Earlier this year, it was announced that “12 Years a Slave” will be sent out to schools this coming school season to be used as a learning tool in understanding racism in America. While there may inevitably be some parents concerned at the level of violence utilized in the movie to teach these life lessons to our next generation, how powerful is it going to be to help eliminate any hint of racist attitudes in the graduating classes of the 2010s and 2020s? Are we seeing the last of racism in the older generation who still stick their neck and tongue out recently after years of silence? Or do we still have those who’ll influence racial divides in this country to a point of obscuring our real connectedness?
One thing about brutally violent movies depicting history is that we can get much closer to the truth than we’ve ever seen before cinematically. There isn’t a doubt that “12 Years a Slave” is the most brutal depiction of slavery ever done on film, almost to a point of those jaded having to look away. It might pose a problem for some students, even if the thought is they can handle intense violence after seeing it regularly in the news and in video games. The distinction between violence used to teach a lesson about humanity could also help kids better differentiate the world of real life from video games.
A similar philosophy happened back when I went to high school. Back then, we were required to watch movies related to the holocaust in a global issues class that showed the real and ghastly footage taken by soldiers who liberated the concentration camps. It was enough where a warning had to be given out the day before on what was going to be shown and whether those overly sensitive should be absent from the classroom for an hour.
Ever since, there probably hasn’t been enough brutal evidence of history for kids to see in the classroom. “Saving Private Ryan” might have been shown in some high school history classes over the last 15 years. When it comes to movies on racism, though, there hasn’t been enough made to create as much of an impact as “12 Years” has. It’s made in a way where the violence is so palpable that you almost feel the intensity. As hard as it is to believe, it could have been even worse back in the real time of the 1800s.
This sense of reality about how brutal and bloody American history really was is something not always taught in history classes. In earlier school eras, many history classes were diluted considerably to uphold certain myths. History classes now, though, seem more adamant on showcasing the realities of what happened so kids can learn accurately. Yet, the influence of racism may be around kids in places we don’t expect. With evidence that hidden racism is still lurking in unexpected corners, you have to wonder what the impact of “12 Years” will have on kids who still have racists in their inner circle.
Racism in Your Own Family vs. Pop Culture Influence
Many families still have older people in them who perhaps still have racist views on certain races. Certainly grandparents can be that way considering they grew up with pop culture giving negative views of African-Americans and Asians. You have to believe that racism is also taught to their offspring, hence the parents of some kids today perhaps having the same views. A child hearing some things in passing in a family gathering might start having thoughts that are completely manipulated by wrongheaded views.
What impact can “12 Years a Slave” have on those kids, and can it potentially change them? Anyone who’s seen the film for the first time will never forget it, along with many of the visuals haunting you forever. Plus, you have to imagine what it does to an impressionable brain after absorbing racist views from their own family.
While this creates a whole other sociological problem on a more personal level, we have to hope that families with racists are very rare now. A child who doesn’t even think about racism seeing “12 Years” will at least have a new safeguard implanted in their heads whenever racism seems to creep into their lives when an adult. In that regard, the film may play a big part in completely eliminating racism from America within 20-30 years.