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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest is an inspiring documentary that's a great choice for families to watch together. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is mentioned, as well as police brutality against Black people in the past and present. Themes of prejudice and racism are present throughout, though the documentary strikes a hopeful tone about young people being able to effect change. The participating kids demonstrate the value of hard work and living with conviction, and their performances and backstories are nothing short of inspirational.
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What's the story?
WE ARE THE DREAM: THE KIDS OF THE OAKLAND MLK ORATORICAL FEST follows students in the Oakland Unified School District as they prepare for an oratorical competition inspired by MLK's legacy. In the Oratorical Fest, students from all grades recite original compositions or works from famous Black authors like Maya Angelou or Langston Hughes. They perform in front of judges and advance through multiple rounds to the final competition. The pieces kids perform center around race. Kids celebrate their Blackness, speak out against discrimination they face for wearing a hijab, and talk about how Latinx immigrants built the United States. The documentary follows kids as they prepare for the competition, showing how hard they work and how even shy kids become empowered to try public speaking. The competition prep is interspersed with segments that give historical context about Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and race in Oakland and the United States. The film climaxes with transcendent performances given by young kids in the final oratorical competition.
Is it any good?
This inspiring film is an hour's respite from the challenges we face in the United States. Part of We Are the Dream follows the well-worn uplifting documentary narrative about talented kids working really hard toward a goal (similar to other inspiring documentaries like Spelling the Dream, First Position, Brooklyn Castle, etc.). What sets We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest apart is what the kids are working to achieve, which is to deliver compelling public speaking performances that address the issue of race. The kids' purity of conviction and clarity of message offer hope that these young people will fix what previous generations have messed up.
Adults will find it incredibly poignant watching small kids being so proud of their identities and committed to their sense of right and wrong. Kids will enjoy seeing other kids overcoming fears and succeeding in public speaking. Watch this together as a family, and allow it to be a natural jumping-off point to talk about race in the United States.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about something they'd like to see change. Not sure where to start? Some ideas could be to raise awareness about deforestation, force government action to combat climate change, dismantle racial inequality, raise the living wage. How could you use the power of communication to teach and inspire people about it, like the kids in We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest did?
The kids in the competition show a lot of perseverance as they work hard to prepare for the performances. They also have to overcome their fears and nerves around performing. When have you used perseverance to reach a goal?
What is something you can do in your own life to live out MLK's legacy? How can you apply the tenets of his message in your day-to-day activities?
- On DVD or streaming: February 18, 2020
- Director: Amy Schatz
- Studio: HBO Studios
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Arts and Dance, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Communication, Perseverance
- Run time: 60 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: August 13, 2020
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