Monday, November 26, 2012

The Imagination Is Not Our Escape

Six Degrees of Separation has been haunting my thoughts since I showed it in a disability studies class I'm teaching about alliances and advocacy involving people with and without disabilities.  I wrote a post about the movie a few weeks ago ("Just Fill in the Names"), but now I've read the papers the students in the class wrote about the movie, and I feel inspired.  While not explicitly about disability, Six Degrees focuses on the complicated and emotional relationships forged when people from completely separate cultural and socioeconomic worlds decide to make an alliance.  It's rough stuff.  In the movie, Paul (Will Smith), the African American, gay, homeless kid starving for upscale approval and connection, and Ouisa (Stockard Channing), the rich socialite who loves him and sees his worth despite the circumstances of their meeting, represent two forces coming together and changing one another in ways they could never have foreseen before their collision.  It's life-changing, for everyone involved.

Here's what some of the students wrote:

From Shelby Stanovsek:

"The main character in this film, Ouisa, works for justice because she is willing to look outside of the boundaries and lines that her class of people creates and is willing to accept someone who was not born into a life of privilege...  In the film it is evident that she has developed a deep emotional bond with Paul, and is proud of the work he has done to better himself.  She does not feel he should be punished for lying about his identity because she knows that had he not constructed a fake story to get into their lives, they never would have allowed him the chance, and I think that she admires his bravery and commitment in that regard."

From Hannah Hampton:

"Regardless of the way Paul has taken advantage of them, they still agree to help him.  This is a true portrayal of an ally -- they overlook Paul's flaws and realize he is just a boy who needs help."

From Caitlin Coholich:

"Six Degrees tells the story of how easily alliances can be made; however it also shows how easily they can vanish."

From Jennifer McMillan:

"Ouisa doesn't fully transcend the boundaries of her upper-class lifestyle until the very end of the movie when she ultimately and fully rejects the society and the imagination-starved life she had been living.  The fact like Paul was black and homeless is perhaps what kept the alliance between Paul and Ouisa alive for as long as it was.  He was the opposite of what she symbolized, and this enabled her to enter an opposite world by connecting to him.  Ouisa was a controlled person before she met Paul.  Paul completely turned Ouisa's life into chaos.  However, chaos is not always a negative experience.  What comes from chaos is often a rebirth, an invigoration."

From Tori Evans:

"Paul stated in the movie, 'The imagination is not our escape.  On the contrary, the imagination is the place we are all trying to get to.'  He wanted people to expand their stereotypes and prejudices and see others not for their color, sexuality or class."