This conversation took place today between myself and a Japanese co-worker.
Japanese Teacher: Can I ask you something, Loco-sensei?
Me: Of course…go ahead.
JT: I told you before that I wanted to show a film to the students…
Me: Which film?
JT: That one with James Earl Jones…
Me: Oh right I remember…”The Great White Hope,” right?
JT: Yes! I tried to get permission from the principal and the other teachers to show the film but many of them said no.
Me: Well, That sucks… Did they give a reason?
JT: Yeah. You know the black student in this class, right?
(There’s only one student that fits that general description in the school)
Me: Yep, I think so…he’s Japanese isn’t he?
JT: Technically, but his father is black.
JT: Well, anyway, some of the teachers think it’ll cause problems for him, make him a target of discrimination…if we show the film.
(Took a pause for the cause. It was a quick one, during which a hundred thoughts raced through my mind, one of which was…)
Me: Is he the reason you want the film to be shown?
JT: Partially…I think Japanese kids need to know about discrimination and racism. I mean, after all, there’s him, and then there’s you, too, of course. I think this is a great opportunity to teach something important.
Me: It’s definitely more useful than singing in a chorus.
JT: DESHOU??? They spent many hours for weeks practicing for that choral competition. (Shakes his head)
Me: Well, I think it’s a great idea and very conscientious of you to want to introduce children to such issues…perhaps a little younger than Junior High school would be ideal, though. But, better late than never.
JT: Yeah, but the other teachers don’t agree.
Me: There are at least two ways to deal with this issue, far as I can see…and both have their merits and drawbacks: You could ignore it and hope for the best or address it and hope for the best. Both are inherently risky.
JT: That’s true. Based on your book, I know which one you’d choose…haha.
Me: Haha! You know it like a poet! (we share a laugh) Anyway, I haven’t seen that movie in many years but I do remember the movie poster. It was famous. Said something like, “He could beat any whitey!” Haha.
JT: Sou desu ka? Haha.
Me: The issue of discrimination was handled fairly well I think, but I’d have to watch it again. It also dealt with segregation, and with interracial romance and other such complexities…and it was a little heavy on the exploitation of these issues, as I recall. And, even if it weren’t, I’d still be leery of the translation into Japanese. Granted translating cultural ideas is problematic enough… but subtitles, in my experience, tend to skirt or diffuse complex ideas, often sacrificing depth for simplicity and entertainment value. Don’t you think?
JT: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Me: What did the other teachers think of the movie? I guess they thought it was a bit too strong?
JT: Actually, they never watched it.
Me: Huh??? How can they make a determination it would make the student’s life more difficult if they haven’t even seen it???
JT: DESHOU!! That’s exactly what I thought!
(We both took a pause and shook our heads letting that thought percolate.)
JT: Maybe a movie like “Remember The Titans” would be a better introduction to discrimination.
Me: Yeah, maybe. I’m not a big fan of Disney, but that was a good one. By the way, do you know if the student’s being discriminated against now?
JT: He told us he’d been discriminated against in elementary school, but not here, as yet. He seems to be making friends and fitting in.
Me: I see…well, I think your idea has merit and if you feel strongly about it you ought to write a letter to the board of education urging them to make a discussion about race a part of the morals instruction the students already receive…you know?
Me: Just a thought…