Little Boy tells the story of an eight-year-old boy who is willing to do whatever it takes to end World War II, so he can bring his father home. However, in order to do this he befriends a Japanese-American citizen who has recently been released from the Japanese internment camp he had been forcibly removed some years earlier. This leads to many problems for the little boy with the locals, who quite unashamedly project their racial hatred and war hysteria on both the little boy and his Japanese mentor. This conflict provides the sub-plot to the movie and offers the audience an insight to yet another racist episode, not much highlighted upon, in US history.
In addition to the racial tension we see in the film, the director, Alejandro Monteverde, also highlights bullying between the school children; something for which I spend a great deal of time pointing out to my teenage students in their Life Lessons. So, I have edited some scenes from the movie that can be used with your students to point out how horrible children can be, but also to remind them bullying also happens between adults, unfortunately.
This shows how the bully & his gang pick on the protagonist because of his (short) size...
Here we learn how certain names should not be used when referring to minorities...
The Little Boy gets chased as retribution for his mom grassing up the bully to his father
Now it is the turn of the locals to turn on the Japanese-American. Little Boy is shocked.
Here the gang chase Little Boy along the street. His mentor comes to the rescue...
The Bully steals Little Boy's list. What will he do now? He goes to see his friend.
Little Boy learns about the power of self-belief by listening about Samurai warriors.
Now Little Boy witnesses the prejudice and bullying of older siblings and adults when they verbally attack and threaten his Japanese friend and mentor. So, he decides to stand up for his friend and for what is right. He holds a strong belief that "man can move a mountain" if he so desires after being told so by the local priest in the hope of getting his father back form the war. He goes about trying to move that mountain. The metaphor is both powerful and memorable as he goes about changing the mindset of the rather ignorant local townsfolk he is living beside.
The above clips have been chosen as prompts for your students to look at how prejudice and racism happen everywhere, and have done all throughout history. For American teachers and students who may be reading this blog, for which I thank you :-) if you are, you could use these clips to highlight a rather dark part of your own 20th Century history and the internment of thousands of Japanese American citizens in the 1940s.
On December 8th, 1941, the United States of America declared war on Japan, and by the end of 1942 over 100,000 Japanese-American people were put into internment camps away from the populated areas of the country. They were rounded up like criminals and sent to these camps. Many of them were held there until the war ended. However, some were released earlier, but their daily lives were filled with race hatred and fear from the other American people. In fact, in 1988, Ronal Reagan entered an apology into legislation to those Japanese-American families for all the suffering they had incurred at the hands of the US government. The apology stated that the reason they were interred was based on racial prejudice and war hysteria. He also apologised for the government stating they had failed in political leadership. Each family was awarded $20,000 compensation.
It is fitting that the US government apologised for their actions, but it was probably too little too late. However, these clips can shed light on some history they perhaps do not know, and act as springboards for them to respond either through discussion or in their commentaries.
note: the facts and figures from the Japanese internment are courtesy of www.wikipedia.com