Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 17th 2015 Contents • From Page B4
"They came to my classroom, with Pfeif-
fer---I knew who she was, but when they
introduced themselves I said, So Mr Bruck-
heimer, have you made any movies I might
have seen? And he said Flashdance, Sleeping
With The Enemy, and I said, Oh! If I d
known you were famous I d have been more
impressed. I was kidding, but they didn t
know what to think!"
Johnson visited the set once, and soon
twigged that her story was being changed
beyond recognition. She did not, she says,
attempt to teach the kids about poetry by
organising a Dylan Thomas v Bob Dylan con-
test (one of its most famous scenes), rather,
she used rap lyrics. Some of the most obvious
tinkering came with the ethnic makeup of
"In my class, the kids were evenly mixed---
black, white and Hispanic. In the movie they
made it all minority kids with a token white
kid here and there. That perpetuates this
myth that only minority kids are at risk, and
that white kids don t have any problems."
Consequently, although Dangerous Minds
means well, it s notable for being one of the
most egregious examples of Hollywood s
"white saviour" trope, in which a white
hero(ine) will act as the truth, the light and
the way for some blighted minority figure(s).
In the film, Johnson pointedly takes a spe-
cial interest in three particular students:
reluctant gang member Raúl Sanchero
(Renoly Santiago); Callie Roberts (Bruklin
Harris), a young black student who gets
pregnant; and Emilio Ramírez (Wade
Domínguez), who becomes embroiled in a
fatal personal conflict with a hardened crim-
In one scene, Johnson is branded a "white
bread bitch" by an enraged grandparent of
African American twins who have dropped
out of class. Johnson tells me that this never
happened. "I asked them Where did that
come from? They said, We were sure that
some of the black and the Hispanic parents
must have resented you. I said, For what?
For helping their kids? Hell, nobody ever,
ever said anything to me like that. "
Director John N Smith, a veteran of the
National Film Board of Canada who was
handpicked by Bruckheimer to make his Hol-
lywood debut, takes responsibility for the
changes: "I had done a feature on black kids
in Montreal and I felt that it needed that
kind of edge," he told me. I ask him what
he means by "edge."
"A more political point of view. As some-
thing much tougher for a white middle-class
teacher to confront kids who have in their
normal daily lives all kinds of issues to face.
When you happen to be walking through a
park and there are cops there, you could end
up in trouble."
It s a laudable aim, but one that s not truly
reflected in the film, which ultimately side-
lines the kids experiences to make Johnson
the focus. In its final scene, the kids, after
begging her to stay, paraphrase Dylan Thomas
to literally tell her: "We see you as being our
The real-life Johnson, however, was most
annoyed by the filmmakers decision to kill
off Emilio for the sake of climactic dramatic
impact. In fact, the real Emilio joined the
Marine Corps, and settled down in California
with a wife and kids.
Ironically, tragedy would soon strike Wade
Domínguez, the chiselled actor who portrayed
Emilio. He died from respiratory failure in
1998 at the age of just 32. Renoly Santiago,
who played his rival Raúl, recalls their friend-
ship: "We were close. He was the nicest per-
son, and he was very vulnerable. When I
look back on it, he was on that James Dean
trip. He confessed to being very insecure to
me, and so I always took it as Are you just
trying to flatter me? But he had lived a
"He looks like a superman in the movie,
he did everything in one take. I don t know
the details of how he died, but he would
have been a household name by now."
It s largely thanks to the gritty perform-
ances of young performers like Domínguez
and Santiago, and the rest of the ensemble
cast---few of whom were trained actors---
that Dangerous Minds works.
"I loved them so much, and the life and
honesty and the energy they brought," recalls
Smith. The film s best moments are the
unpredictable classroom sequences which
bristle with tension, infusing an overly glossy
product with a tang of authenticity.
Santiago recalls them fondly: "They were
fun! But it was like being in a real rough
reform school, where you knew that if you
fucked with somebody, there was going to
be a fight. There were some arguments. The
girls were tough, and there was this one girl
who regulated everything. She was ready to
kick anyone s behind, and she would have
beat up any bullies."
So how does Johnson look back on the
film today? "I cry every time I see it. I think
it inspired a lot of people. I can whine about
the changes, but overall it had a good effect.
Some young people got to become actors
who might not have had a chance."
One such actor, Santiago, who today teach-
es and performs in New York, becomes emo-
tional at the memory.
"I remember we were all on the beach,
shooting the scene at the amusement park.
I was 19 turning 20. We were all together,
and I said, This is the best time of my life .
We all nodded our heads. There is so much
love in that film, and so much pure intent.
We had so much fun. I secretly felt---even
being that young---that that was a special
moment...that it could really be a great, great
thing that happened." (theguardian.com)
Monday, August 17, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
'Dangerous Minds best moments were
the unpredictable classroom sequences'
Michelle Pfeiffer was memorable in Dangerous Minds.
Links Archive August 16th 2015 August 18th 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page