Movie suggestions to facilitate discussion for kids who feel like “outsiders.”
Ordinary People – This is a great movie to discuss with kids, but it is hardly about “ordinary people.” Like most movies, it focuses on upper, middle-class, have-it-all Americans. Most teen movies and TV series feature affluent, preppy, or jock high-schoolers.
The Outsiders – This is not only a story of kids who were not in the upper cliques, but the drama itself is about their relationships and struggles with more affluent and popular kids. The bonds and loyalty might be highlighted along with other features of this story.
Hoop Dreams – This PG-13 movie is an excellent, award-winning documentary of ambition and courage. It traces six years in the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two African-American kids from Chicago’s inner city. Their basketball skills and determination guide them toward their dreams of a NBA career. This film frankly and realistically portrays positive and difficult aspects of life in the Cabrini Green Projects. It also exposes a system that reaches down to 8th grade in its promotion and possible exploitation of youngsters with talent (so much so that the film-makers were sued by some of the St. Joseph’s High School folks). This is much more than a basketball film; it deals with issues of race, class, and family life.
Hurricane Streets – This is a story of street kids in the Lower East Side Manhattan (between Ave. A and the East River). It seems more realistic to me than the sexploitation documentary, “Kids,” (below). Written and directed by Morgan G. Freeman, it describes a group of early teens with an underground clubhouse who sell stolen CDs and sneaks to middle school kids, and progress toward heavier crime like breaking and entering. The group has a positive leader, Marcus, who uses an inhaler for his asthma, and a negative leader who sniffs glue and progresses towards heavier drugs, contacts, and crime. Marcus becomes attracted to Malena, a pretty girl with a rigid and abusive father. Family scenes could be shown and discussed.
The War – In this film, Kevin Costner returns to a small Southern town after WWII and tries to make up for the fathering his kids have missed. At a fair he buys a $1 lottery ticket in hopes of a dream house and cotton candy for his kids. They are taking a beating by some bullies (including Elijah Wood). Returning, he sees what has happened, but gives the bullies the cotton candy.
The bullies are amazed, and his kids just can’t understand. On the way home, they finally ask him about it. The father says, “I just don’t think those kids have had anything given to them in a long time.” (This can be seen as a powerful illustration of grace)
Kids – This movie tends to be a sexploitation flick. It is a documentary of kids in NYC who live for sex and kicks. The sadness of predatory sex becomes clear, and the senseless violence against a young black man could lead to challenging discussion.
Gummo – This is an earlier film by the same producer. It tells the story of working class kids in the town of Xenia, Ohio, which was hit by a series of 17 tornadoes in the 1960s. This film changes the dates to the 1980s and deals with 7 kids in a town struggling to survive and rebuild. Issues like the killing of stray cats, sniffing glue, sex, and drugs might be discussed.
October Sky – This movie is a story of kids who give up popularity and sports-and even “worse” befriend the class nerd-to work on a crazy idea of rockets because they have been inspired by the Russian Sputnik (the 1950s). The plot especially traces the difficult relationship of its main character to his father. Surprisingly, brains and skills win out over the athletic prowess of peers and his father’s dogged determination to keep a mine profitable. As with so many teen flicks, youth teach adults a lesson or two. What exciting visions are left for young people today?
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Which of the above movies is or are your favorite(s)?
- How would you use one of these movies in a talk or discussion?
- What particular scenes would specifically illustrate what point or stimulate what discussion?
- How can young people be challenged to higher values than protecting flawed relationships or following exciting highs?
- Many young people feel the teaching they receive does not deal with situations and values with which they can identify.
- The stories and backdrop of our teaching must be relevant to the youth culture, but we must not be afraid to challenge values that do not lead to positive virtues.
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