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Director Euzhan Palcy is speaking out about the reversal of a ban on her 1998 Disney film Ruby Bridges in a St. Petersburg, Florida, elementary school.
“Truth will out!” Palcy, 65, says in a statement issued to The Hollywood Reporter. “I commend the seven Florida teachers for standing up for truth by unanimously clearing Ruby Bridges for screening in the public schools”
“This is a victory for hope as portrayed in my film by the courage of children to turn their backs on bigotry, hatred and racism,” Palcy continues. “The teachers’ action sticks a thorn in the bubble of ignorance in which the enlightened parents wish to surrounded their children. Guess what will happen to those children when that bubble bursts?”
The controversy around Ruby Bridges began last month, when a parent at North Shore Elementary School complained that the film — about the 6-year-old Black girl who integrated a New Orleans in 1960 — ran the risk of “teaching them racial slur [sic]” and that “white people hate black people.”
The PG-rated film was screened for around 60 second-graders as part of a lesson for Black History month. Permissions slips and a link to the film’s trailer were emailed to parents before the screening.
The complaint led to the film being temporarily banned until further review. Then came an April 3 vote by an eight-person committee consisting of “teachers, parents, community members and a library media technology specialist,” according to statement from the school district, who first viewed the film and then asked questions of teachers who screened it, as well as a district content specialist. The complaining parent did not attend the hearing.
“Ruby Bridges was selected, because she’s relatable to our second-graders as she is a 6-year-old. And after the movie, we had a post discussion,” one teacher said. “The forum was open to our students to express themselves, and how they could relate to Ruby Bridges from the movie. A follow-up activity about how each student was brave, like Ruby Bridges, was completed.”
The committee voted unanimously to allow Ruby Bridges to continue to be shown, safeguarding it throughout the Pinellas County Schools district.
Bridges, now 68 and a full-time civil rights activist, had to be escorted by federal marshals when she became the first Black child to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. She was met with racist taunts and spitting by crowds of adults as she entered the school. Parents withdrew their children in protest. Bridges was forced to sit alone every day in first grade class with the single teacher who agreed to teach her. The shameful chapter was immortalized in The Problem We All Live With, a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell.
Born in Martinique, Palcy broke out with her debut, 1983’s Sugar Cane Alley, and went on to direct the 1989 apartheid drama A Dry White Season for MGM, which starred Marlon Brando and Donald Sutherland and is the first Hollywood studio film directed by a Black woman.
She was presented with an honorary Academy Award in 2022, recognized for her work as “a pioneering filmmaker whose groundbreaking significance in international cinema is cemented in film history.”
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