I’ve been running the film club at the ALC Fez for a few months now and I thought I would write a little bit about the films that we’ve shown and the reaction to them from the Moroccan students who attended. The first film as previously discussed was Casablanca.
For the next one, I chose another classic film.
I wanted to show The Grapes of Wrath, the epic Depression era film about the Joad family migrating from the Dust Bowl to California in search of a new life. The film itself is beautiful and Henry Ford as Tom Joad conveys every bit of the desperation and resolve that the ‘Okies’ encountered as they tried to build a life from one that had literally been bulldozed under by ‘progress’. I felt that this film would offer a certain understanding of the current economic ‘depression’ from an American historical standpoint for the students and would also provide an interesting contrast for students learning English as they learned about American dialects.
The students were rapt with attention throughout the film. I ran the film with English subtitles since the dialect is often incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t been previously exposed to it. In the discussion that followed, the students expressed surprise that it was so recently that the United States was in a very similar situation to what Morocco is currently in. When you consider that it was only a few years ago that slums in Casablanca were bulldozed to make way for the Hassan II mosque, that many families still don’t have running water or washing machines, and that police brutality is still very much a present circumstance in Morocco, it’s not surprising to see why the film resonated so strongly with them. The discussion ran through the gamut of these thoughts and topics.
Of course, the ending of the movie is far different than that of the book where a starving man breastfeeds after Rose of Sharon’s child is stillborn.
Below is the information I provided to the students:
Movie Title : The Grapes of Wrath
Directed by: John Ford
Year Produced: 1940
Henry Fonda – Tom Joad
Jane Darwell – Ma Joad
John Carradine – Casey
The U.S. state of Oklahoma in the Thirties is a dustbowl and dispossessed farmers migrate westward to California. After terrible trials en route they become little more than slave labor. Among the throng are the Joads who refuse to knuckle under. In the film Tom Joad returns to his home after a jail sentence to find his family kicked out of their farm due to forecloseure. He catches up with them on his uncles farm, and joins them the next day as they head for California and a new life… Hopefully. Based on the John Steinbeck novel.
Dustbowl – The Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940)
The Great Depression – the economic crisis beginning with the stock market crash in 1929 and continuing through the 1930s
Okies – Okie is a term, dating from as early as 1907, originally denoting a resident or native of Oklahoma. It is derived from the name of the state
Foreclosure – the legal proceedings initiated by a creditor to repossess the collateral for loan that is in default
Things to think and talk about:
-How did the Great Depression shape the mentality of Americans?
-Rates of foreclosure in the United States are at the highest level since the Great Depression. Is the current situation similar to that the Joads faced?
-Who are some groups in Morocco that face similar problems as the ‘Okies’?
-Compare and contrast these two quotes from the film:
Ma Joad: Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.
Gasoline Attendant: You and me got sense. Them Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. Human being wouldn’t live the way they do. Human being couldn’t stand to be so miserable.
Henry Fonday kept the hat he wore in the movie for the rest of his life, until before he passed away in 1982 he gave it to his old friend Jane Withers.Apparently he and Withers, when she was an 8 year old girl and he a young man, did a play together before Fonda made movies. Fonda was so nervous to go onstage that little Jane took his hand, said a little prayer to ease his nerves, and the two of them became good friends for life.