Tag Archives: bigotry

Musings on “Mockingbird”

We see what we look for, hear what we listen for. It’s one of many messages conveyed by Harper Lee in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published the year I was born and dubbed one of the great American novels. Harper’s writing is highly praised, as is her treatment of racial injustice in the American South. Central to the book, adapted for both screen and stage, is the trial of a black man accused of rape who’s defended in court by a white lawyer.

My only experience on the receiving end of racism was during ninth grade, when I lived in Hawaii and was one of just a few “haoles” at my school. I remember noticing that teachers never called on us, even when our hands were raised and we’d come to class eager to participate. Others have experienced far greater injustices caused by bigotry based on skin color.

But our family has lived for years with another type of discrimination, made more painful by the fact that few people even acknowledge its existence. We have a family member with mental illness, but there’s little public outrage when people ridicule such things. For all our progress as a society in championing the rights of LGBT individuals and raising awareness about families affected by autism, we’ve yet to truly see the 1 in 5 people in our midst who live with depression or other mental health conditions.

So I see in “To Kill a Mockingbird” both the tale of a black man falsely accused, and the tale of another man judged too quickly — the character called “Boo” who lives holed up in his house isolated from neighbors who ridicule him for being what they consider crazy. While I acknowlege the power of Lee’s book to heighten our awareness of racial injustice even as it occurs today, I see in her work something more.

The danger in drawing assumptions about anyone. Those with mental illness. Women. Children. White men. Lawyers. Those who commit crimes. Even novelists like Lee who choose to live a quiet existence outside of the public eye. I was reminded of all this today while watching a local theater company production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which affirmed what many have surmised. That the story is just as relevant now as it was when Harper wrote it. See it. Hear it. And act on it.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read the “1 in 5” report from SAMHSA

Coming up: Remembering Anne Frank,  Veterans who write


Tools for tackling bigotry

A new film called “Bullied to Silence” opens by dispelling the old “sticks and stones” adage that ends with “words can never hurt me.” Words can hurt. And sometimes, when bullied youth feel driven to suicide, they kill. “Bullied to Silence” was screened twice on Saturday at the Phoenix Art Museum, a fitting venue for a film for with such artistic flair. Filmmakers set the voices of diverse youth at the heart of this project. Several youth featured in the film have found that music, dance and other forms of artistic expression help them cope with others’ bullying behaviors.

Many of those who saw the first screening (including parents, educators, youth and others) commented afterward about their eagerness to take concrete steps to prevent bullying in their communities — by helping not only those who are bullied, but also youth whose pain prompts them to bully and youth who need skills to become effective bystanders. It reminded me of a book called “Cootie Shots” — which is subtitled “Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry for Kids, Parents and Teachers.”

“Cootie Shots” is a Fringe Benefits book published by Theatre Communications Group in New York. It’s edited by Norma Bowles, founder and artistic director for the L.A.-based theater company that inspired “the collection of plays, songs and interactive performances pieces against bigotry by a coalition of elementary school teachers, parents, theatre artists, therapists, administrators and students.” The preface by Rosa Furumoto also notes a common thread to each “Cootie Shots” work — “people committed to justice, respect and human dignity” — adding that “Almost every play contains elements of humor, idealism and hope for the future.”

The book is divided into four sections — noted below with themes and just a few examples of what they include. Each opens with a different work created by elementary age students.

  • My Family Tree is a Garden! Includes “What Color is Your Mama?” by Carol S. Lashof, “The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans” by Johnny Valentine with Norma Bowles, “Ode to Parents” by Billy Aronson and more. Theme: Love is what makes a family.
  • Get to Know Me! Includes “The Golden Rule” by Stacie Chaiken, “Snooty Patooty” by Mark E. Rosenthal and Carl Andress, “That Race Place” by Alice Tuan and more. Theme: Name-calling is never acceptable.
  • Be Proud of Your Difference! Includes “Mother Nature” by Nancy Alicia de Los Santos, “Opposition” by Tony Kushner, “She’s a Real Spaz” by John Belluso and more. Theme: Love and accept yourself and others. Celebrate what makes us each different, unique, special.
  • We Can Change the World! Includes “Four Heroes” by Peter Howard, “What’s with the Dress, Jack?” by Amity Wescott with Erik R. Stegman, “Matzoh” by Carol S. Lashof and more. Theme: Whether we stand alone or with others, if we’re not part of the solution, we might be part of the problem.

A small section of the book featuring artist biographies makes for a fascinating read in its own right. The 50 writers listed include actors, an architect, playwrights, songwriters, activists, parents, a social worker, teachers and others. More than two dozen bios for visual artists — including Keith Haring, Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol — are also provided. Some artworks were created specifically for the book, and many are the work of children who’ve attended “Fringe Benefits” performances of the “Cootie Shots” show.

Folks eager to use these plays, songs and such in school or community settings needn’t have expertise in the performing arts. A “User’s Guide” at the back of “Cootie Shots” offers suggestions for using the book at home or in a classroom, and shares both dramaturgy and directing tips for performing the plays. It also addresses “advancing the work and permissions.” The book includes 54 selections, so there’s plenty for folks to choose from depending on which specific issues they’re eager to address.

