Children typically learn from their ways and behaviour from their parents and elder relatives. Most children will grow up fine, but others may grow up with a warped world-view, prejudiced beliefs or have information restricted from them that can fuel hate, bigotry and mis-understanding in later life.
Cinema gives us the gift of multiple world-views, and access to stories from around the globe, more so now than ever. We can see stories from marginalised groups, people that don’t speak our language, people in conflict, people that were led down the wrong path. Anything you wish to see, cinema has an offering for it. By showing children diverse and culturally significant films from a young age, perhaps the rising rates of prejudice and mis-understanding could be lessened. Here are just a handful of films that SQ believes should be recommended teaching in schools.
BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015)
Before I delve into Beasts of No Nation, I want to briefly stress my firm beliefs in the educational powers of film. I love that film allows the audience member to view humanity from all walks of life and corners of the world. Through this window into another person’s world, one develops compassion and knowledge of another’s circumstances and experiences. When I was growing up, a white girl from suburbia, I was allowed to watch whatever films I wanted. I was able to view, from a young age, situations that I would not normally be exposed to, especially those in other countries. I believe that it is important for schools to expose students to different films in order to open their eyes to situations beyond their homes and school halls to foster empathy and understanding. I would choose Beasts of No Nation in order to expose young adults to the wartime situations of another country, in this case the Sierra Leone Civil War. While the violent and terrible lives of child soldiers depicted in this film is not easy to watch, it is an important situation that we should not look away from. Cary Joji Fukunaga directs with his typical distinctive, elegiac flair to craft a beautifully shot film depicting a brutal and horrific story. Although it is important to recognize what the Huffington Post points out, the dangers in having African narratives be seen as nothing but war-ridden. This could perhaps be eradicated by showing other African-centered films or class discussions. Beasts of No Nation could open discussion about children’s relationship to violence around the world, the country of Africa, and how we can develop our attitudes to events in developing nations and international struggles. –Caroline Madden
When right-wing idiots are spouting their usual ‘migrant crisis’ monologues, questions of national security are being put forward and xenophobia rising at an increasingly scary rate, Dheepan couldn’t have arrived at a more prominent time. Those reasons also probably lent a hand to its winning of the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2015.
But awards aren’t everything, and Dheepan would still be an important and eye-opening piece of cinema regardless of its accolades. It digs deep into the lives of refugees, and sees the world through their eyes, instead of the hateful observations usually cast out by our right-wing media.
The film follows Dheepan, an ex-solider of the Sri Lankan Civil War, who is aiming to seek refuge in France to better his life. We see him in the refugee camp, trying to find a pretend wife and daughter who will match the passports of a deceased family. It’s tragic but necessary, he takes a young girl away from her mother in promise of a better life for her, and finds a woman who vows to play the part of his wife to allow them to seek asylum. When in France, Dheepan straight away scours for jobs, and ends up selling novelty toys to tourists on the streets with a bunch of other refugees. That is until he finds a job on a housing development as the caretaker, and his ‘wife’ Yalini, becomes a carer for an old man in one of the houses. They work tirelessly to give their ‘daughter’ a better life and build themselves a new safe space away from the conflict of Sri Lanka. That is until they realise the housing estate is controlled by a drug lord, the son of the elderly man Yalini is taking care of.
Struck with the same fear they have back home, Dheepan experiences extreme PTSD seeing the violence and weapons on the estate, when all he wants to do is be a hard-working man who can assimilate into French life. The situation escalates into a dramatic finale.
The striking and most heart-breaking, even life-changing moments for me was seeing young Illayaal’s descent into education, away from her real friends and family, and not speaking any French, she finds it difficult to fit in, and is bullied by the French kids in her school. Dheepan experiences the same torments amongst his new work friends, in one scene after work when he is talking to Yalini, he explains how he cannot join in with their jokes, he doesn’t understand what is funny, and thinks he is a lesser person for not understanding their humour. These simple everyday tasks and occurrences that we take for granted, become monumental in the refugee’s experience, making their new world an often equally terrifying place than the one they came from.
Dheepan should be taught in schools as it reverses the worldview. Seeing life from a migrant’s perspective, and how they deal with trauma, PTSD, language barriers and simple things such as conversation made me a much more sympathetic person, hopefully it would do the same for young children, and remove the seed of hate and prejudice before their parents plant it in them. –Chloe Leeson
DISTRICT 9 (2009)
Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 film District 9 is a seminal piece of work for a variety of reasons; however the one I wish to focus on is how it covers themes such as alienation, empathy, prejudice and how humans have an innate response of destroying things they do not understand.
