A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Silent Rose is an experimental quasi-documentary that's designed to get young people talking about racial (in)justice. Sketch-comedy TV producer Evan Shapiro (Portlandia) is behind the project, and while this isn't a comedy, the teen "actors" improvise a reenactment of their own lives in school around the 2016 election. The story focuses on how the very few students of color feel about attending a mostly white high school with racism creeping to the forefront during Donald Trump's presidential campaign, the murder of Trayvon Martin in the news, and school shootings affecting the atmosphere on campus. The movie's messages are about the importance of communication and expression, especially when authority is trying to suppress dissent. A subplot follows the school's gun-toting security guard who's anxiously preparing in case an active shooter comes to campus (a lockdown is shown, although students do not look distressed). Teens frequently use strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more) and are briefly shown vaping and using a hookah.
What's the story?
SILENT ROSE focuses on a Denver high school around the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Shatira Herrera is a senior of mixed race who's attending a mostly white high school. She has a will-they-or-won't-they relationship with Marquel Alexander, one of the school's few black students. As the election ramps up, political attitudes find their way onto the campus -- and into the classroom.
Is it any good?
Emerging documentarian Mitch Dickman has created a time capsule piece here, a reenactment drama that has an innovative concept but a frustrating execution. Filming mostly in black and white, Dickman has former occupants of a real Denver high school -- students, teacher, and principal -- re-enact the campus dynamics surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Whatever technique he used, he managed to pull authentic performances out of non-actors. If you didn't know better, you'd think you were watching a documentary.
But there's a lot in Silent Rose that doesn't hit the mark. The use of black and white detracts from the impact in notable ways. First, some characters' ethnicity is unclear in a story in which that definitely matters. And, second, like it or not, few things turn teens off faster than watching a film in black and white. On the other hand, the cinematography may appeal more to kids than to adults. Faces are only partially in frame -- in one particularly frustrating scene, Shatira swings in and out of frame, while viewers can only see her boyfriend's body and chin. And the first 45 minutes are pretty boring -- things really only pick up the last 10 minutes. This one-hour production seems designed to get teens talking, but it's hard to imagine young people engaging with the film without being forced to by parents or educators. The true value of Silent Rose is to adults who want to understand the impact of school shootings, the ushering in of the Trump era, and the stirrings of activism of high schoolers in the latter half of the 2010s.
Talk to your kids about ...
Parents can talk about Silent Rose's themes of silence and communication. Why do you think the movie is titled Silent Rose? Can you think of current examples of authority figures trying to silence citizens? Did watching the film film inspire you to speak out against anything you think is unjust?
Talk about the impact of Trayvon Martin's murder. How is that incident connected to the experience of students of color attending an economically secure high school? How can educators be more supportive of racial justice -- or do you think that's their role?
How does the worry of school shootings affect the characters in the film? How do you feel about metal detectors and armed security guards in schools? Do you think gun violence can be prevented in schools? Teens: Do you feel safe at school?
In the present-day wrap-up, Shatira indicates that she doesn't know how to approach the carefree life that 20-somethings are "supposed" to live, and that she's more worried about the future than death. What are your own feelings about the current status of the world for your people -- and your thoughts about the future?
One interviewee says that the conservative-leaning students attending the movie's dominantly liberal school seem to double down on their ideology as a defense mechanism. And the film revolves around how non-white students of color feel attending a mostly white school. How are these two different types of groups similar and different in how they feel about being "outnumbered"? What's the importance of feeling like you belong? How is that need intensified in a school setting?
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