Being Ginger is really about being human. In a fundamentally kind, sometimes humorous, amazingly un-moralistic way, director Scott Harris shows what it both feels and looks like to be dehumanized and what healing from that looks like, even as the casual cruelty he documents continues. Sometimes he asked for it while doing his filming but it’s still amazing and disturbing to see how unthinkingly interview subjects deliver – particularly a teacher he’d had in 2nd grade and later interviewed before making the film and a woman he interviewed in a park during its making.
Even though what happened to him as a child is why he made Being Ginger, Harris says he didn’t intend to create a film about bullying. Which is why it’s both so effective as one and so unfair to call it one. Among many things it does, the film puts childhood bullying in the context of a 31-year-old man’s life, that man then showing us with courage and candor not only the bullying’s impact but how he’s moving past it more than 20 years later.
But I don’t think he even set out to do that. This was just going to be a film about what it’s like to be a redhead, or at least what it has been like for this one. You get the sense that Harris had no idea that making the film would help him, much less show us how the making of it did. We get to learn from watching someone openly reflect on what he’s experiencing, work out how to articulate that verbally and visually and, in the process, himself learn about something he hadn’t realized was so central to his story: the relationship between self acceptance and social acceptance.
Toward the end of the film we get to watch it dawn on Harris why he had to make the film, how he needed to see that he could – after public screenings and the development of a certain amount of fame – be in the spotlight without being hurt. And throughout there are hints of something both personal and universal: he was slowly learning to love himself, getting glimpses of why that makes one whole even better than others’ acceptance can. What a privilege to witness that and how courageous the filmmaker was to allow us to. I keep thinking about it – definitely a sign of a good film.
Parents and teachers (probably of high schoolers*), obviously I recommend this film. For any class or family discussion aimed at social-emotional learning (the major part of bullying prevention), you’d probably have a meaty one about the interview with the blonde lady at 33:50 min. into the film. If her casual, unthinking bigotry isn’t immediately obvious to someone watching, try to be as patient with them as Harris is with her. He’s a very unassuming hero.
- Here’s the film’s trailer.
- The New York Times’s review of the film
- “‘Bullying experiment’ video: What’s wrong with this picture?” and many more posts on the subject at NetFamilyNews
- “All kids deserve the safety & other benefits of social-emotional learning”
* Caveat: For anyone uncomfortable with showing minors footage of adults drinking alcohol, there’s brief, completely contextual depiction of a pub crawl near the end.
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