To learn more about “Cootie Shots” or Fringe Benefits, which promotes social justice through theater, visit www.cootieshots.org.

– Lynn

Note: The National Alliance on Mental Illness works to reduce stigma against those living with mental illness through a program called Stigmabusters. Click here to learn more, and here for information on National Mental Health Month.

Coming up: Art meets incarceration

Once upon a witch hunt

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is widely read by high school students, and the most fortunate among them have the opportunity to bring the tale to life on stage.

The Marcos de Niza Theatre production (directed by Patrick McChesney) opened Wed, Nov. 16, at the MdN Auditorium in Tempe — and runs through Sat., Nov. 19. 

 Program notes describe “The Crucible” as  “a dark drama about a terrible period in American history… the Salem witch trials” — and offer a summary of the story that goes something like this:

A small group of Puritan teenage girls in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts are caught dancing and conjuring love potions to catch young men. The girls invent stories about Satan invading their bodies, forcing them to take part in certain rites.

The play’s main characters include a young farmer named John Proctor and his wife. Also a young servant girl whose infatuation with the farmer leads her to accuse the wife of witchcraft.

Greedy preachers and landowners complicate the situation and hysteria soon spreads as “good people of pious nature and responsible temper begin condemning other good people to the gallows.”

Proctor brings the servant girl to court, hoping she’ll admit her lie so his wife will be saved. Instead, “the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit turns all accusations to him and ultimately sentences him to death.” 

The program notes that Miller wrote “The Crucible” as a social commentary on McCarthy-era “witch hunts” against so-called communists during the 1950s. It’s a profound and perpetually popular work because, sadly, we seem always to divide ourselves into the hunters and the hunted.

“The Crucible” received the 1953 Tony Award for best play, and feels no less relavant today — especially in the hands of our youth. They know better than most just how rapidly rumors spread, and can help us all embrace our own power to prevent and stop them.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to watch the school’s YouTube promo for “The Crucuble.” Upcoming events at Marcos de Niza include a fall dance show (Dec. 2), an orchestra concert (Feb. 22), a spring musical (“All Shook Up” March 7-10), a band pops concert (May 9) and more. Check their website for details.

Coming up: Thespian tales, More fun with “I-Spy” photos, The fine art of recycling, School shows & budget woes

Chicano studies — with a twist

The ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film presents Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez at the Lyceum Theatre on the Tempe campus through Oct. 22

I made plans to see “Zoot Suit” at Arizona State University after learning that a young woman my daughter Jennifer went to grade school with would be performing in the play.

Kaleena Newman performs the roles of Newsboy and Zooter in the production that runs through Oct. 22 at ASU’s Lyceum Theatre. After chatting with Newman on campus one day, Jennifer decided to tag along with me to see the show.

The other lure was Andrés Alcalá, an associate artist with Childsplay who directs “Zoot Suit” for ASU’s School of Theatre and Film. I’m convinced that following the fine folks of Childsplay is the surest way to find fab theater in the Valley.

Jennifer studies cultural anthropology and has long been fascinated by events surrounding World War II. “Zoot Suit” by playwright Luis Valdez is set in 1940s Los Angeles, and it makes one point abundantly clear: As one war raged abroad, another raged at home. It was a war against racism — and it’s yet to be won.

The theme of fear fueled by prejudice and the press is still relevant today (Photo: Rod Amez as Henry Reyna)

Close to home we see it in anti-immigration legislation and calls for educators in Tucson to end a long tradition of teaching Chicano studies. In “Zoot Suit,” we witness a gross miscarriage of justice as Chicano youth are arrested and jailed for a crime they didn’t commit — in part because of fear fueled by a fashion statement.

The work reflects something every good student of WWII history knows — that prejudice against those of Japanese, Jewish or African American heritage was also rampant. Be forewarned, if you take younger family members to see “Zoot Suit,” that they’ll hear not only plenty of cursing but also a single use of the “N-word.”

The Broadway production of “Zoot Suit” ran for just 41 performances in 1979. Edward James Olmos, Dexter’s newest nemesis on the Showtime television series, performed the role of narrator El Pachuco on both stage and screen. The 1982 film version of “Zoot Suit” featured Tyne Daly, seen recently in “Master Class” on Broadway, as activist Alice Bloomfield.

ASU’s production of “Zoot Suit” features Nathan Delatorre as El Pachuco and Rod Amez as Henry Reyna, a young man accused of murder the night before he’s set to report for military duty. The cast of 21 delivers a strong ensemble performance that’s powerful evidence of the university’s stellar theater program.

Every element of this production is strong — especially direction by Andrés Alcalá, choreography by Adrian Hernandez, scenic design by Alayne Levine, costume design by Connie Furr-Soloman and lighting design by Anthony Jannuzzi. Infusing masterful media design by Boyd Branch transforms the production into something truly exceptional and rare.

“Zoot Suit” feels a bit like “West Side Story” — minus the vocal numbers, plus a heavy dose of politics. It’s an entertaining work of social justice theater, but its dialogue too often spoon-feeds the audience. Of course, a spoon would have come in handy after the show as Jennifer treated me to gloriously gooey pretzels from Mellow Mushroom on Mill Avenue.

