I took a group of four boys whom I know from my last class as a public-school teacher to see Star Wars this afternoon. I’ve known these kids since the third grade. They are now the same age, 12, I was when I first saw the film, which I loved, and as they trundled out of their school at 204th Street and Broadway, I felt a sharp pang. They suddenly looked older to me, perhaps because of their puffy parkas and book bags. They are growing up and I am concerned about their futures.
Because of these kids, I get exercised about the lack of good films for children. They are always begging me to take them to see the most mindless or violent flicks, and I’m always disappointing them by refusing. So, when we do go see a movie, such as Babe, they are always skeptical at first, because they assume it’s the type of film that adults think are “good” for children, and they say:
“I don’t want to see no movie about pigs.”
“Pigs are stupid!”
“This is wack!”
“Why can’t we see a different movie?”
“This movie is stupid.”
“You’re Miss Piggy!”
“You should have seen him at lunch, Miss Mosle! He be stuffing food in his mouth!”
“Yeah, you’re green!”
“I’m gonna punch him, Miss Mosle!”
“I don’t want to see no pig movie.”
“I hate pigs.”
The same doubts were expressed about Fly Away Home, a movie about a young girl who helps a flock of geese fly south for the winter. But the kids always like the films in the end. They begged me to take them to see Babe again and were mesmerized by the atmospheric, almost wordless Fly Away Home. To this day, one of the kids, Luis, says, “That’s the best movie we ever saw.” And it is.
The bellyaching about Star Wars continued all the way down to the theater. Whenever we enter a theater, the wealthy white patrons will often groan and switch their seats to get away from the inner-city youths, whom they assume (wrongly) will be loud during the film. Some make patronizing comments to me, like “I don’t know how you do it,” etc., right in front of my kids. I want to smack these people. But the Star Wars crowd, overgrown kids in their 20s and 30s, was more friendly. During the movie, my kids hardly stirred; they were entranced by the story about good vs. evil. But after the Death Star was destroyed and the credits began to roll, the kids expressed disappointment. T.J. announced, “That movie sucked!” The others echoed his sentiment. Puzzled, I asked them why they didn’t like the film. “Luke Skywalker should have fought Darth Vader!” T.J. explained. “Yeah,” Shaakeen said, “Luke should have kicked Darth Vader’s butt!” Christopher gave a swirl of an imaginary lightsaber.
When I was teaching, my students were obsessed with the Power Rangers and, probably against my better judgment, I finally consented one afternoon to take my kids to see the Power Rangers movie. Every suburban parent I know forbade their children to watch the show because they regarded it as too violent. And I wondered if I wasn’t contributing to the delinquency of minors by letting my kids see the film. But to my surprise, the movie wasn’t that bad. It, too, was a simplistic story about good vs. evil, and I decided that martial arts weren’t what really fascinated my kids. Rather, it was the story line, which is about a group of school-age kids who can morph into all-powerful creatures that save the planet from evil. For kids growing up in a dangerous ghetto, this is a powerful fantasy.
As we trundled out of the theater, I reassured my kids that Luke would get his chance to fight Vader in the next two movies. Shaakeen remarked, “Darth Vader is wack!”