. Students can examine what it takes to stay involved and committed to social justice over a period of time.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) - High School, College
This film is about the meeting and subsequent fast engagement of a black doctor and a white woman in 1960s California. More importantly, it documents and examines the social attitudes of the times through its characters: a white liberal newspaper editor who has to figure out the definition of the word liberal and a black mailman who never thought this situation would arise in his family. Furthermore, this film delves into other issues such as gender and generation gaps. A goldmine of possible issues for discussion. Video guide available
Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters (1999) - Middle School, High School
Bessie, 101 years old, and her sister Sadie, 103 years old, have seen it all! Pre and post Jim Crow—they've lived it! They were born into a family of 10 children, all of whom went on to graduate from college. Now, towards the end of their lives, they reflect back on everything they have witnessed and how what they have experienced has affected their particular points of view. One outspoken, one more soft-spoken, they have, as they said, "never let prejudice stop them from doing the things that they wanted to do in life." Both the movie and the book are celebrations and reflections on much that is good and much that has not been good, with this country. Watch and learn—a history lesson come alive! Video guide available
Hidden Figures (2016) - Middle School, High School
Three African American women overcome obstacles of racism and sexism to help put the first US astronaut into orbit.
Hollywood on Trial (1976) - High School, College
This documentary examines the Hollywood Blacklist, which banned writers and actors who had any association with the Communist Party. It takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but there are parallels to be found with more recent events. Consider the legal mandates of the USA Patriot Act of the 2000s, or the social mandates of "political correctness." Do you think people could be barred today from certain jobs because of their political views or affiliation? Video guide available
Horton Hears a Who (1970) - pre-K to second grade
From the words of Dr. Seuss comes another recommendation for very young children. Though this film was made in 1970, it is an ageless story with important lessons, such as, "a person is still a person no matter how small." It is an always timely tale of the impact and influence parents (and others) have on children, no matter if you're a human or a kangaroo. Among the other issues it raises are the stereotypes of women being gossips, what happens when "others" move into a neighborhood, and well, if those Wickersham Brothers aren't based on McCarthyism, I don't know what it is! It is a Dr. Seuss project from beginning to end—not only did he write the words of the story he also wrote the lyrics to the songs!
It will make you think twice before you sneeze and blow what you think of as only a dust ball around the room—maybe, just maybe, there's a whole city in there—if only we had the eyes and hearts to see!
Hotel Rwanda (2004) - High School, College
Horror, hope, humanity and inhumanity, man's inhumanity to man—these are the themes on display throughout this two hour odyssey into the reality that was Rwanda during the civil war in 1994. Beyond this, the film examines what happens when people in any part of the world (World War II and the war in the Sudan are two examples) stop seeing each other as human beings and, instead, see each other as "cockroaches"—"things" to be exterminated.
What this film also demonstrates better than any film I have ever seen, is the role of UN "Peacekeepers"; as one of the characters in the film says, "We're here as peacekeepers not peace makers." The film also demonstrates the impact and aftermath of colonialism.
Step into Rwanda—view the homes, families, and the real people whose lives were affected and in many cases wiped out. Think of other films such as Schindler's List. Ask yourselves and your students why the world turned a blind eye (except in the case of France, which did not turn a blind eye, but rather armed the Hutus and were never censored or reprimanded at the UN)? Ask yourselves and your students, Has the world learned nothing from the horrors of war and prejudice? And ask why an individual, in this case Paul Rusesabagina, who could have left the country but did not; why did he help so many when so many others did nothing? What does it take for someone to step in and risk their own life? Why did so many people who were neighbors before this genocide, turn on each other, just as in the former Yugoslavia?
I guarantee that this movie (whose cast and director deserve our respect and e-mails) will affect and haunt you, as well it should. For those of you who would like to read about the Rwandan war, I highly recommend the book, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch.
You will lose sleep, but unlike the Tutsis, you won't lose your life.
