Recap: A Night of Human Rights Films

On Dec. 9, Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission hosted Human Rights Day 2010 on the TCU campus. Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns gave an introductory speech before a crowd of about 40 people, though he left before the film screenings began.

The first movie, “12 Stones,” documented the efforts of women in a Nepal village to overcome cultural prejudices. Many of the women discussed how they were denied an education because their parents did not find it necessary to educate female children. A program initiated by Heifer International taught women self-sufficiency skills so they could learn to provide for their families. According to Heifer’s website, its operations have included successful work in the Americas to overcome poverty and inhumane migration controls.

Next, “Crossing Arizona” addressed the sometimes deadly lengths that migrants must traverse before entering the United States. Since the deployment of increased immigration enforcement along the most popular routes in Texas and California, many hopeful immigrants are forced to travel through the scorching deserts of Arizona. A number of ranchers and business owners were depicted in the film. Many seemed to blame the migrants for the litter and property damage associated with trying to escape the border agents; however, I do not recall any identifying that their complaints stem from a closed immigration system that leaves people with little choice but to risk their lives in such a dangerous environment.

According to the film, the bodies of hundreds of people who died crossing the border are discovered every year, and presumably hundreds more bodies are never recovered. Even greater casualties would amass if it were not for the volunteers who fill water stations where migrants can recoup and stock supplies for the difficult journey. The movie did a good job of demonstrating the plight of so many people who want to enter the United States, yet the need for a moral argument in favor of open borders was sorely lacking.

Finally, “Trevor,” which unlike the other films was not a documentary, depicted a young man who became estranged from his friends and family when it becomes apparent that he is gay. Increasingly, he is bullied and made to feel shameful of himself. The abuse comes to ahead when, in a desperate attempt to save his parents from greater disappointment, Trevor tries to kill himself. I will not ruin the ending here, but I can say that the conclusion and message of the movie totally missed the point. Trevor was having to endure ridicule and embarrassment because he was under the thumb of a compulsory education system. In some ways, it reminds me of the It Gets Better campaign Joel Burns has helped popularize. It is worth pointing out that “it gets better” when they leave high school and exercise greater freedom of choice.

I think we are right to criticize anti-gay bullies (and all bullies for that matter), but we have to look at why those bullies have any power over others. It is because bigger bullies in government office force their solution for social problems on helpless kids. After all, who is a bigger, more despicable bully than adults who uses threats and intimidation to boss around innocent children?

I think there might be a common theme in these films, even if the event’s hosts had not intended it. People filling water stations in the Arizona desert save scores of lives. The women of Nepal had the courage to make a stand for their own financial independence once people showed they cared. Showing people the respect you would hope to receive yourself changes peoples lives more than we will ever know. The solutions presented in these movies were more often tied to individual initiative, and that is where people taking responsibility for the world they would like to see always begins. Perhaps, people who think they must seek positions of authority to make a difference have a thing to learn.