Why “The Good Lie” was not appropriate as the MLK day movie

The purpose of watching a movie and discussing it as a school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is to help educate Western Reserve Academy students on civil rights issues and to celebrate everything Martin Luther King Jr. fought for. But watching “The Good Lie” failed to do MLK Day the justice it deserved.

When the movie was introduced at Morning Meeting, I was hopeful that the administration had picked a film that would lead to a strong and educational discussion on civil rights and black culture. I can say that I was a bit disappointed by the end of the trailer. Although I had never heard of or watched the movie, I knew all about the program it was based on, The Lost Boys of Sudan, and knew it had absolutely nothing to do with Martin Luther King Jr., his fight for civil rights, or African-American anything for that matter. And the speaker, Emmanuel Jal – I was excited to be having a speaker to talk about his experiences, but less excited that this holiday was being used as a means to introduce a speaker. No matter how good the movie is, it has nothing to do with African-Americans and the struggle that we face in society; especially considering it didn’t picture a single African American person. This movie focused on refugees and immigration, making it a challenge to find connections to African-American rights and and problems faced in society.

One of the other problems with this movie was the fact that it appeared to be a white savior movie. A white savior movie is when a white character is depicted as a “savior” to “save” a colored person from their circumstances. In the trailer, the movie definitely seemed to have been more of a white savior movie than it really was, although that doesn’t excuse the fact that it definitely does have small examples of being a white savior narrative. My problem was that it was marketed as a white savior movie. If you Google “The Good Lie,” the first thing that comes up in images is the movie poster. It depicts a large picture of Reese Witherspoon looking off into the distance, then under her, there are three figures walking through the plains of Africa. After seeing this, there is no question as to why some may jump to conclusions. At the same time, having Witherspoon’s character play a big part in the movie causes people to focus on what she did for “The Lost Boys” instead of what they did for themselves, such as working or getting a higher education. This movie could have easily diminished her character to a smaller role, and not changed the intended plot or message of the story.

At Sit-Down Lunch that day, a list of questions were provided to encourage discussions about social justice with advisories. I talked with a number of people afterward and most said their advisories didn’t do much talking about the questions, some didn’t even look at them. Others even said they felt uncomfortable answering “those types of questions” in such a semi-public setting. That was also the same for many people in groups after the movie. Some had really productive discussions that focused on the good and bad things about the movie, but not that much relating to African-American focused issues. But other groups had dry discussions, with only a few people talking. I think part of the reason for that was the large discussion groups. But this issue most likely stemmed from the fact that the movie had nothing to do with civil rights. Although it was a good movie, MLK day is to celebrate and educate on African-American culture and history. The movie had nothing to do with that. How can a group of students have a discussion about problems focused on African-Americans based on a movie that focuses on the challenges of relocation and has nothing to do with African-Americans? Just because a movie includes black people in America doesn’t make it a movie about African-Americans.

I’m not saying that this movie was horrible or that there was anything wrong with those who choose this movie, but MLK day was not the day for us to watch “The Good Lie.” It has powerful messages of strength and perseverance but it has nothing to do with MLK or what he fought for, about or against. MLK Day is not a day to be used for any purpose outside of reflecting on the current state of society and how it affects African-Americans. In order to do that the movie that we watch has to be about African-Americans, not Africans.

Logan Amos ’23

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