I Am Sam (2001) - Middle School
Raising children is no easy feat—sometimes it's hard enough just taking care of ourselves. Many myths exist in societies that send the message that a mentally challenged person is somehow not a whole person. In the frantic world in which we live, if a person cannot keep up, he or she is left behind. I Am Sam examines a world too often ignored or pitied. I Am Sam explores the difficulties faced by the mentally challenged; while some of these difficulties may be unique, others are universal. Ultimately, we are all human; we are all capable of loving, of being loved and of sharing the gift of friendship.
Ice Age (2002) - Elementary School
Does everybody have to be alike to be family? Do they have to look the same? Ice Age tells the story of three unlikely companions of different species, different personalities—and a human baby—who band together and overcome traditional hatreds in order to survive. "That's what you do in a herd. You look out for each other." Video guide available
Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story (1992) - Seventh grade to College
Who is Leonard Peltier and why is this documentary so highly recommended? Leonard Peltier was and is a Sioux political leader and activist who has been imprisoned for many years for the murder of two federal agents. However, this film, entitled Incident at Oglala, referring to the 1975 standoff between Indian activists and FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, is about much, much more than one incident: it is about the myriad of broken promises made to native peoples/first nations' peoples since European settlers first set foot on the North American continent. It is also about the hunger for power and control and, yes, ultimately, an examination of the rights of people, the fairness of the judicial system, and an examination of extradition treaties.
This film, directed by Robert Redford, is a window on a world that many dismiss as passé or "ancient history", yet we are all only temporary travelers in this land. Respecting the rights, knowing the history, and experiencing the pain and pride of those who were here before us is our responsibility.
There are those who think Leonard Peltier guilty and those who think not. Whatever you, your students, and friends conclude, this is a compelling film on a subject which few filmmakers have even attempted to give voice to. From the opening of the film to its conclusion, you will find yourself compelled to think about justice and injustice, for all.
The Incredibles (2004) - Second grade to fifth grade
Flash: Suburbia: A middle-aged man, his supportive wife and their three kids. A "typical, traditional" suburban family, right? Wrong.
Sometimes, when we see an area or a neighborhood where all the houses or apartment buildings look the same, we assume that the families living there are all identical as well. This is not limited to suburbia. In fact, on closer examination, each family is different—each person has different challenges and different abilities. So, what does a family of superheroes have to teach each of us and our students? That, in fact, each of us has our own fears to confront and obstacles to surmount. That, just because we look different, it does not make us better or worse. It also teaches that each of us has unique talents and can contribute to making our world a better place—no matter what others may think. Believe in yourself and honor your uniqueness.
The Killing Floor (1985) - High School
Set in 1917-1919, it is the true story of Chicago's meat-packing plants, the move to unionize, and the race riots of 1919.
The Last King of Scotland (2006) - High School, College
Genocide. . .a powerful word and a crime perpetuated over and over again in various parts of the world. We all know of the Holocaust. Some of us are aware of the Armenian Genocide, we may remember the Rwandan genocide. We should be aware of the current genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Over and over again, history repeats itself. This film focuses on Idi Amin and his reign from 1970-1979 in Uganda. Is this a genocide? You judge. With 300,000 people killed in a nine-year period you may well feel that this "qualifies."
Idi Amin came to power in a coup, promising to bring peace and prosperity to his countrymen. Although the film doesn't adequately explain if his original motivation was in fact that, and then if, along with his own delusions, he subscribed to "absolute power corrupts absolutely" or if he was more along the lines of Hitler, who had other motivations from the get-go, what cannot be denied is the horrors that ordinary people suffered under his dictatorship. Forrest Whittaker delivers an absolutely tour de force performance—losing himself completely in this character. If you view this film I can guarantee you one thing, it will cause you to do research on this period of history, separating fact from fiction. It should also serve as a catalyst for you to ask your students' these one simple questions: how can genocide continue to occur and what can we, as individuals, do about this?
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) - High School, College
A few years ago, director Clint Eastwood set out to make two films: Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Though they are both powerful films and make wonderful companion pieces, (see article on Fostering Student Awareness of Different Perspectives) it is this film which speaks to the futility and waste of war. Filmed almost entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles, this film provides an excellent jumping off point for discussions on today's current situation in Iraq as well as offering a glimpse of a side we rarely hear, the other side and the perspective that what two sides fight for, protecting hearth and home, is often the same.