I’ve long enjoyed outings to ASU Gammage for touring Broadway productions with my youngest daughter Lizabeth, often followed by In–N-Out Burger runs. But having Jennifer join me for an ASU theater production followed by pretzels dripping in honey made for an exciting new twist.

— Lynn

Note: “Zoot Suit,” which opens the 2011-12 Arizona Centennial Season for ASU’s MainStage productions, is part of the CALA Festival. Click here to learn about additional MainStage offerings, and here for more information on the festival. Click here to explore New Carpa Theater, which “focuses on Latino and multicultural theater works.”

Coming up: Going green on Broadway, Dora explores downtown Phoenix

Two spirits

I stumbled on the film “Two Spirits” while searching Valley venues for upcoming events. It’s being shown Thurs, June 16, at 6:30pm at the Mesa Arts Center — a free presentation of City of Mesa Community Cinema.

The film explores the life and death of Fred Martinez, “a boy who was also a girl,” and considers the spiritual nature of sexuality within American Indian culture. Martinez was murdered, the victim of a hate crime, when he as just 16 years old.

The film is also being shown on PBS starting this week, as part of the “Independent Lens” series — though I suspect that seeing it screened in a community setting makes for a much more powerful experience.

The “Two Spirits” website links to all sorts of resources related to gender identity, sexuality and spirituality — suggesting ways people needing help can find it, and connecting people who want to help with ways of doing so. It’s also got a great reading list.

It includes “The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Other Identities” — an anthology of original essays, poems and true stories written by young adults in their teens and early 20s. It’s edited by David Levinthal and Billy Merrell.

Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation created to honor her 21-year old son after his 1998 murder, describes “Two Spirits” as “a beautiful film.”

“Fred Martinez was murdered,” says Shepard, “simply because he dared to be himself, and the violence against young people like him must stop. We will never be the society we hope to be until we replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.”

— Lynn

Note: While surfing the “Two Spirits” website, I learned of another film — titled “Blessing.” It’s described as “a Gay Mormon film in conjunction with Affirmation Gay and Lesbian Mormons.” To learn more about the early history of the American gay rights movement, watch the PBS “American Experience” piece titled “Stonewall Uprising.” Also check out this book recommended by Project Q in Atlanta: “A Scout is Brave” by Greg Novak–in which “A Native American is bullied at a Boy Scout summer camp as he faces his own sexuality and the traditions of his family.”

Coming up: New season announcements

Art, film and bullying prevention

Learn how you can be a part of "No Name-Calling Week" 2011

The Anti-Defamation League is partnering with Scottsdale Community College for the sixth year of a film series titled “The Many Faces of Hate.”

The film “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History” will be presented at SCC on Wed, Jan 26, from 6:30-8:30pm in the Turquoise Room.

The film recounts the story of “a student who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors and filed a federal lawsuit against his high school district.”

It’s free and open to the public, and includes a moderated post-film discussion.

The film is being presented as part of “No Name-Calling Week” — a national initiative inspired by a young adult novel titled “The Misfits.” This year’s “No Name-Calling Week” takes place Jan 24-28.

The project is headed by the “No Name-Calling Week Coalition” — created by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing (a company I call to mind each time I hear a Carly Simon song).

The project includes “a week of educational and art activities aimed at stopping name calling and bullying in schools” — which leaves me wondering about grown-up plans to curtail their own bad behavior.

I’m not so sure we set the best example as we cut each other off in traffic, gossip about friends over dinner or hurl wild accusations during political discourse. I’d rather see folks armed with crayons than with guns.

Individual students in grades K-12 are invited to participate in the “No Name-Calling Week 2011 Creative Expression Contest” before the Mon, Feb 28 deadline. Grown-ups, of course, are always free to color on their own.

The contest is “an opportunity for students to submit essays, poetry, music, original artwork, or other pieces that convey their experiences and feelings about name-calling, and their ideas for putting a stop to verbal bullying in their schools and communities.”

James Howe's book has much to offer tweens, teens and adults

The statistics about bullying are sobering, according to Melissa Medvin, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Arizona regional office.

Medvin points to GLSEN studies showing that 65% of LGBT teens or those perceived to be LGBT report being verbally or physically harassed.

About one-third of the general student population reports being bullied.

Often bullying is based on perceived differences in race, religion, sexual orientation or physical characteristics. 

Medvin notes that victims of bullying have increased rates of absenteeism, use of dangerous and illegal substances, and suicide/bullycide — as well as lower grades and lower graduation rates. We all have a stake in reducing bullying in our communities.

Additional films in the series will be shown at SCC on Feb 16, March 23 and April 27. All are documentaries dealing with the subject of hate, and all are free and open to the public.

In the meantime, banish bullying from your own behavior. You can’t expect your children to do the right thing if you’re not leading by example.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about free “Bullied” kits available (one per school) from Teaching Tolerance — a program of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Click here to learn more about GLSEN in Phoenix.

Coming up: Puppetry with a purpose