Diversity of Character Movies: A Touchy, Yet Important Topic
I received a phone call from a teacher in Fresno, California last week. The teacher told me that the class was going well and they were about to begin the week on loyalty. She wanted to know if I had a “black” movie recommendation for that week because the movie on the list was, “A Walk to Remember.” She told me that she didn’t have one white student in her class and that the students get easily bored and roll their eyes when a “white movie” is shown, saying her students just can’t relate.
I receive a phone call like this about once a semester. My usual response is to get out the list of recommended character movies that come with the curriculum. With “The Help” replacing “The Majestic” for week 7 last year, I point out that 9 of the 18 movies have minorities as the lead character. This leaves 9 of the 18 movies as “white movies” with mainly white actors. I do this to show the diversity of the movies (list below).
This usually leads to a pleasant conversation about ethnicity, and diversity. I usually end by saying that I don’t have a list of “black” movies for predominantly black schools, “Hispanic” movies for predominantly Hispanic schools or a list of “white” movies for predominantly white schools. This is a national program and I try to pick the best movie that exemplifies that particular trait, regardless of the ethnicity of the actors. I encourage the teacher to find replacement movies if they feel it is appropriate, but we usually close by talking about the importance of students learning from people who don’t necessarily look like them or have a shared background.
Author’s Perspective: My wife and I have conversations about these phone calls. We understand the importance of diversity and the importance of providing material that students can relate to based on shared experiences. However, with half of the movies being based on the lives of minorities, this doesn’t appear to be an issue of diversity. The question, to me, seems to be the ability to learn from and be inspired by people who don’t look like you and come from different backgrounds. When I watch Coach Carter or Lean on Me, I don’t roll my eyes and say, “I just can’t relate to these black or Hispanic kids.” To the contrary, I am inspired by their stories!
My wife says this better than I write it. Here are her thoughts – https://vimeo.com/60199614
A Walk to Remember is a story of a troubled boy who is headed down the wrong path. He meets a girl who changes his life for the better. He learns compassion, courage, empathy and develops the capacity to put someone else before himself. It is an inspiring film and I always cry when she dies at the end. I hope you do too – whether your skin is white, brown, black or green. I think that if you give the movies and the actors the benefit of the doubt, you will find the themes and lessons of these movies are universal.
1) Do you think I should have 3, 4 or 5 lists of movies available for schools based on the ethnic background of their students? Why or why not?
2) If you agree with this philosophy, this means that white students should only watch “white” movies and not watch films with black actors as they will not be able to relate or learn anything, right? What happends to diversity if that happens?
3) If you were the person who selects the movies, what changes would you make?