Longtime Companion (1990) - College
One of the earliest movies to deal with HIV, AIDS, and the dawning awareness of the impact this disease would have on the physical and mental condition of this country. It puts you in touch with individuals and documents their triumphs and tragedies. The film also deals with employment and housing discrimination and asks a universal question: Are all citizens treated equally? Video guide available
The Lorax (1972) - Elementary School
Who doesn't remember the Lorax's famous words: "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees." Though this film, and the accompanying book, is over 30 years old, their message has lost none of its impact. Farmland is being destroyed at an ever-faster pace. Species are dying out and even the idea of an endangered list is "in danger" because of present EPA policies. This film examines not only environmental concerns but also the role of greed and consumerism. In use with elementary school students it is a powerful way to have them "think before they buy," to examine the idea that "money doesn't buy happiness," and to look at our responsibilities towards others whose voices either can't be heard or "fall on deaf ears."
Loving (2017) - High School, College
Tells the history behind the Loving v. Virginia 1967 Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriage. You may have heard of the legal case, but did you know who Richard and Mildred Loving were or what they had to go through under Virginia anti-miscegenation law? Their home was raided, they were dragged from their bed and imprisoned, they were banned from Virginia for 25 years, etc. There are many parallels to the more recent anti-sodomy and anti-gay marriage laws. And immigration laws still keep some married couples apart. As a relative advises Mildred Loving in 1963: "All this talk of civil rights; you need to get you some civil rights." The political was never more personal.
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) - Elementary School, Middle School
What can ballroom dancing teach young people in New York City and beyond? In this documentary, we look at young people from middle schools in NYC neighborhoods as diverse as TriBeCa and Washington Heights, and the effects/life lessons that dancing and commitment can have on middle school students. Ballroom dancing was first introduced into NYC schools by Pierre Dulaine back in 1994. Since that time, over 6,000 young people have taken part in the program, which culminates in a citywide dance contest. But this film goes far beyond dance; we listen to and hear from the kids themselves. They talk not only about what participating in this program means to them, but also about their lives and futures. We also hear from dedicated teachers and principals. One can leave this movie with a number of questions: do the teachers push the kids too hard? What is the motivation of some of the instructors? What are the pros and cons of competition? Not bad questions to ask, and great points for discussion with your own students. But, along with the questions comes one very important life lesson: anybody, anywhere, can learn. Maybe we won't all become experts but we all can achieve things we never thought possible if there is enough motivation, dedication and caring.
Take the Lead (2006) is also based on the life and teaching of Pierre Dulaine.
Maid in Manhattan (2002) - High School
Typical fairy tale? Think again. Yes, the basic plot devices are there—Puerto Rican maid and White Republican Senatorial candidate, meet and gradually fall in love. However, along the way there are some revealing glimpses into fortitude and questions about honesty for both the main characters. Do we have to be content with our surroundings? Do we have the right to want more? Does money buy happiness or does something else? Perhaps the most powerful, albeit brief, minutes of this film come with a generational conflict. Message: you can do anything you put your mind to! Video guide available
Maria Full of Grace (2004) - High School, College
This movie should be mandatory for every high school student, college student, and adult. Very often, when we think of drugs, the "just say no" policy comes to mind. How often do we think of the effects of the drug trade on the people who bring drugs into this country—who they are, why they do it, what their lives are like, how they got involved? This movie will answer all these questions. From the streets of Colombia to the streets of New York, you will explore the lives of those who risk their lives and their souls every single day, in legal and illegal ventures, and the people who exploit them. Some of the answers are obvious—like the drug kingpins—others are less obvious—we all play a role. I guarantee that after seeing this film you will never look at poverty, dignity, or roses, yes, roses, in the same way again.
Mask (1985) - High School, College
In this film based on a true story, Cher plays the mother of Rocky Dennis, a boy with a disfiguring disability. Rocky's warm personality and his mother's tough advocacy help him beat the prejudice he faces on a daily basis.
