Thursday, May 01, 2008

You tell 'em Mr. Freeman!

Every year around this time, my 8th graders have arrived at the point where we study the American Civil War/War Between the States/Second American Revolution. I always show the movie Glory, which chronicles the ordeal of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and stars Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. It is a wonderful movie that I consider to be in the top three of the best movies ever made about the Civil War.

There is a particular scene in the final third of the movie between Morgan Freeman (Rawlins) and Denzel Washington (Trip) that I relish giving the opportunity to my students to watch - particularly my students who call each other "Nigga" and all the other variations thereof. Here is a transcript of that scene:
[Trip and Searles are about to fight when Rawlins steps in]

Rawlins: Look, goddamn it! The whole world gotta stomp on your face?

Trip: Nigger, you better get your hands off me!

Rawlins: Ain't no niggers around here! Understand?

Trip: Oh, I see, so the white man give you a couple a stripes, and suddenly you start hollerin' and orderin' everybody around, like you the massa himself! Nigger, you ain't nothin' but the white man's dog!
[He starts to walk away, Rawlins stops him and slaps him]

Rawlins: And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you've been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain't dying. And dying's been what these white boys have been doing for going on three years now! Dying by the thousands! Dying for *you*, fool! I know, 'cause I dug the graves. And all this time I keep askin' myself, when, O Lord, when it's gonna be our time? Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. LIKE MEN! You watch who you call a nigger! If there's any niggers around here, it's YOU. Just a smart-mouthed, stupid-ass, swamp-runnin' nigger! And if you not careful, that's all you ever gonna be!
There is always a thoughtful silence in my class after that scene ends, and I always like to hope that I reached at least one student and made him think the next time he wants to gratuitously throw that infernal word around. I am also pleased that the scene points out the sacrifice that whites in America made for the blacks in this country during the Civil War. When talk of reparations for slavery begin to arise, I always point out the 300,000+ Union soldiers whose deaths hastened the end of that "peculiar institution."

Good Day to You, Sir


Donalbain said...

You missed "War of Northern Aggression" :)

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I had forgotten that scene. My other favorite scene was the one where they're marching like soldiers and they run into the other black troops who had no discipline what so ever.

Darren said...

Good for you for not avoiding that scene out of fear of PC consequences.

I don't think I've ever seen Glory in its entirety. LOVE Gettysburg, though. I've sat (is that correct grammar?) through the entire movie; if that isn't love, I don't know what is!

Mrs. Bluebird said...

One of my absolute favorite movies...and thank you for having the guts to show it in this day and age - and in the Peoples Republic of California no less! And it drives me up the wall to hear my students use that word.