'Half Nelson' and the Kids

Recent flops such as Rendition and Lions for Lambs wear their anti-American bias on their sleeve.  Others try to sneak it in the back door.

Last year's critically praised, Academy Award nominee Half Nelson (out on DVD) is about a Brooklyn 8th grade teacher (Ryan Gosling) with a nasty crack habit.  Not far into the film, he is discovered by one of his students (Shareeka Epps) in a bathroom stall, and they form an unlikely friendship.  He coaches the girls' basketball team after school, hits the bars at night, then tries to put together coherent sentences for his students after long nights of drugs and booze.  The acting is credible, and you can't help but wonder if he is going to pull out of his addictions, or continue on the fast track to self destruction.  The film flows along at an easy pace, and it has your attention.    

Then suddenly things change.  At an arbitrary point during one of his incoherent history lessons, the fourth wall is broken; his students, mostly black, turn to the camera (you), and begin giving anti-American history "lessons", ranging from the CIA's support of Pinochet in Chile 1973, to the Attica prison riots, to the socialist rants of Mario Savio in Sproul Plaza UC Berkeley.  Immediately after each bullet point, archival film footage is generously spliced in to "support" the bullet points.  It has the effect of being abruptly scolded by your school principal, only you have no idea what you did wrong.  Did the film editor get his wires crossed with some Michael Moore documentary? 

What was most gratuitous about these blurbs is that they had nothing to do with the film's narrative.  The goal of this gimmick by filmmaker Ryan Fleck is clear: to induce as much shame as possible into the American viewer.  For some it has worked (the movie is mentioned in a blog called "Things that Make You Ashamed of the Country You're From").  Fleck's decision to use kids as his delivery tool for his anti-American views, rather than just have our teacher explain them as part of the history curriculum, is nothing short of manipulative.  After all, how could these innocent kids tell a lie?  But then again, it was the left who invented the strategy of using kids as props, and kids were used most recently by democrats to push the S-CHIP program

I awaited the full story on the students' bullet points, or something pro-American, upon the students' return from recess. That didn't happen.  The uninformed and the naïve are left with one impression:  America is a heartless basket case, and you'd better think long and hard about what this country has done and feel downright guilty. 

The viewer deserves to know the full story, right?.  Taking the CIA's involvement in Chile's coup of 1973 as an example, here are some bullet points Fleck's messenger left out:

  • In 1973 we were in the midst of the Cold War, and the Soviets were working to install communist satellite governments across the globe (world communism, by the way, is right out of the Marxist playbook).  They had already conquered Eastern Europe, brutally suppressing uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and backed communist parties in numerous countries across Asia, Latin America the Middle East and Africa.
  • As the Venona Transcripts have confirmed, the Soviet expansionist threat was real, despite what many leftists coin as our "inordinate fear."    
  • The pro-Castro, America-hating Allende was a Soviet KGB agent
  • Even if we take the student's statement regarding the CIA's "overthrow" of Allende at face value, and assume none of the above bullets, we find more attempted manipulation: As this account of events by the left-leaning Foreign Affairs Organization begrudgingly admits:
"...in most such cases, it was the locals who made the coup itself. And although the United States did little to reign in Pinochet thereafter and certainly, as these documents make clear, knew much more about the atrocities committed in Chile than was admitted to at the time or later, the causes of the violence in Chilean society are to be found more in Chilean circumstances than in the intent of manipulators in Washington."
Some research on Fleck confirmed what the movie made obvious.  A red diaper baby, Fleck spent his high school days marveling at the readings of leftist icons Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. He then joined the pro-Castro Venceremos Brigade, a pro-communist group that travels to Cuba "in defiance U.S. travel ban" (read: illegally) to show "solidarity with the Cuban Revolution."    

What a surprise.

While it's impossible to speculate what effect the spliced in anti-Americanism had on the critics' rave reviews, it certainly didn't hurt.  Some, like the New York Times, went to great lengths to make some connection between the story and the history lessons.

Many moviegoers see films to escape everyday reality. I can only imagine what conservatives thought when they paid $10 to escape the anti-American hatred that surrounds them here in San Francisco, only to get sucker-punched with more of the same.

Mark Loftin is one of those rare, rational San Francisco specimens known as a Republican.