Miss Evers' Boys (1997) - High School, College
The true story of a government project on the effects of syphilis, which spans several decades, and the difference in treatment afforded whites and blacks. What was the government's rationalization for doing what it did? How did the doctors, nurses and patients cope? Is there any way to understand what happened? What can this film tell us about the institutionalized differences in this country?
Mississippi Burning (1988) - High School, College
Mississippi Burning is about three slain civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. The film focuses on two white FBI agents investigating the murder, and it evokes the climate of terror that pervaded the area. (It is notable that in 2009, the majority-white town of Philadelphia elected its first African American mayor.) Video guide available
Mississippi Masala (1991) - High School
Inter-ethnic conflict erupts when the daughter of Indian immigrants falls in love with an African-American man in the Deep South.
Monsters, Inc. (2001) - Elementary School
If you work with young children who are still afraid of the monster behind the door or under their bed, or if you are still "young at heart", then allow Mike and Sully to show you their world on the other side of the door. You and your students will learn that monsters are not so different from you and me. There are good and bad beings in all races.
This film will provide plenty of opportunity for discussions with students, with topics ranging from prejudice and discrimination, to environmental conservation, to the meaning of that old adage: You've got to be taught to hate and fear, you've got to be carefully taught.Video guide available
Moonlight (2016) - High School, College
A story about growing up black and gay in Miami.
Mulan (1998) - Elementary School
In this Disney movie based on a Chinese legend, a girl impersonates a male soldier and goes to war, breaking gender stereotypes along the way.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) - High School, College
Although this real-life story reflects the ins and outs of a Greek family, the lessons shared here could apply to anyone. Society teaches us what beauty is—the more outwardly beautiful you are, the happier you'll be, the more success you'll have. The other lesson that is drummed into our ears from childhood is "respect your parents" or "your parents know best." This, of course, may be true at the age of ten, but, at a certain age, one hopes to be able to make one's own decisions with minimal parental interference. So what happens when an intelligent woman falls for a man from another culture? This is truly one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking comedies to come along in years. Video guide available
Nanking (2007) - High School, College
In 1937, Japan invaded China. The documentary Nanking graphically details the horror of war and the acts of a few "good" people in establishing a safe zone. 250,000 were saved as a direct result. Coupled with this, though, is the reality that over 200,000 died and countless numbers of women were raped—many of those were ultimately killed. Once again, we have the juxtaposition of war and acts of selflessness. The irony of the fact that the Japanese saved many Jews during World War II yet thought nothing of killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese, cannot be ignored. The film contains interviews with the survivors of Nanking along with interviews of Japanese soldiers—in itself comparisons can be drawn, upon viewing, with interviews of German soldiers in the Third Reich. The foreigners, who established the "safe zone" have all passed on but their words are given weight by the actors who simply, but poignantly, portray them. A must-see film and an excellent companion piece to Sugihara.
North Country (2005) - High School, College
(Directed by Niki Caro, who also directed Whale Rider.)
This film is based on the landmark case, Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines (1984) in which a group of Minnesota female coal miners, unwelcome and unsupported, filed and won the first collective sexual harassment suit in U.S. history. Although it has echoes of Erin Brockovich, and its ending is a little too fast, it does a very good job of examining the prejudice that women in non-traditional jobs were and in some cases, are subjected to. Breaking gender barriers has never been easy in any country—it is a fight for equality which continues to this day. What the film does a great job on is demonstrating that individuals and groups can stand up to the system and fight for equality. It is not an easy battle and it won't always have the outcome one would like but clearly, if nobody stands up nothing will change.
Having your students watch the movie and compare with articles on the actual history of this case is a great exercise in critical thinking and a great entree into learning about a groundbreaking human rights and civil rights case.
