The latest Drew Associates classic film to join the lineup at The Criterion Channel is The Children Were Watching. This 26-minute documentary, filmed by Richard Leacock, lets you feel what it was like to be there in 1960 when Ruby Bridges, Tessie Prevost, and other young African-American children bravely integrated the William Frantz Elementary School and other public schools in New Orleans. Raw and emotional, the film focuses on the eyes of children as they witness their parents menacing the young Black students who are escorted to school by federal marshals. The hate-filled crowds also taunt the few White families who continue to send their children to the integrated school, forming a raucous gauntlet along the sidewalks that the parents and their children must travel to get in and out of school.
Although most Drew Associates’ films use only spare narration, relying instead on their cinema verite style to convey the story, this film employs a narrator more extensively as one of the counterpoints to the offensive racist language and actions of the segregationists. The narrator’s message at the end of the film tragically resonates today: “As for the children watching, perhaps you have discovered in them another, deeper story: of their legacy of conflict, handed down as it has been for generations. But now with some changes. Now, for the first time, there are the Tessie Prevosts and children following in the footsteps of Yolanda Gabrielle watching, too. Watching their parents, supported by the law of the land, in calm and determined opposition to the fury spent against them. What all the children are learning as they now watch will only be discovered when they become parents and their children are watching them.”
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