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        Children of Giant | Lesson Plan: Intersectionality On Screen and Off

        "People went to the theater to see Elizabeth Taylor, and what they got was an unrelenting feminist message and a message for social justice."

        - M. G. Lord, Writer

        In the summer of 1955, Hollywood movie crews rolled into the small, West Texas town of Marfa to film, Giant, based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling but controversial novel. Children of Giant illustrates how Edith Ferber’s personal experience of discrimination, stemming from her intersecting identities as a Jewish woman, and her collaborative research into the lives and experiences of Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans in Texas, influenced her development of complex characters such as Juana and Leslie. It also reveals the Intersectionality of discrimination behind the lens through the experiences of the citizens of Marfa as well as the actor Elsa Cardenas, who played Juana.

         

        Lesson Summary

        Like Ferber’s book, director, George Stevens’ film, Giant, portrayed critical social issues that were rarely addressed in mainstream movies, including racial prejudice, segregation, sexism, and the plight of the working poor.

        In the shadow of this production, the residents of Marfa, Texas were living the social themes and racial tensions depicted in the movie. The film set of Giant may have been racially integrated, but the town itself, with its substantial population of Mexican Americans, was still in the grip of racial segregation. There were White-Only areas of public establishments, including the town’s movie theater, where children and adults who featured in Giant were required to watch from the balcony when the film was released.

        Hector Galan’s documentary, Children of Giant, reveals the deeply wrought emotions surrounding the de-facto segregation of Anglos and Latinos in the small West Texas town of Marfa, before, during, and after the month-long production of George Stevens’ 1956 feature film, Giant.

        Children of Giant illustrates how Edith Ferber’s personal experience of discrimination, stemming from her intersecting identities as a Jewish woman, and her collaborative research into the lives and experiences of Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans in Texas, influenced her development of complex characters such as Juana and Leslie. It also reveals the Intersectionality of discrimination behind the lens through the experiences of the citizens of Marfa as well as the actor Elsa Cardenas, who played Juana.

        Through this lesson, students will learn about the important role that the diversity of personal and social identities played in the creation and narrative of Giant and the value of telling and viewing stories through an intersectional lens today.

         

        About the Film

        Children of Giant unearths the deeply wrought emotions surrounding the de-facto segregation of Anglos and Latinos in the small West Texas town of Marfa, before, during, and after the month-long production of George Stevens’ 1956 feature film, Giant, which tells the story of three generations of a powerful Texas ranching dynasty.

        Based on the controversial Edna Ferber novel of the same name, Giant did not shy from the strong social issues experienced throughout post-WWII America—it brought to the screen an unflinching look at racism, early feminism, and class divisions—daring themes for movie audiences at the time. Starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean, Giant was nominated for 10 Academy Awards® and it would be the last film James Dean ever made. Since its premiere in 1956, Giant has been seen in more than twenty countries and is listed as one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time. For Latino historians, poets, and filmmakers, the appreciation for the movie Giant runs far deeper. It was one of the first Hollywood features to recognize the racial divide of Mexicans Americans in the Southwestern United States.

        Fifty years later, the documentary Children of Giant looks at the making of Giant—in the very town where the residents who participated and witnessed the making of this great American classic were actually living the controversial themes in the movie. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Hector Galán weaves in rare clips and photos from the feature film with the voices of the Mexican American and Anglo townspeople, cast, and crew. The documentary captures this fascinating conjunction of art and real life in the summer of 1955, providing a remarkable opportunity to look into the prevailing attitudes of the time through a giant Hollywood prism.

        • Director: Hector Galan
        • Executive Producers: Hector Galan, Carolyn Pfeiffer
        • Producers: Karen Bernstein, Evelyn Ledesma Galan

        - From Children of Giant Fact Sheet, PBS International

         

        Time Allotment

        90 -120 minutes + Assignments

        Learning Objectives

        Students will:

        • Explore the multiple “identities” that are part of their own experiences
        • Understand the meaning of Intersectionality and the history and value of this perspective
        • Examine how each of their identities intersect in their lives and shape the interactions they have in the world
        • View clips from Children of Giant and understand the role intersectional identities played on and off screen
        • Create an Infographic and/or diagram that illustrates and celebrates their own Intersectional Identities

        Prep for Teachers

        Facilitation Note: This lesson plan addresses important and challenging social issues with the goal of engaging students in active discussion and debate. Please review all of the materials and media associated with the lesson and adjust as necessary for your classroom community. The Teacher Resource INTERSECTIONALITY 101 by Olena Hankivsky, PhD, is a useful primer on Intersectionality and provides additional context and discussion prompts for class activities (PDF link: http://www.sfu.ca/iirp/resources.html).

