LEARNING GUIDE TO:
SUBJECTS — World/Africa;Age: 9+; MPAA Rating -- PG ; Comedy; 1984; 109 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
Description: A Coke bottle dropped from an airplane disrupts the quiet life of a family of African Bushmen (the San people) living in the deep isolation of the Kalahari desert. Xi, the head of the family, takes the evil thing and embarks on a journey to the end of the world to return it to the gods. At the same time, a white teacher is fed up with city life and takes a job in Botswana. She meets a shy and bumbling scientist. Their adventures and misadventures are intertwined with Xi's journey.
Benefits of the Movie: The viewer is allowed to see himself from the Bushman's point of view and is introduced to their culture. The movie will provide an opportunity to discuss the Bushman society and societies like it, as well as the Kalahari desert.
This hilarious film also contains much information about Africa as well as beautiful photography of its landscape, its skies and its animals.
Possible Problems: MINIMAL. There is a mild amount of profanity. The school teacher's dress is wet through, displaying her body and she is shown in her underwear. The scenes are innocent and not sexually suggestive. The film glosses over the many hardships of Bushman life, which simply wears them out so that most don't reach the age of 50 years. It has been charged that this film is racist in its condescension toward the Bushmen. While certain parts of the opening narration support this view, overall the film presents Bushman society in a positive light.
Parenting Points: Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question for this film and the Quick Discussion Question for "The Gods Must Be Crazy - II". Show your child or class, on a globe or a map, the Kalahari, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. Movies as Literature Homework Project.
Featured Actors: N!xau, Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, Louw Verwey, Jamie Uys, Michael Thys, Nic de Jager.
Director: James Uys.
|QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION: Why does Xi think that Ms. Thompson, the teacher, is an ugly looking hag? |
Suggested Response: He told us
in the film but the point is that every culture has its idea of what people should be like.
The Kalahari is a vast expanse of arid and semi-arid land located in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It is about 275,000 square miles in size. Most of the Kalahari has red soils and low growing grasses and brush. Large patches of sand are found in the eastern portion of the desert. Rainfall is about 9 inches per year.
"Bushmen" is a South African name for the San people, also known as Khoi-San, an ethnic group of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and Namibia. The San language uses click sounds. Traditionally, the San are hunter-gatherers who live in small groups of about ten nuclear families which hold sway over about 300 square miles of territory. Home sites are changed once a month as food becomes scarce. The San use light bows and arrows tipped with poison to hunt. Some live in caves, others in huts.
The San have artistic ability and a complex religion. Each band has a hereditary leader but he has only limited powers. Many of the San have become farm laborers and are losing their cultural heritage. It is reported that when Uys found N!xau, the actor who played Xi, N!xau was working as a cook and had never supported himself by hunting and gathering.
For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.
Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.
BUILDING VOCABULARY: the antichrist.
Select questions that are appropriate for your students.
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Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:
1. Have you ever "frozen" in the presence of a person of the opposite sex and been unable to say anything or at least anything that is even remotely intelligent? What causes this and how can you get over it?
For suggested answers: click here.
Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.
Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
For suggested answers: click here.
Bridges to Reading: None.
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS:The Gods Must Be Crazy II.
Links to the Internet: None.
Illustration: David McLimans
I wish I could say my colleagues Cresslyn Clay, Colin Pierce, and I had it all worked out from the beginning, and that we carefully crafted each nuance that prompted and supported our students in their thoughtful work. But as we discussed what to do with the three weeks between winter break and the end of the semester, we simply wanted to study a film. We felt our students deserved a break from the typical novel-poem-essay routine. Cresslyn happened to have a copy of The Gods Must Be Crazy, a 1980 film written and directed by South African Jamie Uys, and it seemed interesting in a vaguely multicultural kind of way.
On the surface, The Gods Must Be Crazy is a campy confluence of three independent plotlines involving Xi, a Kalahari tribesman, who journeys to the end of the earth to dispose of a Coke bottle that has begun to disrupt the harmony of his community; Mr. Steyn, a white scientist, and the beautiful blonde schoolteacher he escorts through the bush; and a group of fugitive black guerrillas on the run after a failed assassination attempt. To be sure, the film is charming and funny, and its no wonder it remains a popular international film. But as I watched, I became fascinated with its political nature and began to think of ways we could explore not only its overt message, but also its covert support of the same systems of inequity it claims to critique.
During our first planning session, Colin mentioned how the film uses the concept of the Other to make its point about the craziness of civilization, and Cresslyn noted that the documentary Journey to Nyae Nyae (included with the DVD) brilliantly illustrates the disconnect between the real lives of the San people in Namibia and the romanticized Kalahari Bushmen depicted in the film. By the end of the meeting, it was clear that this would be anything but a break; it would be an exploration of the ability of popular culture to subtly reinforce and justify a colonial worldview through the manipulation and distortion of the cultures it works to subjugate.
Movie with a Message
We began with a freewrite about movies with a message. Students made lists of movies they had seen that had some kind of point or something to say. The discussion that followed was lively as students shared their favorite films and offered interpretations of what these films were trying to communicate. Next we read When Will White People Stop Making Films Like Avatar? by Annalee Newitz, and the mood quickly sobered. In her article, Newitz, a U.S. journalist who writes about the effects of science and technology on culture, argues that films like Avatar are nothing more than rehashes of the same white-man-gone-native fantasy and seductive expressions of white guilt. In the end, Newitz calls on white people to change the way they think about race and stop turning every story about people of color into a story about being white.
We asked students to identify Newitz thesis and to write about whether or not they agreed. Some students supported the articles premise, but others expressed resistance since Newitz calls into question some of their favorite films, including Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas,and District 9. The discussion was energetic and sometimes contentious, and we never came to a definitive consensus. Throughout the conversation, however, we encouraged students to resist the temptation to passively absorb films like Avatar, and to actively question the films intentions and underlying assumptions. This set the stage nicely for the critical questioning we would ask students to do as we began The Gods Must Be Crazy.
Before showing the film, we asked students to make a list of techniques that filmmakers use to communicate their message. Students generated a long list of toolslighting, dialogue, music, costume, setting, characterand we recorded these on the board. Next, we asked students to draw a T-chart in their journals and label one side The Bushmen and the other Civilization. As we watched the first five minutes of the film, students recorded their observations of the Bushmen. Students identified the films portrayal of the Bushmen as happy, content, clever, innocent, and, ultimately, childlike. Then we viewed the section that introduces Civilization and asked students to complete the other portion of their chart. Here students characterized the films portrayal of Civilization as mechanical, bored, ridiculous, absurd, and slightly manic.
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