Monday, February 04, 2008

The History At Home | 4. My Son' 1st Real History Lesson

Last night driven to delirium by Noggin and The Goodnight Show, I insisted that we watch something we could all enjoy together. I scanned through the pitiful Comcast selection. Shaking my head and sucking my teeth, I handed my husband the remote.

He settled on Outlaw Trail, after all, it was rated G. We fire up the movie. Winston had no interest. We had no interest. It had teenage Texas white boys shooting guns, racing horses and baddies blowing up archaeological digs. Not good.

Determined that there must be something we could watch, we find Our Friend, Martin buried deep within some Comcast menu catacomb.

It’s rated PG, my husband says. I scowl.

White boys shooting guns is rated G? Real, true life history is rated PG? C’mon!!! I challenge my husband. That’s some ethnocentric twaddle if you ask me!” In fairness to my husband, I have been rather firm and unyielding on the subject of our son watching anything other than G movies. It makes his life difficult at times.

My husband shrugs his shoulders. He is one of these genius Black men who know that to challenge a Black woman regarding the appropriate raising of her Black son is an invitation for vitriol ... or worse.

I am one of these Black women who understands that my husband usually has a better clue than I do. C’mon! We saw this years ago! It was pretty good.

We saw it during the jury process for Prized Pieces at National Black Programming Consortium. He states.

Point well taken. We had been scrutinising this video from a very different framework last time we’d seen it. But, how bad could it be? You be the judge.

Synopsis: A young boy, Miles, goes back in time and meets up with Martin Luther King Jr at different points in his life. Miles has the opportunity to experience segregation firsthand; understand the importance of the Civil Rights Movement; and make a significant emotional connection to an important historical figure. At the end of the movie, he must make an important choice that could forever change the world.

What is PG about that?

A whole lot - if the entire African cultural context that the four year old in question has experienced has contained nothing but: rosy, positive, affirming contemporary images; African and African-American folklore; contemporary non-fiction about the diversity of the African continent and uplifting biographies.

By trying to introduce our heritage in an “age-appropriate” manner, I have limited my son’s cultural awareness. I have prevented him from obtaining a deep and critical core consciousness regarding who he is in this world. This shocks me.

Thinking back about some of these decisions, I wanted the understanding of our greatness to be so entrenched within his psyche, that the obstacles we had to triumph over would seem somehow even more amazing. The idea of racism to someone who has never had an inkling that it exists is preposterous, ludicrous and pitiable. This is the attitude I wanted to foster towards racism. An unshakeable belief that people who judge others by the colour of their skin are preposterous, ludicrous and pitiable.

Perhaps - being honest - I was mollycoddling. And I don’t know why. I remember watching the black and white newsreels over dinner with my parents. I remember being terrified of that clip where they let loose the dogs and fire hoses. That singular image has shown up in my poetry again and again and again. I was a bit younger than he is right now. And my parents didn’t shield me from it.

Looking back, I remember writing about planning to introduce these difficult concepts through positioning our history from the perspective of resistance. As a first exposure to racism and the Civil Rights movement, Our Friend, Martin did just that.

He burst into tears at the end of the movie. I felt horrible. He was excited! He loved Martin Luther King Jr. He got riled up and excited by the crowds calling for freedom. he cheered every success or triumph. But, it was a very emotional experience for him. It was scary, profoundly scary. The most frightening part of the entire movie was when Miles’ friend Maria could only speak Spanish because Miles had changed history by bringing Martin forward in time. The idea that he couldn’t be friends with someone because of race scared the bejeezus out of him. He has known no other world than an integrated one. He had no idea how new it is. But, I get the idea he understands how precious it is. And I think now, he understands that it is not something to take for granted.

For this reason, I am thankful to the makers of this film. It is a great movie!


Anonymous said...

The MPAA issues ratings that sometimes border on Arbitrary.

especially when it comes to differentiating between G and PG movies.

There is definitely a discernable difference between how the MPAA views Things people of color do and things that white folks do.

Then, of course, there is the advantage that big studios have to influence the ratings for marketing reasons.

Christina Springer said...

Good point. I'm glad you raised it. I do believe that the rating "Our Friend Martin" recieved reflects a larger, deeper and more disturbing issue of culturally "molly coddling" children. In many respects, the film's main character portrays the direct results of this historical ignorance.

Miles takes his friends, his education, his mother's business and all of the trifles and trappings of success for granted. At one point in the film, he calls his mother "a slave to her business." To which she responds, "you can never be a slave to your own dream." He, of course, shrugs and rolls his eyes. Sound familiar?

It is my belief that the tides are turning. That the mantle of white supremacy upon which our world revolves is splitting. Those who benefit from its continued existence must now fight tooth and nail to prevent it. And they must do so in the most sneaky and under-handed ways.

Having our children forget is one of the first steps. Making them complacent, cooperative and focused on goals smaller than business, law and technology (such as sports and entertainment) keeps this foundation in place.

Rating this movie PG is one way of insuring this. I'm sure that by the time my son was old enough to watch this movie - we would have had to bribe him to sit through it. However, fratricide on the African savannah is G-rated.

Deesha said...

Shoot, the Old School Sesame Street DVD collection comes with a warning label!

We just watched "Our Friend, Martin" based on your recommendation. My 4 y.o. was disturbed too. When the bus driver refused to pick up the boys, she blurted out, "But that's not fair!" We cuddled during the funeral scene.

As soon as it was over she asked to see it again, but she wanted to start at the part where "the white people were being mean at the school." This really gave us an opportunity to have an age-appropriate conversation and history lesson.

Thank you!

Christina Springer said...

Exactly Deesha! Sesame Street is educational! Get children learning? That's dangerous. And please on't allow them to think for themselves! Wherever will we get the necessary mindless drones to happily fill up the workforce?

Regardless, I'm glad you enjoyed Our friend, Martin.