        Explain that this lesson will deal with some complicated issues about identity, but students are encouraged to engage in open discussion and maintain a feeling of safety in the classroom. Reinforce or establish Ground Rules to guide the lesson’s activities and discussions. Have the Ground Rules read aloud and discuss each one. Emphasize that disagreement is acceptable but personal attacks are not. Revisit the Ground Rules throughout the lesson and reinforce a constructive atmosphere. During the Brainstorming activities, remind students that the goal is to examine the complexity of our social identities, and NOT to use this as an opportunity to reinforce stereotypes or social/cultural bias.

         

        Supplies

         

        Media Resources

         

        Introductory Activity

        DO NOW – WHO AM I?

        Time: 15 Minutes

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUT A 

        Summary: Students will consider the multiple “identities” that are part of their own experiences. They will understand the meaning of Intersectionality and the history and value of this perspective. 

        • Preparation: Post the following definition in a visible area of the class (white board, Kraft paper, etc.) before students arrive: Identity - The set of qualities and beliefs that make one person or group different from [or the same as] others. (Adapted from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary for Kids)
        • When students arrive instruct them to read the definition and rewrite it in their own words. Then, ask for volunteers to share their work with the class.
        • Have students think about all of the “identities” that relate to them and give them two minutes to brainstorm and list as many as they can. (Let them know that this is a private brainstorm, and they will not be required to share their responses, if they prefer not to.)
        • Ask students to raise their hands if they listed more than one identity. More than two? More than three?
        • Discuss: Without sharing their specific answers, ask students to identify the different categories of identities they listed (race, gender, religion, neighborhood/country of origin, economic class, social group, etc.). Record their responses on the board or Kraft paper.
        • Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT A to each student and instruct them to complete the activity: list three identity categories down the left side and write one social privilege and one social disadvantage that could be associated with each identity. (Note: if there is a safe classroom/group environment for personal sharing, students can select and write about their own identities and experiences.)
        • Have students share their responses with a partner and give/receive constructive feedback. Ask for volunteers to share their responses with the class.
        • Discuss:
        1. As we have seen, each person has more than one identity, and each identity has social privileges and disadvantages. Do some identities carry greater social importance than others? (Example: Does gender shape our experience more than race?) In what ways?
        2. How does the social impact of our identities shift in different social situations? (How do we experience our race/gender/class/religion in our home, neighborhood, school, job, online, social group, etc.?)

         

        Learning Activities

        ACTIVITY 1: INTERSECTING IDENTITIES, WHAT IS INTERSECTIONALITY?

        Time: 40+ Minutes

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUTS B & C

        Summary: Students will understand the meaning of Intersectionality and using this understanding, they will examine how each of their identities intersect in their lives and shape the interactions they have in the world.

        • Explain: In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw was thinking about the multiple forces of discrimination Black women experience in America. She noticed that there were college classes and social justice organizations that addressed racial discrimination but they often focused on the experiences of Black men. Similarly, women’s rights resources looked at feminism from the perspective of White women. In both circumstances, Black women’s complex stories and experiences were silenced or missing. Ms. Crenshaw, now a Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, coined the term Intersectionality to describe the multiple, intersecting systems of oppression that black women experience. Since then, the term Intersectionality has expanded. According to OxfordDictionaries.com, Intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
        • Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT B: INTERSECTIONALITY GUIDE and review the Infographic on Intersectionality (To save paper, share the GUIDE using a multimedia projector.)
        • Divide the class into small groups and distribute one copy of STUDENT HANDOUT C to each group. A volunteer (or volunteers) from each group should read the story told by Kimberlé Crenshaw out loud, followed by a group discussion using the questions included in the handout.

         

        ACTIVITY 2: CHILDREN OF GIANT, INTERSECTIONALITY ON SCREEN AND OFF

        Time: 20 Minutes

        You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens, film clips (see below), STUDENT HANDOUTS D & E

        Film Clips:

        1. VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview (1:30): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmuoaK21dkI
        2. Intersectionality CLIP 1 (4:54): "You know Edna Thurber was very strong herself. So of course she portrayed another strong woman in Giant."
        3. Intersectionality CLIP (5:42): "Elsa was unaware of the extent of the racism in Texas."

