Friday, January 9, 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino is a car, but also a movie that came out (today?) with Clint Eastwood. Costarring Bee Vang and Ahney Her, it packed quite a wallop for me.

"The movie is basically about an old dude who gets fed up with the gangs in his neighborhood - and a strange group of people he calls the "Ha-mong" - (hmong is pronounced mong). Through getting to know them including facing a tragedy with them, he finds himself and rights a wrong - dying in the end as a type of savior."

That's what a review of the movie will tell you. And they just don't get it.

Fresno is home to a lot of Hmong people - my school included. You can wikipedia "Hmong" if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about - if you don't live in Fresno, you probably don't. Let's put it this way - I have an actual student named Bee Vang right now...

What struck me most about this movie were a few things:

- the portrayal of gangs: So much of the press is about how much they suck. And pulling no punches - they do. I've seen gangs chew kids up and spit them out - perhaps in a body bag. At one point the hmong gang protects the protagonist hmong boy Thao from a mexican gang ('appropriately' in a low rider... with the asian gang in a souped up small car aka 'rice rocket'). They then expect him to join the gang... which makes a lotta sense. Thao is smart and pretty weak - definitly takes direction from his womanly overseers - at one point he overhears his grandma telling his sister "he'll never be a man of the house."

Acceptance, protection, leadership. Hmm, not like that's anything teenage boys need or anything... oh and Thao's father is dead before we meet him.

The different slant on gangs was appreciated - as was how later they show the ugly side - a drive by where people get hurt... one girl in a deeply personal way.

Gangs are not a mexican, black, asian or white problem - they're a Fatherless problem.

the mentoring relationship: You aren't gonna see this movie trotted out as "how to change the world" ala "Stand and Deliver" any time soon. There are a lot of things Clint Eastwood's character subjects poor Thao too that are just kinda strange and he insists on calling him Toad until almost the very end - as well as a few other choice racial slurs. But it's all in love so it's understood. He does indeed teach him how to be a man.

the culture: It's totally ok if you don't know what Hmong are. But if I hear one more time that "hmong are good at math/school/science" I'm gonna punch someone. Some of them are - but because they work hard at it! Because the Hmong in the movie are actual hmong (many of them from fresno actually), I loved seeing a culture I know pretty well on the big screen.

I guess that's it. Today I spent most of my day with Meagan, and with a bunch of my students from school on a snow trip. We went last year and it was a hit. Today was no different. Good times, a new experience for several of them (as in, they live less than an hour away from the mountains but had never seen snow before.). It feels good to introduce students to something they wouldn't have seen unless the triathlon team existed...

So I guess because I see so many of my students in this movie, it was actually pretty emotional for me to see. How thin the line between not only them and gangs, but ... me and them? I mean - Clint Eastwoods character interacted/interceded even on these people's behalf, and it ended up causing a lot of harm. Sure at the end it was "made right" but I can't help but think of some of the students in whose lives I've gotten very involved. About how perhaps sometimes I do more unintentional harm than good. Interacting with cultures far different than my own has been one of the best things about being a teacher.

Last weekend after a run the group of us were invited back to the kid's house we used as 'base' for an awesome meal of Carne Asada, rice and beans, and mexican salad.

I've been invited to a Hmong barbecue before by a student. I was the only white guy and it was an awesome experience for me - although I learned I can't eat papaya salad too fast... it's very hot! (and made my forehead sweat much to my embarrassment)

That's not to say I don't think I've helped some of them or think I'm not making a difference. Quite the contrary - I was very inspired by this movie. A GREAT way to start the weekend before going back to school.


Tricia Dorman said...

Great movie review Brandon. You might have another avenue to pursue now too :-) I wouldn't say that I really wanted to see the movie before, but you have definitely piqued my interest now. And you are definitely making a difference. Don't ever doubt it!

Rainmaker said...

Great write-up. I'm looking forward to seeing it this Saturday night with some friends. Thanks!