Movie scenes about democracy.
November 30, 2009 4:02 PM   Subscribe

What movie scenes would you show a middle school class to teach them the nature/importance of democracy?
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would show the whole film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" if I could, but failing that, the climactic filibuster scene. It holds up amazingly well and is more relevant than ever.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:18 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

The movie "1776".
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:39 PM on November 30, 2009

Here's a few lists of movies about democracy

I'm very partial to All the Presidents Men (esp at the end, when the movie reveals what freedom of the press succeeded in doing), Twelve Angry Men (right to jury trial) and Ghandi (power of peaceful protest) myself.
posted by bearwife at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2009

I'd show them some choice clips from the West Wing - it shows how much compromise goes into anything that happens in DC, as well as plenty of Mr. Smith type of syrupy optimism
posted by Think_Long at 4:55 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dave really subverts the whole notion of elected officials, but I always like the scene where the vice-president describes how he got into politics.
posted by saffry at 5:04 PM on November 30, 2009

The "America is advanced citizenship" speech from Sorkin's The American President might work for you.

I linked to the IMDB quote page directly, so you can read it and decide.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2009

I'd be inclined to focus not on democracy, but what happens in its absence. I'm trying to think of a movie where the people are so fed up with their king/dictator that they are forced into desperate measures because they have no legal recourse for removing him from power. The closest I can think of at the moment would be something like The Last King of Scotland if you could cut out almost everything dealing with James McAvoy's libido. Instead focusing on Idi Amin's rise to power as a supposed man of the people, his descent into paranoia and murder of dissenters. It's a shame that McAvoy's lame attempt at assassination was fueled by a desire to save his own skin and not due to a desire for regime change.

Perhaps someone else can come up with a better example of this kind of movie.
posted by cali59 at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2009

The Lottery.
posted by applemeat at 5:48 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Election, the 1999 film about a high-school council election. In particular, the speech scene. The popular girl and jock both give their speeches for president, uttering the usual banalities. They're followed by the upstart "spite" candidate, running on the platform that the election (and implicitly the very idea of a free, democratic process) is a sham, controlled by unelected officials who hold the real power, and only allow the spectacle of choice to take place in order to give the student body the illusion of having a voice in deciding how things are managed. She gives a speech that boils down to "don't vote for me; in fact, don't vote for anyone," which gets a standing ovation.

The school officials freak out, and she's suspended for a few days, demonstrating that she was right all along, that the biggest threat to those in power is the populace questioning the usefulness of participating in their own manipulation.

Mediocre film, but it pretty much nails how democracy works these days.

(Of course, this may be a little cynical on my part: YMMV.)
posted by experiencing a significant gravitas shortfall at 6:06 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Scenes from the War Room might be good - democracy in action! The recent doc about the Obama campaign is really good, too. The scenes at the Iowa caucus are fascinating. It's called By the People. The former is great for how it shows the importance of grassroots involvement, which most movies don't show.

I was going to suggest Election but that might be a tad risque for some parents.

If you're in a liberal district where parents won't be all OMGAYZ, Milk is full of great scenes.
posted by lunasol at 8:10 PM on November 30, 2009

I mean, the latter is really great for how it shows the importance of grassroots involvement.
posted by lunasol at 8:11 PM on November 30, 2009

Primary is great but it's B&W, very cinema verite, and might not be engaging for a middle school audience
Vote For Me taught me more about the American political process than anything I ever learned in High School government class, and it's very straightforward and engaging. You may have to get in touch with your local PBS affiliate or contact one of the filmmakers in order to get a copy.
The Agronomist, though parts of it are a little grisly if I remember correctly
Street Fight, though, again not appropriate for middle school students in its entirety
posted by kid_dynamite at 8:47 PM on November 30, 2009

Probably the already-mentioned Election. It's got Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon in it, but you'll probably have an easier job using it as a trojan horse than you might black and white 1950's documentary films about civic duty and honour. It's pretty cynical, but at least for my money it's dead on the mark. On preview, lunasol has a good point — there's a subplot involving a relationship between a teacher and a student that might cause grief if the parents get a bee in their collective bonnet about it.

I haven't seen it in full, but The War Room is spoken very highly of and is an account of Clinton's presidential run in 1992. The creators had a high level of access to his senior aides, many of whom went with him to take pretty senior positions in his administration. Since most people only ever engage with politics via snatches of news reports and the public face of such things, seeing how people they've only ever seen speechifying on TV reacted to events from the inside might be a real eye-opener for a lot of people. (Also, it's probably a good balance between the cynical and the sentimental.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 9:08 PM on November 30, 2009

Two good German films that made me appreciate democracy/freedom were The Lives of Others and Goodbye Lenin, both about communist East Germany. They're good examples of how life can be under a repressive government.

The first scene/sequence in Lives of Others describes how the Stasi would interrogate their suspects - very chilling. Goodbye Lenin is more lighthearted, so it might be more interesting to middle school students (or as interesting as a movie about East Germany would be).

Again, these would be a good examples of the absence of democracy.
posted by ValentineMaynard at 12:21 AM on December 1, 2009

Funny timing; my students just finished The Wave and were shocked at how easy it is to become a Nazi.
posted by dzaz at 2:43 AM on December 1, 2009

Yeah, The Wave is a good suggestion--fits with the general Lord of the Flies message that middle school curricula seem to love.
posted by Beardman at 9:07 AM on December 1, 2009

How about Persepolis? I think it might be interesting for middle schoolers to see the restrictions put into place by the new Iranian government -- being forced to buy Sex Pistols and Pink Floyd on the black market, for instance. It's beautiful to watch and informative about the impact of Western intervention in Middle East politics and the ripples felt today (which may need to be saved for another class altogether!) It's rated PG-13. Here's a trailer.
posted by parilous at 9:10 AM on December 1, 2009

The beginning of The Warriors? Seriously, maybe toward the end of the lesson. Could be really interesting.

Maybe before that, JFK, the titular scene of Good Night, and Good Luck with some background.

Someone else will have better examples, but I hope you're not looking for DEMOCRACY IS ALWAYS CORRECT LALALA type stuff.
posted by cmoj at 9:59 AM on December 1, 2009

Definitely not looking for "Democracy is always correct" stuff, or even things that are necessarily explicitly about democracy, the lesson can be an indirect or symbolic one too!

Thanks for the suggestions, guys.
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 10:51 AM on December 2, 2009

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