Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Intolerance. Now that's a topic. And one I'm certainly not prepared or qualified to cover properly, but I couldn't think of a clever title for this post.

Tonight I went to see the film Prom Night in Mississippi and while watching I kept thinking, what year is this again?

If you haven't heard of this movie, it's a documentary about a small town in Mississippi, called Charleston. A small town that Morgan Freeman just happens to live in (or near). I gather he was born there, moved away when he was six, but moved back at some point as an adult.

Anyway... Although the US Supreme Court ordered all schools in the US to be integrated in 1954, the high school in this particular town did not admit black students until 1970. And because the white parents were so upset about their children being forced to go to school with black kids, they (and the school board) decided that there should be separate proms. And ever since then, there have been two proms at this school -- one for the whites and one for the blacks. (No idea what would happen if a kid of another race were to move to this town... I guess no prom for him.)

In 1997, Morgan Freeman approached the school and offered to pay for the prom if they integrated it, but his offer was rejected. According to Freeman, the students were all for it, but it was blocked by the parents and the school board. So, he decided in 2008 to try again, but this time he took a documentary film crew with him, and the school, no doubt under the pressure of having the film crew there, took him up on it.

Mostly. Kind of.

Yes, they did have their first ever integrated social event in the history of this town, but in the end, the parents of the white kids got together to throw a separate prom for whites only -- which most of the white kids went to, even though a good number (16? 18?) of the them *also* went to the integrated prom. (The school is 70% black and 30% white.) And oh the pressure put on the white kids to show up to this white only prom, even if they were on the committee planning the integrated event. Horrible. And ridiculous fears and speculations perpetuated by the white parents of the depravity that would occur at the integrated prom, and the ugly words used to describe these imaginings. Chilling in this day and age. Chilling in any day and age.

And I kept having to remind myself that this wasn't a story about the south during or before the civil rights movement. This was real life. Real life in 2008. And the hatred and intolerance of some of these people, the pure ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar. Very sad.

And that kind of intolerance made me think of an Amazon review posted for the anthology, The Night Before Christmas, that Molly's fabulous story is in this month -- with Brenda Novak and Day Leclaire, no less. Check it out if you haven't already. I haven't read Novak's or Leclaire's stories yet, but I can attest that Molly's is fabulous.

But yes, her story has a subplot involving a secondary character who happens to be gay. The plot involves the heroine keeping a big secret, and so this teen kid dealing with coming out to his dad was a fabulous parallel story and totally worked to heighten the conflict and mirror what was going on with the heroine, and to force her to follow her own advice. Very nice. It also fit with the overall themes of being accepted for who you are, not where you come from -- not to mention the themes of love and forgiveness that were key to the romance plot.

Sure, the romance could've been told without this added complication or layer, but it wouldn't have been as poignant, or as conflict ridden, or as touching, or as interesting.

So imagine my surprise when I went to post a review on Amazon and discovered someone had gotten there first to post a negative review -- specifically about this subplot. Now, reviews are reviews and there's really nothing to be gained from arguing with reviewers. Especially Amazon reviews where anyone and everyone can post them. Tastes vary and everyone is entitled to like or dislike a story they read. But this review wasn't about taste, or likes or dislikes for that matter, (unless it was "I dislike reading about gay people"). Nor was it even about the story or how well it was written. The review was firmly centered in intolerance. It's reads like a public service warning: Danger. Gay character in this book. Stay away. But the reviewer is careful to point out that she's not homophobic, and she doesn't hate gay people. Oh no. It's just that the inclusion of a gay character spoils stories for her.

And it so reminded me of the people in this documentary... I'm not a racist, I just don't want a n*** rubbing up against my daughter at the prom. I'm not a racist, I just think they should all just keep to themselves. I not a homophobe, I just don't want to acknowledge such people exist.

Ummm.. What year it it again?


Molly O'Keefe said...

I can't wait to see that movie - it's always so startling to run into these little pockets of hate - it's like finding animals you thought were extinct.

And, you're such a sweetheart. Eveyone should have a friend like you in thier corner...

Kimber Chin said...

My best bud and I were just talking about this last night. I went on an interview and the interviewer, having a different accounting designation than I did, made a point of sharing that she didn't think my designation was 'bad' or that I was less intelligent for getting that one rather than hers.

Which meant, of course, that she DID think that because if she didn't, she wouldn't have brought it up.

Some people need to blame others for their problems. These 'others' are anyone different from them. Heck, I hear there's a hate thing happening with redheads in high schools (some South Park skit taken into the real world).

I've come to terms with not being able to please everyone. I WILL be hated by someone. As long as that person is not myself, I'm fine with that.

Eileen said...

It makes me sad and a little queasy. I was so shocked when Proposition 8 was passed here in California and gay marriage was banned. The arguments seemed like they were from another time, just like the movie you're talking about. How could this be happening now? How could people still be so filled with hate for so little reason?

Molly, kudos to you for writing a sensitive story about love and acceptance. It's authors like you that will lead the way a less hate-filled world.

Sinead M said...

Amazing post, Maureen, really have to see that movie and as for Molly's gay son subplot, I loved it. I loved the novella, but that subplot was gorgeous, really lovely.
I guess one of the decisions we need to make as writers is whether to play it safe, and not to include anything potentially controversial.
To be honest, when I read that storyline, I couldn't imagine anyone taking offense.. still can't really.

Leah Braemel said...

I live in a city that made international headlines when a young gay teenager wanted to take his same sex partner as his date to his high school prom and was forbidden. My jaw dropped on that one. Then I read the story about Morgan Freeman and that town a few days ago, and OMG talk about a throwback to the 50s.

A friend of mine lives in Louisiana where she encounters this separatist mentality daily to the point that she lost friends when she supported President Obama's election. It's scary to see that type of mindset existing even now.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I feel like the world is getting more and more "us" vs. "them" which is why art and entertainment become so important - because as often is the case arguing doesn't change anything. But a good story or song or movie can a person's opinion.

I make mention of two friends who came out to thier families in the dear reader letter - and on paper these families seemed the least likely to embrace a gay kid - conservative, very Catholic etc... all the stereotypes. And both families said "you're my kid, I love you."

Chelle Sandell said...

As they should. It makes me sad to think a child can't tell their parents about someone they love just because the parents might turn away from them. Whether it is racial or sexual. Life is hard enough as it is without homophobics and racists trying to tell us what they think is right or wrong.

Allie said...

I just don't understand! And I'm not sure I ever will. I really can't believe that in 2008 there was anyone who would think it was okay to have a segregated prom! And I can't believe the lack of equal rights! So sad!

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