Open Season (2006) - First grade to third grade
It might seem like an unusual film to include on this list, but this film, about animals and hunters, works as a good jumping off point for a discussion with little ones on the morals of hunting and the rights of animals. Humans build, expanding into the range of other beings to whom our new houses are homes. Hunters, thinking of the trophies that they can mount in their houses, spare no thought as to the destruction, both of an individual living, breathing being, and the destruction of habitat for the wildlife population, in general. Now, is it realistic that a group of animals can get together and fight this? No. But what it can do is raise awareness in young minds for the diversity of creatures that live in a forest Along the way, it also gives good lessons on the value and meaning of friendship, especially of those who don't seem to look alike or come from the same "backgrounds." (Well, that's just my opinion—and this from someone who travels with Benjamin the Black Bear from Maine and who makes sure her stuffed animals don't argue with each other when she's not looking or push each other out of her crowded bed every evening!)
Pocahontas (1995) - Elementary School
While recognizing that this is a Disney fantasy, not history, it is a good movie to introduce children to concepts of trust, acceptance, and respect in the cross-cultural context of a European encounter with Native Americans. The main theme is the timeless Romeo-and-Juliet love story that brings peace to two feuding tribes, but it also has themes about gender roles, parent-child relationships, and attitudes toward nature. Video guide available
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) - Middle School, High School, College
The true story of how the government policy of separating mixed-race (aborigine and white) children from their mothers affected three young girls in early 20th century Australia who struggle for survival, freedom, and dignity in the Australian outback.
Radio (2003) - Middle School, High School
A young man sees a football game going on. The year is 1968 and the location is South Carolina. If you look at the date and the location you might think shades of Remember the Titans. Although both films revolve around football, and both are based on true stories, that is where the similarities end. This film is not only about our preconceived notions of what it means to be mentally challenged, but also about respect and success. Though the main character, whose name is James but who is known throughout the film as Radio, is African-American, racism plays less of an overt role than it does in Titans but prejudice does exist. What Radio effectively does is point out what it means to learn about another individual and that growth and change can take place in each of us if we are only willing to open our minds.
Real Women Have Curves (2003) - College
It's hard enough being eighteen without having to deal with your parents' plans for your future and the incessant harassment of your mother (she's harassing you). This film, which looks at the life of Ana, a Mexican-American young woman through the lens of cultural norms, has at its core to be true to yourself and to like yourself, the whole package, both inside and outside. A good question that this film asks is what obligations do children, teenage and older, have to their families? What happens when your expectations don't mesh with those of one or both of your parents? On a deeper level, the film examines aspects of sweatshop work, the people who work there, and the huge yawning gap between what workers are paid and the profit made off of hard labor. In 2004 and over the past several years, we have heard a lot about sweatshops in other countries and the corporations doing business overseas such as Nike and Kathy Lee Gifford. The reality is that we often don't look at the U.S. and the hard work of immigrants who contribute so very much and get so little in return. Showing this film is a great way to bring this to the attention of students. It is also a great film to discuss "body image," teasing, and verbal abuse.
Rent (2005) - High School, College
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
For the characters in Rent, you measure it through the trials and tribulations of a group of eight people whose stories and lives are interconnected. In today's world, where divisions abound and it seems that love has flown the coop, the year in the life that we are privy to demonstrates so clearly that life is precious and love has but one definition: commitment and connection. It is not the sole purview of one sexual orientation, of any one race, religion, or socioeconomic class.
For those who think the movie musical is no more, this adaptation of the off-Broadway hit will leave you not with the feeling of what is dead and gone, but a strong reminder of what binds us together and what makes us family. Bring tissues. Download and analyze the song "Seasons of Love" excerpted above and below, with your students. How do they measure a year in the life?
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
Ruby Bridges (1998) - Elementary
This Disney movie tells the story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges, who integrated an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1960. You will be inspired by Ruby's courage and perseverance against the backlash of hate from other parents.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) - Elementary School
In this classic Christmas television special, Rudolph is a victim of bullying by the other reindeer because of his unusual nose. He meets an outcast elf who wants to give up toymaking for dentistry, and they team up with other "misfits" until they can prove that differences really are assets worth celebrating.
