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Knowledge is Power Struggle

Sean Havey/Sundance Institute

Homeroom (2021)

In between classes, endless scrolling on smartphones, posing for Instagram and rising to TikTok challenges, students at Oakland High School in California undertook an extra dose of the real world compared with most their age: police brutality. The school district employed its own police department and endowed it with an absurd $6 million budget. Officers apparently thought earning their keep involved occasionally visiting excessive force on their charges.

Student leadership pushed for the elimination of school police and the diversion of funds to educational and social ends threatened by budgetary cuts, but their efforts consistently hit the brick wall of adult members on the school board. Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 further fueled the students’ cause, filmmaker Peter Nicks suggests in the documentary “Homeroom,” though he never quite connects those dots.

Instead of articulating how student leadership meaningfully leveraged Black Lives Matter in order to mobilize, the film shows student representatives like Denilson Garibo juggling the banality of academics, college applications and maintaining social life with stakes raised by immigration issues, Covid-19 and unrelated tragedies such as the unprovoked stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at a BART station. It’s honestly a disservice to the teenagers that we never get more than fleeting glimpses of their navigation through weighty issues alone or collectively.

Mr. Nicks devotes considerable time to detailing the majority of students’ political apathy and preoccupation with social media fame, but we never see on film their elected leaders making any overture to engage them. The end result can be quite frustrating, unless their youthful inexperience is the whole point.


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