I signed up to chaperone my son's field trip to the movies. His 2nd-grade class was so excited for this day to come. The school was providing popcorn and juice boxes, and we were walking to Riverview movie complex. The featured film was Sherlock Gnome, and though I knew very little about the movie, I was really getting a kick out of the classroom buzz. These kids couldn't wait.
My son attends Nebinger Elementary School. This is a diverse school, with 49 percent black students, 22 percent Hispanic students, 14 percent Asian students, and 15 percent white students.
The movie was white. Very white. So white that I felt uneasy. All the main characters were white. There was one scene that took place in a Chinatown-like setting and featured Asian-inspired characters. A child sitting in the row behind me exclaimed,"China!" She was excited to see some representation. Even to a 2nd grader, representation is important.
There was one black character. Her name was Irene, and she was a stage performer and a Barbie Doll. Her voice was black, her mannerisms were black, and her energy was quintessentially black, despite her light skin and blonde hair. Her scene lasted about five minutes, including a song-and-dance number, and then her character proceeded to the shadows of this white film.
While I was watching the movie with these kids that I have come to love – as many parents do when they volunteer often in their child's classroom – I felt for the first time what it's like to be underrepresented. I am white. My son is white. But I was in charge of an entire row of his classmates. I was the popcorn distributor, the bathroom accompanier, and the mom of the moment. I felt sad that my children weren't represented in the film.
After the movie was over, I looked around. All smiles, giggles, laughter, and joy. They had a great time. These kids are happy, and they loved their movie experience. No under-representation could take away this love from them. They had been waiting for this field trip for weeks, and it lived up to their dreams and expectations because that's what kids do. Kids see the light in every situation. And kids love to love. Kids love to have fun.
I'm writing this as an observer. I want to record the experience, and I want to never forget this amazing day with these wonderful children. But I'm also writing this to challenge the film industry. I challenge Hollywood to create characters that represent everyone. Although kids will always love the movies, they will also always love seeing characters that look like they do.
Jessica Noel, is the director of P.A.C.K. – Performance Art Club for Kids – and the mom of a 2nd grader at Nebinger Elementary School.