We are constantly competing with "The Hulk" and "Batman" for our children's imaginations and the super heroes are waging a mighty battle. Television characters such as smart-talking J.J., on "Good Times," and lacksdaisical Rerun from "What's Happenin'" do little to promote self-esteem, seriousness of mind or positive black role models. Unfortunately, television and even the movies don't provide quality visual entertainment for our youngsters.
Children are very impressionable; they need to see films geared to our experience and everyday living. And they can. There are a number of excellent films for young children reflecting life as it is. These films have black major characters, average about 10 minutes apiece, and can be programmed into presentations lasting for about an hour. But before you choose a film, think about the message you want it to give.
How do you determine whether a particular children's film projects a positive black image? Here are some hints:
1. The hero or heroine should be clearly defined, self-assured and a winner.
When faced with obstacles, they push on. Examples: "The Flashettes," "Hollis: Feeling Free" and "Kuumba: Simon's New Sound."
2. If a film attempts to be "realistic" ("Here we are in the ghetto and isn't it terrible"), the film should also include a source of hope. Children should never be left with a sense of hopelessness. aExample: "Evan's Corner."
3. Where there is mistreatment, there should also be a sense of outrage. Example: "Joshua."
In addition, try to encourage an identification with Africa as the homeland by screening films such as "Beegie and the Egg" and "Nunu and the Zebra." Both are fine films depicting African images. Our children should not accept the sterotype that our history began with slavery, nor the jungle.
If you want a number of children to see the films, screen them at birthday parties or organize a children's film festival for your church or community.
Beore the screening, involve the children in the process. Pass a strip of 16mm film among your audience. Explain to them that they are touching film, that it goes into a machine called a projector that makes the images on the film appear on the screen. Let one of the children start the projector. This will help them understand what film is all about.
After the screening, talk with the children about the films. Find out their likes and dislikes. Don't be surprised at some of the comments and criticisms they make. We misjudge what children will find interesting. Next time, choose films based on their comments.
Children's films can be rented through commerical distribution companies primarily located in New York and California. Rental fees average about $15 per film, but many companies make price adjustments based on the number of films ordered at one time. The films also are available from public libraries. If your library doesn't have any, pressure the staff to order some. For more information, write: Black Film Institute, University of the District of Columbia, Media Services, 425 Second Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.
Projectors can be borrowed from public schools or libraries, or you can rent them from commercial audio-visual supply houses for about $15 per day. Try to have two projectors on hand to avoid breaks between films.
Here are 10 suggestions bound to delight young children:
"Kuumba: Simon's New Sound." An animated folktale illustrating the principle of kuumba, creativity in Swahili. A boy named Simon, from Trinidad, uses his creative gifts to develop a new instrument, the steel drum. Eight minutes.
"Watch Out for My Plant." A story of perserverance that follows a young boy's attempt to grow a plant in a narrow patch of dirt in front of his house. Ten minutes.
"The Magic Tree." In this haunting tale from the Congo, a homely, unloved boy leaves his family for a lonely river voyage. He comes upon a magic tree, a princess and a secret paradise. Five minutes.
"Hollis: Feeling Free." An inspirational documentary with Hollis, a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. He discusses how he is different from other children and how he has come to live with those differences. Fifteen minutes.
"Miguel: Up From Puerto Rico." A day in the life of a New York Puerto Rican youngster. It is his father's birthday and he loses the money his mother gave him to buy a fish for dinner. He earns it back by working. Ten minutes.
"The Strike." An animated story of an elementary school class who suggests to their teacher that they would like to study the life of Malcolm X. The teacher says no and the class decides to strike until their demands are met. Six minutes.
"Anansi the Spider." The colorful animated African folktale about Anansi the Spider, a folk hero of Ghana's Ashanti people. Ten minutes.
"Nunu and the Zebra." A modernday East African boy's adventure enacted by the people of the area. Nunu starts out with his father one morning, but is frightened when a lion threatens to attack. Nunu is befriended by a zebra with whom he plays until his father finds him. Twenty-four minutes.
"Beegie and the Egg." An aninated folktale illustrating the principle imani, faith. Set in the plains country of East Africa, a young Masai girl's faith in her people is tested in this fantasy tale of a magic egg. Eight minutes.
"Evan's Corner." Young Evan longs for some space of his own in his family's crowded apartment. His mother finds a private corner for him, but he soon learns happiness is not being alone, but helping others. Twenty minutes. s
Many of the above films are based on books available from bookstores and public libraries. Enjoying the films should encourage the children to also read the books.