Salt of the Earth (1954) - Middle School, High School, College
Last night I watched this incredibly eye-opening film. Made in 1953, during the height of the McCarthy era by producers, writers, and directors, some of the "Hollywood Ten" who had been blacklisted it is the only film which itself was blacklisted. Based on actual events, the film concerns the plight of Mexican-American zinc mine workers who banded together, again, as a result of the prejudice and discrimination to which they were subjected, to form a union and strike for their rights. Beyond this, it is the story of the grit and determination of the miners' wives who played a pivotal role in keeping the strikes going and in doing so, changed the dynamics of their own unequal relationships. Filmed mostly with non-actors, the grittiness of this film will seep into your bones. The reality of what these workers then and others today have to endure to feed their families and provide for them will have you drawing parallels between then and now. This film is included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
The DVD for Salt of the Earth includes a documentary about the Hollywood Ten, a history of the Hollywood Blacklist, congressional testimony of the blacklisted filmmakers, and the history (with photos) of the strike that is the subject of this film.
The Secret Life of Bees (2008) - Middle School, High School
I saw this movie last weekend with a friend. Usually, it is difficult for the two of us to find a movie that we can agree on seeing let alone agree, after we've seen the movie, that it was a find. We agreed on this one. In addition, the movie keeps coming to mind unbidden almost every day since I've seen it.
So what is it about? It takes place in 1964 in South Carolina in the midst of the civil rights movement. A young fourteen year-old girl who has "lost" her mother runs off, along with her caregiver, to try and find the answers to the few clues she has to her mother's life. One of these mementos is a label from a jar of honey. A timely, relevant film, it features the talents, and I mean talents, of Queen Latifah (August Boatwright), Alicia Keyes (June Boatwright), Jennifer Hudson (Rosaleen), and last but in no way least Sophie Okonedo (May Boatwright). Sophie will knock your socks off and pull at your heartstrings but in no way are any of the emotions contrived or phony. These four amazing actresses, with three playing sisters, are the strength and soul of the movie. They along with Dakota Fanning who plays the central character of Lily take you on a tour of the south at a time in the not-too-distant past when segregation was reality. Yes, there are consequences of attempts at integration but ultimately the film shows us that not everything in life is either "black or white" but ultimately comes down to individuals—their spirit and their humanity.
This is a film to take young people to as well. In this day and age, when the U.S. presidential election looms before us, it is important for some of us to remember and for others of us to learn who we are as a nation and where we came from. When Nate Parker (Neil) talks of being a lawyer someday, we who came later know that that could happen—not just as a possibility but as a concrete fact. Who knows? If Nate Parker was a real person he just might be running for president today.
Four stars and a big thank you to the entire cast.
Selma, Lord, Selma (1999) - Elementary School
This is an intense, fact-based, movie about the life of an eleven-year-old girl, Sheyann Webb, and how she got involved in the fight for civil rights and voter-registration drives in 1965 Alabama. Some of us may recall a time when African-Americans did not have the right to vote; to others it is only something we have read about and relegated to history. For those who fought for something so basic and, yet, for so long denied, this was life, not words in a book. This film clearly demonstrates that children also played a role and made choices, overcoming their own fears, even choosing to act when adults around them were split.
For those who wonder if all the sections of the voting rights act will be renewed and marvel at the fact that this is even a question, for those who ask themselves what would they have done, for all of us who should ask ourselves on a daily basis what can I do?, for parents and teachers who think that shielding their children from the harsh realities of life will protect them, I say, watch this film and let the children lead. They have much to teach us and those around us.
