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 bestselling but controversial novel. Like Ferber’s book, director, George Stevens’ film 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.
In this lesson, students will understand the ongoing social impact of stereotypes in film and media and how George Stevens and the makers of Giant both reinforced and attempted to subvert common and pernicious stereotypes of race, class, and gender in 1950’s America.
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
60 to 90 minutes + Assignments
- Understand how we use labels and categories to understand and make assumptions about the people around us
- Examine and understand how stereotypes lead to bias
- Analyze stereotypes discussed in The Children of Giant and how they shape our understanding of the character’s world as well as our own
- Understand the role that stereotypes played in shaping the story of Giant and in the lives of the actors and community in Marfa
- Develop strategies for identifying, defusing, and disrupting stereotypes
Prep for Teachers
This lesson plan addresses important and challenging social issues with the goal of engaging students in active discussion and debate. Explain that this lesson will deal with some complicated issues about race and identity and some potentially offensive ideas, but students are encouraging both open discussion and 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 how and where Stereotypes are used, NOT to come up with a list of slurs.
- Computers with Internet access
- LCD projector
- Audio speakers
- Whiteboard or blackboard
- Pen and writing paper
- STUDENT HANDOUT A: UNDERSTANDING STEREOTYPES
- STUDENT HANDOUT B: THE FILM IN CONTEXT
- STUDENT HANDOUT C: DISRUPTING STEREOTYPES
- RELATED RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS
- VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview (1:30)
- STEREOTYPES CLIP 1 (1:37): "Some of us, they asked us to remove our shirts…presumably they wanted us to look more Mexican.”
- STEREOTYPES CLIP 2 (5:42): "They were looking to make me dark and a little bit more Mexican. The way they thought Mexicans were."
Time: 15 Minutes
You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUT A
Summary: Students will discuss how we use labels and categories to both understand and make assumptions about the people around us. They will define the term Stereotype and examine how it leads to bias.
- Ask volunteers to look-up the word Stereotype in the dictionary and share with the class. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary online: Stereotype (n): something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment)
- Explain: People often use labels or categories to describe or understand others and may often make assumptions about groups of people they don't know.
- Give students two minutes to brainstorm examples based on the following question: What are some examples of stereotypes or stereotyping that you have encountered? (In your community, the news, films, music, online, etc.)
- Organize the class into small groups and have each group share the examples of stereotypes that they brainstormed.
- Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT A and instruct the groups to fill out Page 1: Select three examples of Stereotyping. Describe the impact that each example could have/has had on the individual or community who is labeled. Explain how it could influence the behavior of other people towards them.
- Have groups partner together in larger teams to review and discuss their responses. Based on their discussion, teams should complete Page 2:
- What are two reasons we stereotype people/communities?
- Where do we encounter stereotypes? Give three examples.
- What are three outcomes of stereotyping people/communities?
- Have each group present their responses to the class and receive constructive feedback. Record responses and note where the groups’ ideas and examples overlap and support each other. Keep the groups’ responses for use in ACTIVITY 3
- Explain: “When assumptions and stereotypes influence our attitudes, we may find that making a fair judgment about someone or something is difficult. This influence on judgment is called a ‘bias.’" (From Discovery Education, Understanding Stereotypes: http://www.discoveryeducation.com/teachers/free-lesson-plans/understanding-stereotypes.cfm)
- Instruct each group to discuss the following: What outcomes can bias have for individuals and communities?
ACTIVITY 1: STEREOPTYPES IN FILM
Time: 10 Minutes
You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUT B
Summary: Students will begin to explore stereotypes in film and how they shape our understanding of the characters’ world as well as our own.
- THINK-PAIR-SHARE: What categories of stereotypes do we often find in movies (related to race, economic class, gender, age, area of the country/world, religion, etc.)?
- THINK: Ask students to think about: What are three common stereotypes that you have seen in films?
- PAIR: Have the pairs consider: How did it shape your understanding of the character(s)? What impact did the stereotype have on the film’s story?
- SHARE: Ask for volunteers to share their responses with the class
- Instruct students to keep this discussion in mind as they view Clips from the film Children of Giant.
- CHILDREN OF GIANT IN CONTEXT: Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT B, which provides an overview of Children of Giant and the social context for Marfa, Texas. Review with students before screening the film clips. (This can be distributed in advance of the lesson as a Homework Assignment.)
ACTIVITY 2: CHILDREN OF GIANT REVEALING THE ROLE OF STEREOTYPES
Time: 20 Minutes
You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens, film clips (see below)
- VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview (1:30): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmuoaK21dkI
- Stereotypes CLIP 1 (1:37): "Some of us, they asked us to remove our shirts…presumably they wanted us to look more Mexican.”
- Stereotypes CLIP 2 (5:42): "They were looking to make me dark and a little bit more Mexican. The way they thought Mexicans were."
- Play the VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview followed by CLIPS 1 & 2. Ask students to record notes about quotes and scenes that resonate with the lesson themes and the previous activity discussion. Share quotes and discuss students’ responses to the film clips using the following prompts as needed:
- What are some quotes or scenes that stood out for you? Was there anything that surprised you?
- Why did the filmmakers ask some of the children in the film to take off their shirts? Why do you think the film makers thought it would make them look more ‘Mexican’?