         

        • CHILDREN OF GIANT IN CONTEXT: Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT D, which provides an overview of Children of Giant and the social context for Marfa, Texas. Review with students before screening the film clips. (Note: This can be distributed in advance of the lesson as a Homework Assignment.)
        • Play the VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview followed by CLIPS 1 & 2. Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT E and instruct students to use the idea map to record the different identities and social categories associated with Elsa Cardenas, Edna Ferber, and the character Leslie. If a description fits more than one person, write it in the overlapping area. (For example: all three are women, so write “women” in the center where the three circles overlap.)
        • Draw or project STUDENT HANDOUT E on the board and have students share their responses.
        • Review their feedback and discuss using the prompts below, as needed:
        1. What are some quotes or scenes that stood out for you? Was there anything that surprised you?
        2. What are some characteristics that the author Edna Ferber possessed? According to the documentary, what were the Intersecting identities that shaped Ferber’s perception of the world and her work? How did her own experience influence the development of her characters?
        3. In South Texas, Ferber met Dr. Hector P. Garcia. What Intersecting identities did Dr. Garcia possess and how did his complex perspective benefit his work in the community? How did he contribute to the development of Ferber’s book?
        4. Many critics had negative responses to Giant but some of their objections were directed at Ferber herself. Why do you think they were specifically hostile to the fact that a Jewish woman from the North was writing about subjects like ranching, industry, race relations, the American West, etc?
        5. If Edna Ferber was born and raised in Texas, do you think she would have focused on the same themes and issues in Giant? Why or why not? How did her position and identity as an outsider influence her experience of West Texas society? How did her outsider identity benefit and disadvantage the development and reception of Giant?
        6. According to Children of Giant, how did the character Leslie, help to shape the themes and messages in the book and film?
        7. What Intersecting identities do both Taylor and her character, Leslie, share? What did M.G Lord mean when she said, “People went to the theater to see Elizabeth Taylor, and what they got was an unrelenting feminist message and a message for social justice”?
        8. Why was a strong and independent female character in a Hollywood cause film so revolutionary at that time? How are women depicted in film today? (Is it the same or have representations of women changed? In what ways?)
        9. Why was Elsa Cardenas nervous about playing Juana in the film? What are some Identities that Elsa shares with her character Juana?
        10. How did Elsa’s actual representation of Mexican identity conflict with the filmmakers’ expectations for the role?
        11. Charles Ramirez Berg talked about the reason studios and filmmakers rely on Stereotypes. How do you feel about his explanation? (“You're operating in a Hollywood system that is striving to make sure the audience understand everything, and there's no ambiguity at all. And one of the ways you do that is stereotyping. You indicate this is a Jew, this is an Italian, this is a Frenchman and you do that with stereotypes.”)
        12. What purpose did Mr. Berg think the stereotypes played in this film? What did he think the Director George Stevens was trying to say be reinforcing racial stereotypes? How did clarifying Juana’s Mexican identity serve the film’s themes?
        13. What are the benefits and disadvantages of using stereotypes to send a message about social issues?
        14. According to Children of Giant, how did the character, Juana, help to shape the themes and messages in the book and film?
        15. What are other examples of Intersectionality that we see in the clips?
        16. Are characters more or less complex in today’s films and television shows than in the past? Can you give examples?

          

        ACTIVITY 3: INTERSECTIONALITY IN ME, AN INTERSECTIONAL INFOGRAPHIC

        Time: 30 Minutes + Assignment

        You will need: computers with internet access, writing paper, Kraft paper, white/blackboard, washable markers, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUT F and TEACHER HANDOUT A

        Summary: Students will review and refine their identities from the earlier activity and create an Infographic that illustrates and celebrates their own Intersectional identities.

        Part A: Personal Self/ Public Self

        • Ask students to reflect on the Intersectionality of the people and characters from Children of Giant. Each individual had a complex collection of identities that became more or less important in different situations and with different people.
        1. How was Elsa’s experience of her Mexican-ness different in Texas than in Mexico?
        2. Consider: Which of Dr. Garcia’s intersecting identities was most important when he was with his Mexican-American patients? (A medical doctor, a Mexican-American, a man, a Texan?) Which would be more important when he went to a restaurant or was in the town?
        3. Which of Leslie’s identities (white, female, wealthy, educated, Virginian) shaped her experiences most when she was with her husband? With the Mexican-American families? With her family? How do her identities privilege and disadvantage her in each situation?
        • Ask students to review and refine their responses from the ‘Who Am I? Activity’ and use that to help complete Page 1 of STUDENT HANDOUT F. Have them think about the identities that are most important or have the most influence on their family, their friends, people they meet for the first time and their own self image. They should select at least 5 aspects of their identity that are relevant for each “audience” and organize them from most important to least important. (They may use the same 5 Identities for all of the audience groups, but do not have to.)
        • Once they complete the brainstorm, ask them to complete Page 2 of the handout. They should include the benefits and disadvantages of the Intersecting Identities and how those values change with different communities.
        • Instruct students to self-select partners, share their brainstorming, and give and receive peer feedback. Remind students about the Ground Rules and the importance of maintaining a safe classroom environment.
        • Have students refine their work based on their peer discussion and explain that they will each create an Infographic illustrating their Intersectional experiences.