Shrek (2001) - Elementary School
An ogre, a donkey, a princess, a dragon, a lord, and more fairy tale characters than you can possibly list. What do all those characters have to do with prejudice? Ogres are ugly, donkeys bray (they must mean something but we don't know what), princesses are shy and demure, lords are strong and well, noble, and have you ever seen a female dragon? If you want a movie which stands numerous stereotypes on their ear, this is the movie for you—whatever your chronological age! Video guide available
Shrek 2 (2004) - Elementary School
Is Shrek 2 as good as Shrek? Although I prefer the original Shrek, there are certain key elements in Shrek 2 that make it useful and appropriate when working with children on the subjects of prejudice and stereotypes. We all know that beings who are "below average height" often get picked on. Puss 'n Boots will make you think twice before equating size with loyalty, strength, and fortitude! There are other elements in Shrek 2 which are equally important: Fiona and Shrek who are now go to visit Fiona's parents. Her father, to say it mildly, doesn't treat Shrek very nicely because he is "big" and green. Fiona has choices to make with repercussions for all—and a lot of pins and needles to keep the movie moving for everyone. Not the least of it, is Donkey's feeling snubbed when Shrek is befriended by Puss—a great vehicle for getting kids to talk about feelings of rejection and the joys and heartaches (even if fleeting) of friendship!
Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) - College
This drama is set in the aftermath of World War II and explores the effects of U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans. It tells the story of an interracial romance (taboo at that time) and how a small community comes to grips with its prejudices during the trial of a Japanese-American man accused of murder. Video guide available
Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2003) - Middle School, High School, College
A few years ago, there was a Broadway show entitled, "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk." Now I wonder, how many of us knew what "funk" was. How many of us had heard of the "Funk Brothers." Most of us know and many of us love, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Temptations. Don't worry about dating yourself, your kids have heard of these artists and/or their music and you'd be amazed how many kids nowadays listen to this music. But, in fact, the music actually belonged to the Funk Brothers. This amazing documentary tells the story of the musicians behind some of the most memorable and treasured music ever to come out of the United States—the Motown Sound. If you ever believed in such things as "unsung heroes," if you ever thought that shared values and interests transcend race, religion and ethnicity, if you ever wanted to see a movie which gives credit where credit is due, then watch this movie and watch music history come alive. I dare you to not get up and dance!
Star Trek: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (1969) - High School
This episode of the popular science fiction TV series puts racial intolerance and hate in a fresh perspective, where we, like Spock, can see how "highly illogical" it is, and what it can lead to. Video guide available
Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness (2000) - Middle School, High School, College
Many of us have heard the story of Schindler's List and have asked the question, what would we have done if we were in a position to save lives but in doing so our own lives would be at risk? This documentary explores the life of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who served in Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and Romania during the Second World War. At great personal risk, Mr. Sugihara saved the lives of thousands of Jews by issuing fraudulent visas. While watching this documentary, keep in mind that Japan was an Axis power, allied with Germany during the Second World War. Yet, while they were allies, the Japanese were not Nazis, and when the Jews that Sugihara saved reached Japan, the Japanese government resisted all efforts by the Germans to send them back to the Holocaust, a certain death. This should teach us that everything is not one way or the other - there are differences even among allies.
10,000 Black Men Named George (2002) - Middle School, High School, College
I just saw this film for the first time about a week ago. It is the true story of the fight for the formation of the first black-controlled union, the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters. Many of us think that the civil rights movement began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott—and if so, how wrong we would be. The fight to form this union began in 1925 and the struggle lasted until 1937 when after enduring much the union was finally recognized. The prejudice and discrimination illustrated throughout this film was rampant throughout the U.S. and mirrors the struggles of many. The title of the film comes from the fact that the majority of porters were called George by their white customers, a racist slur, although, obviously, each and every one of them had their own individual names. The obstacles that this group of men had to overcome to see their hard-earned rights acknowledged by both their company's president and the white unions is indeed, a struggle for the soul of this country.
FYI: One of the leaders of the movement, A. Philip Randolph, remained active in civil rights for decades. It was Randolph who initiated the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King gave his famous speech, "I Have a Dream" continuing the fight for civil rights.
The Truth About Lies (1989) - Middle School
Bill Moyers examines lies in private and public life, including examples from the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Challenger shuttle disaster, and Iran-Contra. Video guide available
Tsotsi (2005) - High School, College
For those of you who have seen Crash and felt that you were on a roller coaster ride of emotion and intensity, this film is for you. Tsotsi, based on a novel by Athol Fugard, takes place in post-Apartheid South Africa. "As much as things change they remain the same" would be an apt metaphor. Yes, there are now people of all ethnicities and races who are civil service employees, more commonly known as integration, and income is not predicated on race alone. However, the hardships in the townships are alive and well—or at least alive. What happens to the humanity of young people who are raised in violence and poverty? Can concern for others still exist? Can young people themselves?
