Tomorrow is a very special day. Not only is it Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but it also marks the second inauguration of our nation's first President of color. Many young Akron natives mark these social changes as hopeful that race relations will get better, while equally there are young people worried that racism will always be with us. We have seen a lot of social changes in our lifetimes, but it is good to recognize what we don't see that is real for another and shows racism in our present reality.
Art is general is not meant to be considered reality, but it is meant to put a mirror to it and ask necessary questions. In classic film, it is hard with old films' reputation of prolonging social stereotypes to find a film that does exactly that. The 1953 film Bright Road is a good example.
The film stars Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Maidie Norman, Philip Hepburn, Barbara Randolph, and Philip Horton. It is about a teacher, Jane Richards (Dandridge), starting her career teaching at an African American elementary school in Alabama. One of her students, C.T. Young (Hepburn), presents a challenge to her, as he has become disinterested in school and has a record of taking two years to finish a single grade level. The principal (Belafonte) has doubts that her efforts to reach out to him will end in success. As his grade improve, C.T. befriends a girl, Tanya (Randolph), who also helps him along. But, she is soon stricken with viral pnuemonia, and while he prays for her to live, Jane talks to her mother (Norman), who is saddened that she will lose her daughter. She does not survive, and C.T. expresses his grief by running away from school for a bit, and upon his return, gets into a fight with his classmates. You will have to see the film to see how it ends and whether he will make the grade.
The film holds a mirror to society in challenging the perceptions of mainstream society, not only at the time, but even now. The idea that you see hard working Americans of color who care for the betterment of their community at large, and wants a better future certainly is a shocking concept to grasp, even though it is a present reality. That a troubled student of color is not troubled by nature of his skin but of something deeper and a teacher doing her best to care and reach out to that student still is a shocking concept to grasp. The film puts a human face on people deemed different by society by presenting a human story of education, caring, and going out the way to help someone in need. This film was made in the 1950's, and when you see this film, what racist perceptions and realities present themselves in your mindset and what are you going to do to prevent the realities of a student like C.T. Young, and the efforts of Jane Richards to be in vain and not fruitful?