         

        Part B: Picturing our Intersections

        • Explain: Students will create an Infographic and/or diagram that illustrates and celebrates their own Intersectional Identities. Share examples of Infographics using a multimedia projector or computer screen. (You can use the samples below or share your own resources.)
        • This activity can be completed as a homework assignment. Provide students with a selection of online design resources from TEACHER HANDOUT A (Mind Maps, Infographic Designs, Word Clouds) or give them the option of creating a hand-drawn or collage Infographic.
        • Infographic Examples:
        1. Free Draw Infographic - Gender: A Fun Guide: https://beyondthesemountains.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/gender-a-fun-guide/
        2. Web-based Infographic – Intel Corp. MakeHers: How Men and Women Makers Self Identify: https://iq.intel.com/wp-content/uploads/10083_Infographic_Tile_5e.jpg
        3. Web-based Infographic – ColorLines: How to be a Racial Transformer: http://www.colorlines.com/content/how-be-racial-justice-hero-mlk-day-and-all-year-long
        4. Word Cloud – Pew Research: Social Media and Citizenship: http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/11/09/part-2-social-media-and-digital-citizenship-what-teens-experience-and-how-they-behave-on-social-network-sites/ 
        5. Mind Map – Albert Einstein: http://visual.ly/albert-einstein-mind-map

         

        Culminating Activity

        Reflecting in Writing

        • When the Infographics are complete, ask students to journal or essay about their artwork and what Intersectionality means to them.
        • Their writing can be kept private or included as an Artist Statement with their completed Intersectional Infographic. 

         

        EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

        You’re Such a Character:

        In Children of Giant, George Stevens’ son explains that his father “wanted to make a film that engaged people and while they were engaged they perhaps gained some new awareness of how the world was working.” While writing and making Giant, Stevens shaped the characters from Edna Ferbers’ book to illustrate the social themes in the story and featured aspects of their identity that served the film’s message. Sometimes that led to characters being presented as complex individuals like Leslie and other times the characters were idealized or simplified like Juana. Have students imagine that they are characters in a film and consider:

        1. What aspects of your identity would be featured?
        2. How would you be portrayed?
        3. What themes could the film illustrate with you as a featured character?
        • Have students Develop and Analyze their character using the prompts below. If time allows, have them place their character in more than one genre (for example: Who would my character be in a super hero movie? What would she be like in a thriller or murder mystery? Would that be different than my character in a Western or science fiction film?)
        • Character Development and Analysis Prompts:
        1. What are the character’s biggest challenges? (Are they external or internal?)
        2. What is her/his motivation? o What are the character’s ethics?
        3. How does the character make decisions? (Does the character make quick decisions that lead to action or does s/he need to consider the information and options? Is the character a confident decision maker or does s/he have doubts?)
        4. How does the character’s behavior affect other characters?
        5. How do other characters perceive and react to your character? What words describe your character? What aspects of the character’s identity are most important? (Are there more than one?)
        6. Can this character make positive changes in her/his community? In what ways?
        7. What would the audience learn from this character?

        Intersectionality in the Media:

        How complex are the representations of individuals in the media today? Students will examine how the news media portrays people in their reporting.

        • Instruct students to select a news story and examine articles and broadcasts from multiple media sources.
        • Ask them to analyze the media representations of two people involved in the story and consider:
        1. Do they focus on one multiple aspects of their identity or just one or two? Why?
        2. How do the representations of these individuals shape our understanding of the story and their role in it?
        3. Why do media news outlets present stories and represent individuals this way?
        • Have students write their own report on the story from an Intersectional perspective. The story can be in the form of a newspaper article or recorded in the style of a television news broadcast.
        • Ask the class to reflect on what they learned. They can journal or write an essay about the role of Intersectionality in reporting and consuming news stories.

        Kimberlé Crenshaw, Anita Hill, and the Intersectional Perspective

        Kimberlé Crenshaw was part of the legal team representing Anita Hill in her 1991 sexual harassment case against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. This case became a tipping-point for discussions about Intersectional identities, as White feminists who supported Hill as an abused woman failed to address the racial aspects case and many members of the African American community defended Thomas as a Black man breaking racial barriers at the highest levels of American government. According to Crenshaw, Hill’s identity as a black female was nullified in the process: “She simply became a colorless woman, and we as African American women feminists were trying to say, ‘you cannot talk about this just in gender terms—you have to be intersectional—there is a long history you cannot ignore.’*”

        • Have students research the history and impact of the Anita Hill’s sexual harassment case against Clarence Thomas and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s role in the trial.
        • How is the Intersectional framework especially relevant throughout this event? What aspects of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas’ personal identities had the biggest impact on public opinion and why?
        • Have students imagine they are journalists covering the hearings and have them write and present an Op-Ed essay on the role of Intersectionality in this case.
        • Discuss how the outcome may or may not have changed if the events had been reported through an Intersectional lens at the time.

        *(Adewunmi, Bim. "Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality: "I Wanted to Come up with an Everyday Metaphor That Anyone Could Use"" http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-

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