When I went to see the Oscar-nominated Live Action shorts recently, an advisory taped to the box office window warned viewers to expect themes of murder, racial violence, and children in peril. The films featured a six-year-old abandoned on a beach; a child getting sucked under by quicksand as his friend watches in helpless horror; a reenactment of the police inquiry of two 10-year-olds convicted of kidnapping and murdering a toddler in England 25 years ago; and a young boy from a gun-loving (as well as loving) family.
Well, maybe not entirely loving, since the father beats up a black man for interacting with his son in a friendly manner in a checkout line. In a fastidious act of retaliation, the beaten man’s friends and family tattoo the racist father’s entire body black before releasing him to stumble back home. Whereupon his son unknowingly shoots him to death, mistaking his dad for a black intruder. This last short, “Skin,” was awarded the Oscar.
All the films were well-acted and tightly written, with top-notch production values. Still, not a good first-date movie.
I have another short film to nominate for the “Children in Peril” category. It’s a lot less harrowing to watch than the Oscar contenders, although if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it’s the most disturbing. Unlike the others, the production values are terrible, as videos surreptitiously shot by an amateur holding a smartphone tend to be.
The fifteen minutes of grainy footage shot through a narrow doorway are of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s now-infamous meeting with a group of middle- and high-schoolers about the Green New Deal. The senator loses no time in dismissing the kids as unrealistic know-nothings who aren’t old enough to vote anyway, so why should she care? She doesn’t allow them to read their handwritten letter to her; instead, she’s fixated on distributing copies of her proposal so the kids can read it. One little pig-tailed girl looks like she’s about to burst into tears. Another, older and bolder, manages to score an internship with Feinstein, who seems to belatedly realize that she’s committing PR suicide on a national stage.
The kids are hurried out of the meeting by some middle-aged white guys in suits. These aides, looking like Jeff Flake trapped in an elevator with sexual assault victims after the Kavanaugh hearings, attempt awkward small talk.
“I’m a big backpacker, so I’m environmentally conscious!” one offers.
A boy says, “My grandparents’ house burned down in the Paradise fire due to low rain, and that could have been caused by climate change.”
The adults in suits choke out, “Oh, no! Really? Terrible!” before fleeing.
Feinstein may have had a point, but she looked and sounded like an old crank yelling, “Get off of my lawn!” Not a smart move to plant a sign reading, “You and your stupid ideas aren’t welcome here” for any Democrat hoping to attract a whole new generation of voters to the Party.
Of course, DiFi’s viral moment has nothing on the virulence of the Republican climate deniers and obstructionists currently in power and rapidly catapulting us toward catastrophe. While Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell rant about socialism and mock the Green New Deal, at least the Democrats are putting forth and debating ideas necessary for addressing the problem on the scale it requires. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—hardly a radical environmentalist but recognizing the urgency of the moment—said recently from the Senate floor:
“Maybe Leader McConnell doesn’t realize this, but because of the political stunt vote he’s planning on his version of Green New Deal, for the first time in a long time, the Senate is finally debating the issue of climate change. And it’s about time, if you ask me. . . . I understand my friends on the other side of the aisle don’t like the Green New Deal. O.K., that’s fine. What’s your plan? Maybe a lot of members think they can get away without having to answer the question. They won’t. . . . Democrats believe this is an issue of surpassing importance. What do our Republican colleagues believe? We hope sincerely that our Republican friends will come around and view it the same way.”
Until they do—until we all do—children will remain in peril.