This film features a cast of mostly unknown actors—many from the townships themselves. On all levels, this film will haunt you way after it is over and the music will stay and live in your hearts and minds. Ending one evil does not guarantee a level playing field.
Winner—Best Foreign Film—Academy Awards 2005
Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties (2004) - High School, College
Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties is a documentary by Robert Greenwald which examines the chilling effect of the USA PATRIOT Act and other security legislation passed in the wake of 9-11. A large part of the film consists of interview footage with people who have been the victims of overzealous law enforcement targeting groups of people based on ethnic or other traits. For example, there is the harrowing story of Safouh Hamoui and his family, Syrian immigrants who were pulled from their home in Seattle, detained, and threatened with deportation, even though Mr. Hamoui had a political asylum plea pending. Or Azmat Begg, a British citizen whose son Moazzam is being held at Guantanamo Bay after being arrested in Islamabad. Mr. Begg receives occasional cryptic letters from his son, but does not know what Moazzam is charged with or why he is to face a secret military tribunal. Or Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen declared enemy combatant and jailed without charge or trial. These events are put into context by comparison with other periods in U.S. history when large numbers of people were swept up, regardless of individual guilt, in the name of national security: the Japanese internment camps during WWII, the CoIntelPro infiltrations of civil rights and peace organizations in the 1970s.
Walkout (2006) - High School, College
In my eyes, a good film is one that makes you think while you're watching and after you've watched it. Further, it should serve as a catalyst especially among students but also among friends and colleagues. Walkout tells the true story of the 1968 Chicano student movement and non-violent protests in East L.A. - the largest high school protests in the history of the U.S. This film raises many questions and while some may find easy answers or "sides," others may find themselves supporting some aspects of the protest while disagreeing with others. It is certainly a film which sheds light on a historical reality and one which has implications for the current state of the U.S. Produced by Edward James Olmos, I had never heard of this film till watching the 2007 ALMA awards. It is certainly a film which will not be leaving me anytime soon.
Whale Rider (2003) - Middle School, High School, College
The story of a young Maori girl who learns ancient tribal traditions in an effort to convince her grandfather that she is able to succeed him as the leader of their tribe, despite the fact that she is female. This film has won major awards in many countries.
Whitewash (1995) - Middle School
This short, 28-minute "cartoon" takes us inside a multiracial, multi-ethnic 4th grade classroom in New York City. With the voices of Ruby Dee and Linda Lavin as guides, we enter a world where gangs target little kids and where the media is more concerned about their by-lines than the victims. Whitewash also will show you the power of friendship, the meaning of love, and will demonstrate how one elementary school class took action and demonstrated that there is always something one can do when you witness an injustice. Video guide available
To order Whitewash, please contact: First Run Features, 153 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014. Phone: 800-229-8575 Website: www.firstrunfeatures.com
X-Men (2000) - Middle School
Fear of the unknown, racism, registration of "others," peace vs. violence, acceptance vs. hate, politicians with agendas—these are the themes explored in this movie. Although originally a comic book series, X-Men the movie operates on many different levels. The two main adversaries, the professor and Magneto, both want the same things. The difference lies in their methods—while one advocates peaceful change, the other believes only violence will solve their problems. A timely allegory for today's world.
Young@Heart (2007, released 2008) - Middle School, High School, College
One form of prejudice that TAP deals with in workshops but we don't talk much about either on the listserv or around the dinner table, is ageism. For anyone, who would like to address this subject, nothing beats this documentary which will have you, at times, laughing out loud and at other times, reaching for a tissue. The true story of the singers who make up the group Young@Heart, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, whose members range in age from 70 to 93, will give you and your students a new appreciation for what is termed "old age" and will teach you that age and energy are relative concepts. When the spirit is willing, only the grave can prevent you from enriching the lives of others.
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