I get a lot of emails that make me scratch my head. I’m guessing you can relate. For instance, I regularly get one from a female gynecologist wanting me to interview her. I also get frequent emails from some “cannabis-something-or-other” business excited about their various products infused with THC. (I’m not sure what the official group’s name is, because when I read the word “cannabis,” I know the rest isn’t worth my time: One of the few problems living in Colorado.)
And then today, I got this one that told me …
[Film studio] A24 IS BRINGING EIGHTH GRADE TO 100 SCHOOLS FOR FREE THIS FALL!
The press release went on:
We’re inviting educators to bring Eighth Grade to their classrooms, gymnasiums, and auditoriums so students across the country can experience the film that Rotten Tomatoes calls ‘exactly what teens need to see right now.’ School administrators and faculty can enter their school for a free screening at …
Although Rotten Tomatoes may feel that this R-rated film about middle school life is “exactly what teens need to see right now,” I strongly disagree. Now, I’m not going to say that all teenagers should steer clear. But I will say that no teenager should be seeing this flick without parental involvement, approval and follow-up discussion. Circumventing parents and guardians by showing this movie in classrooms and auditoriums displays a callousness toward the role of parents as media gatekeepers in the home.
Even though this “offer” doesn’t say that A24 Films is bringing their flick to middle schoolers (and I’m guessing that many schools that take A24 up on its offer will insist on parental permission slips), we already saw a big push in August to ignore MPAA guidelines for R-rated movies and fill seats with 12-14-year-olds. Bad idea!
It would be one thing if this offer was exclusive to high school seniors. But if this offer is to schools where many students haven’t yet purchased their first stick of deodorant, this seems problematic. Just because the title of the film is Eighth Grade doesn’t mean this film should cater to them. It’s like saying Wolf of Wall Street should be seen by everyone funding a retirement plan.
And yet, I need to say there was a lot about Eighth Grade I liked. Plugged In reviewer Kristin Smith, had this to say along those lines:
[Main character and eighth grader] Kayla talks about what it looks like to be yourself, which means not changing who you are to impress others. She admits this can be hard and encourages anyone watching her videos to ignore the people who are mean and negative. She also encourages others to put themselves out there, to choose confidence, and to respect and love who they are.
…Kayla’s dad, Mark, is a genuinely nice (if often awkward) guy who loves his daughter. He always asks her questions, wants to know how she is doing emotionally and encourages her to be brave in her own skin. … He repeatedly communicates, in various ways, that she is growing into a kind, caring and compassionate young woman.
Because of positive content like this, much of the culture might ignore, or even applaud, a free offer like this. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing if every girl in middle school watched this film and learned these valuable lessons?” some say. To which I’d respond: Well, that all depends. If the rest of the film was mostly free of problematic content I’d agree, but this one has a long, long list of objectionable scenes and dialogue. I’m of the opinion that the seedy content is much more apt to influence beliefs, attitudes and behaviors than the positive content. Unless, as I said above, in some exceptions involving parental involvement and discussion.
I think Kristin describes why, for the most part, going around parents to show this movie to teenagers—especially younger ones—is just not a great idea overall:
All the awkwardness of early adolescence is here.
Yet, it left me wondering why so much of it had to be there. It’s not that these things don’t happen in middle school; for some they do. But if our kids have already been exposed to moments that rob their innocence, do we need a movie that graphically documents those traumas again?
And what about those who haven’t yet endured those experiences? Might this movie’s depiction of some risky behaviors actually awaken a curiosity to dig up information that is best left underground?
I’d be very interested in knowing what you think about this. Let me know in the comment section below.