I am not usually a fan of films that use sci-fi elements like non-human species as a metaphor for social issues, as I feel that they tend to do more harm than good, by detracting from the very human issues created by prejudice and by using ridiculously over-the-top aliens to represent oppressed groups – most films end up perpetuating the idea that such groups are in fact “other” and should be viewed with suspicion and/or dislike. District 9 is the outlier to this trend, in my opinion and that is why if there was to be a film that was mandatory viewing in schools this should be it. Blomkamp uses the “Prawns” and the hardships they face due to segregation and prejudice from humans to show how unfounded and damaging our fear of the unknown really is. His decision to cast a complete unknown (Sharlto Copley) in the lead role and film it in the style of a documentary forces the audience to acknowledge the impact discrimination, in particular racial discrimination has on it’s victims and to start looking inwards and critiquing our own behaviour and beliefs.
Having the leading character Wilkus start off as a bumbling bureaucrat that has totally bought into the media’s lies and negative portrayal of the ‘prawns’, viewing them as worthless – and ending up infected and morphing into one himself whilst having to rely on the help of the very ‘prawn’ he allowed to be beaten up – proves that the discriminatory beliefs and stereotypes held toward minority groups are merely a construction that implements fear as a means of control. District 9 can teach us a lot of things, and the more you watch it, the more is revealed – and that is what makes it so important. Any film that gets people questioning their own morals and beliefs and the societal structures around them is greatly influential in terms of helping the younger generations work towards creating a truly equal society.
Although I am sure there are many films that teach the same ideas, what would make District 9 such a good fit for being part of a school syllabus is that it’s science-fiction themes may make sure its lessons are taken in by people who do not yet have an interest in more blunt, human-interest documentaries – and may subsequently start to, because of this film. The more people that start to question such things, the more change will occur, which is always a good thing. –Megan Gibb
Kids (1995) should be shown in schools because it portrays the gravity and consequences of drug abuse, unsafe sex and teenage delinquency without exaggerating or romanticising the reality of it. What’s more, its cast – which includes Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson in their breakthrough roles – look, speak and act in a way relatable and accessible to teens and young people. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t live in 90s NYC; the way naivety/maturity, innocence/sexuality and fear/ambivalence are juxtaposed and balanced like they are when one comes of age is seen throughout the movie. The nonchalance, amorality and rebellion within the storyline are enough to leave a mark on anyone; it’s a tough watch for sure. But it’s enough to make you feel like you walked down the path no-one should ever take, especially so young, and veered back on track in the space of one-and-a-bit hours. –Sharon Igbokwe
Every once in a while, a film comes along that leaves a lasting impact on us, one that we can’t stop thinking about for days afterwards, that has us contemplating some of what we thought we knew. A few months ago, I watched Hong Khaou’s ‘Lilting’; a quietly powerful movie set in the heart of London that centres on a man that has recently lost his life partner. That may sound like a relatively simple premise and, honestly, it is. This is where the beauty of this film comes from; the simplicity of the plot. A man loses his boyfriend, his soulmate, the person he was supposed to spend his life with, and suddenly, while still trapped in the throes of grief, he finds himself having to explain everything to his partner’s mother; a Cambodian woman who speaks no English and was unaware of her son’s sexual orientation. And so, our story begins as we watch the protagonist, Richard, attempt, and often fail, to form a connection with Junn, the only remaining member of his boyfriend’s immediate family. What unfolds is a sweet, delicately made account of the effect that loss has on us and, as clichéd as this may sound, how our differences can unite us. ‘Lilting’ is not only a beautiful depiction of grief, love and hardship, but also a fantastic piece of representation for the LGBTQ+ community, as Richard and his partner’s, Kai, relationship is presented to us with nothing other than normalcy and tenderness. They argue, they debate over how to decorate their home, over who is giving who a lift somewhere, they share warmth and they share laughter. Just like the countless heterosexual pairings we’ve seen do in cinema. Through Richard and Kai, minorities are given the representation we deserve, as the love between the two men takes centre stage. Moreover, the film does an excellent job of portraying the importance of diversity in life, as Richard and Junn eventually come to form a bond in their mutual admiration for Kai, regardless of the fact that they speak different languages and of their contrasting views on the world. It is beautifully done, stunningly filmed and, for its outstanding depiction of life and all its’ aspects, it is a film that should be shown in schools. –Hannah Ryan