- What do think about Ramon Renteria’s reflection on his experience “Some of us, they asked us to remove our shirts. Years later I wrote, ‘Well presumably they wanted us to look more Mexican. If I had known it was that easy to be an actor, I would have probably chosen that path instead of journalism.’"
- Why did the filmmakers use dark make-up on the actress, Elsa Cardenas, who played Juana? ("They were looking to make me dark…The way they thought Mexicans were." -- Elsa Cardenas)
- 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.”)
- 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? Can stereotypes be used to subvert bias? Why or why not?
- Can you think of a modern example of an artist using stereotypes to challenge the assumptions or perceptions of an audience?
- Is there such a thing as ‘positive stereotypes’? Are ‘positive stereotypes’ helpful or harmful? In what way?
- What other examples of stereotypes do we see in these clips?
- Even through Mr. Berg understands why the director may have employed stereotypical attributes with the goal of subverting the audience’s bias, he still says that “Stereotypes are not good”. Do you agree or disagree and why do you feel that way?
ACTIVITY 3: MEDIA STEREOTYPES TODAY
Time: 20 Minutes +
You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, washable markers, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUT C (Optional: art and craft supplies, video recorders, laptops with internet/intranet access)
Summary: Students will reflect on stereotypical representation of their own and others’ identities in a film or television and understand the impact that these representations can have. They will work together to develop strategies for identifying, avoiding and diffusing stereotypes, and will reflect on and apply this new strategy to their own experience stereotyping others.
PART A: DISRUPTING STEREOTYPES
- Divide students into pairs (or small groups) and explain: Groups will use the responses from ACTIVITY 1, the discussion of stereotypes from Children of Giant, and their understanding of the bias that these representations can cause/reinforce to develop a strategy to Disrupt Stereotypes in their community. (Note: Groups can focus on stereotypes in film and media and/or stereotypes in their community.)
- Distribute one STUDENT HANDOUT C to each pair and have them complete the Disruption Brainstorm on Page 1: Groups should come up with 5 or more responses to “You know it’s a stereotype if ________________. Disrupt that bias by _______________________”
- Each pair will select their two favorite responses and share and receive constructive feedback from at least two other groups. Based on the feedback process, the pairs will select one response to that they would like to use as a slogan for a Stereotype Disruption Campaign and write it clearly on Page 2 of STUDENT HANDOUT C. (Post these slogans in the classroom and revisit them throughout the school year.)
PART B: GOING FURTHER (Optional based on available class time)
- Explain: Each campaign should feature the selected Slogan and help to encourage their peers to be alert and critical media consumers. Pairs should create one or more of the following:
- Physical posters to display in the class or around the school.
- Social media Meme(s) that can be shared on the school’s intranet, blog, or website.
- Performance poem that uses the slogan as a “tag line.”
- PSA video that highlights examples of stereotypes in film and how those representations could be reimagined.
- Slideshow that examines the message behind their slogan using images and research.
- The groups should share their projects with the class and their messages can be combined into a working set of strategies for the classroom community to use as reference throughout the school year.
- The finished presentations can also be shared with the school community and online, as appropriate.
REFLECTING AND JOURNALING
- Ask students to reflect on a time they may have made an assumption about a new person based on a stereotype that represented an identity that they do not share.
- Have students Free-Write about that experience:
- Was it a positive or negative stereotype?
- Have you seen a similar stereotype in a film or television show? Can you share a specific example?
- How did it make the person feel? How did they express their feelings?
- How did you respond?
- What changes would you make, if any, if you had that experience again?
- Which of the strategies we developed could help you to defuse or disrupt stereotypes in the future?
Stereotypes in the Media
As the world is increasingly connected, the reach of stereotypes crosses national and continental boundaries. Students will examine and report on stereotypes that are commonly represented in the news media about countries outside of the United States.
- Have students select a current international news story and collect articles and media coverage relating to that topic.
- Ask them to examine and document how the individuals from that country are characterized in the news media.
- Have students research and document film and television depictions of characters from the same country.
- Ask them to consider: What are some common character traits? How are men depicted compared to women? Are the representations positive? Are they accurate?
- If possible, instruct students to locate and interview individuals from the culture they are researching. Have the interview subject discuss their reaction to the media’s representation of their country and its people and the impact it has in the daily life.
- Have students reflect on the impact of biased media representations and what role, if any, news media and the arts have to challenge stereotypes.
- Collect and post the research, essays, and stories in a class blog and/or have students present their research to the class.
Generation to Generation
Different generations may see the world from different perspectives but our perceptions and attitudes are often shaped in part by the generations that came before us. Ask students to identify two examples of stereotypes in music lyrics, magazines/newspapers, poetry, painting, etc. Have them record their own response to these representations then prepare to interview an older member of their family or community about the same subject. Students can video the interviews in the documentary style used in Children of Giant or record the responses in writing. They should compare/contrast their own and their subjects feelings about/reaction to the stereotypes represented in the work, and reflect on the significance of their findings.
Imagine the year is 2055 and, like Hector Galan, you are filmmaker who is documenting the production of a film made during our era (between the year 2005 and today). Like Giant, the movie should represent the social and political issues of our time. What film would you choose? Who would you interview? What do you think they will say about their experience? Which issues represented in the film will have improved by then? Which will be the same or worse? How will the student’s own attitudes change over time?