Monday, March 22, 2010

Using Art to Spark Difficult Conversations

Artistic expression has long been an important way to promote discussion about controversial issues. Painters, writers, actors, and musicians have confronted topics that sometimes make us cringe, but that demand our attention nonetheless. As a society, we are still uncomfortable talking about racism, sexism, issues of socioeconomic standing, and other realities that divide us. However, when we have a painting or a song or a television show through which we can guide our conversations, perhaps the dialogue comes a little easier. We are given a starting point.

Since their inception, the movies have served to challenge our stereotypes and prejudices concerning race. Just a few of the many films that have resulted in a national discussion about racism include:

Birth of a Nation (1915) -- Although understandably reviled for its content, this movie is considered one of the most important pieces in the history of cinema. Its depiction of KKK members as heroes and its slanted take on post-Civil War history continue to spark discussion almost a century later.

Crash (2005) -- This Academy award-winning movie, which takes place in Los Angeles, looks at several instances of racial stereotyping. There were no simple characters here; each one brought an honest and complex personality to the plot. Conversations on Crash's content spread from Oprah to the nightly news.

A Time to Kill (1996) -- Based on the book by John Grisham, this film depicts the trial of a black man in Mississippi who kills the two white men who raped and nearly killed his young daughter. As the character played by Matthew McCoughaney asks, "Can a black man get a fair trial in Mississippi?"

I choose to use the written word to spark discussion on the controversial issues facing our society. All three of my published novels--Lifetime Loser, Finish Line, and Tuey's Course--tackle some tough realities concerning race, sex, and class in our country.

I've offered some examples of movies that focus on issues of race. Now it's your turn. Share your examples of films that have powerfully handled the topic of race in America.

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