Tag Archives: Slavery

“Be Free or Die”: Teaching Harriet (2019)

By Sabrina Völz

It’s not easy to make a biopic that pleas­es the crit­ics. And, to some extent, Har­ri­et, direct­ed by Kasi Lem­mons, falls into that cat­e­go­ry. Har­ri­et weaves togeth­er facts about Har­ri­et Tubman’s life into a com­pelling sto­ry, but some crit­ics are not so enthu­si­as­tic about the film’s aes­thet­ic qual­i­ties. In Har­ri­et, there are no tru­ly unusu­al com­po­si­tion of shots or cam­er­a­work the likes of 12 Years a Slave, and the phys­i­cal hor­rors of slav­ery receive almost no screen time, lead­ing some to won­der if audi­ences are sophis­ti­cat­ed enough to fill in the gaps. The audi­ence sees, for exam­ple, the scars of bru­tal beat­ings with­out any sup­port­ing dia­logue. Thank­ful­ly, Lem­mons resists the temp­ta­tion to take an over­ly didac­tic or ‘preachy’ approach. Any aspects of slav­ery – and there are sev­er­al – that the film does not cov­er can be dealt with as film prepa­ra­tion. It is unre­al­is­tic to believe that one film can show all there is to show about slav­ery. It’s not the focus of the film any­way. This is in, the words of its direc­tor, a “free­dom film.”

Both of these so-called lim­i­ta­tions that I’ve just men­tioned, how­ev­er, make the film acces­si­ble to audi­ences of all ages and back­grounds. They fur­ther make Har­ri­et, rat­ed PG-13, an excel­lent film to explore with EFL stu­dents in upper-sec­ondary schools, espe­cial­ly since teach­ers are deeply con­cerned about the impact of media vio­lence on young peo­ple. Let’s face it, some scenes in 12 Years a Slave, rat­ed R, may over­whelm or trau­ma­tize teenagers. Before out­lin­ing fur­ther rea­sons for using the film in the (Ger­man) EFL class­room and pro­vid­ing some orig­i­nal teach­ing mate­ri­als for this action-packed film, let’s pre­view the trail­er and get a taste of the experience:

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Harriet Tubman and the 20-Dollar Bill Controversy

By Sabrina Völz

Pub­lic Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61139114

Mere days after Joe Biden was sworn in as Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, the new admin­is­tra­tion announced its inten­tion to put Har­ri­et Tub­man – known as Moses – on the twen­ty-dol­lar bill. The cur­ren­cy redesign – a rel­a­tive­ly com­mon occur­rence in the 19th cen­tu­ry – was orig­i­nal­ly set for release in 2020 to mark the cen­ten­ni­al of the 19th Amend­ment that grant­ed women the right to vote. The major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans sup­port­ed the redesign in 2016 when the last poll on the issue was tak­en. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump put the project on hold, cit­ing secu­ri­ty issues and attribut­ing the Oba­ma ini­tia­tive to sheer polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. While Trump may still view Andrew Jack­son as an Amer­i­can hero, his­to­ri­ans are quick to point out the com­plex­i­ties of the for­mer U.S. president’s biog­ra­phy. Jack­son owned hun­dreds of slaves and was respon­si­ble for the Indi­an Removal Act that led to the death of about 4,000 Chero­kees, forced to walk from the South­ern states to mod­ern-day Okla­homa on what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears. Even though he prob­a­bly should be, Jack­son will not be com­plete­ly removed from the twen­ty-dol­lar bill – he’ll just be demot­ed to the back. The irony of plac­ing Tub­man on one side and Jack­son on the oth­er on a sym­bol of nation­al iden­ti­ty has not gone unno­ticed and cer­tain­ly speaks to the divi­sion in Amer­i­can soci­ety today.

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Hiding in Plain Sight: Legacies of Colonization in New England and the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower

By Christoph Strobel

Mayflower II, a repli­ca of the orig­i­nal Mayflower docked at Ply­mouth, Massachusetts

Ear­ly in Novem­ber 1620, after a rough Atlantic cross­ing of about two months, an aging ship called Mayflower arrived in the coastal waters of what we today call Cape Cod Bay. By mid-Decem­ber, the colonists had cho­sen a site they called Ply­mouth, which is about 40 miles south of the cur­rent city of Boston. Although Eng­lish col­o­niza­tion had begun fur­ther south in the Chesa­peake Bay area over a decade ear­li­er – not to speak of even ear­li­er Span­ish and French efforts – the arrival of the Mayflower is fre­quent­ly imag­ined by many in Amer­i­can main­stream soci­ety as the found­ing moment of the Unit­ed States. Large­ly spurred and pop­u­lar­ized by the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day, this found­ing myth all too often min­i­mizes the impact of col­o­niza­tion on the indige­nous peo­ples of the region; theirs is a his­to­ry that hides in plain sight.

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