Precious Knowledge Review by Ed Rampell
This Latino Public Broadcasting co-production is a very powerful documentary about the extremely dubious campaign to eliminate ethnic studies from Tucson’s schools, and the resistance to this racist exercise in white supremacy. Director Ari Luis Palos wisely focuses on students in and teachers of these classes in Tucson’s high schools, but also slyly reveals that the Anglo politicians who led the charge for Senate Bill 1070 and against Hispanic studies committed racial bashing as a stepping stone in their quests for higher office. (Well played, gringos!)
One lunatic politician even claims that Chicano studies is a plot orchestrated by Mexico – the old “outside agitator” canard and projection perpetuated by those unable to be held accountable their own drawbacks. At one point hysterical Arizona pols decry Brown Berets supporting a student rally for supposedly being dressed as “revolutionaries” – silly moi, I literally thought they were Boy Scouts and Brownies.
Of course, the most ironic thing about all this hullabaloo about nothing is data strongly indicating that students who take ethnic studies classes are more likely to improve their schoolwork, graduate and attend college. (Maybe that’s the real reason the racists want to eliminate ethnic studies? After all, an educated people can be dangerous, and the pedagogy of the oppressed is to be feared by – who else? – oppressors.)
A great LALIFF touch was that at its L.A. premiere Olmos – who received a Best Actor Academy Award nom for portraying the East L.A. Latino teacher Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver – introduced Precious Knowledge at a week night almost sold out screening, where it was very enthusiastically received by an appreciative audience. Some of the doc’s pupils and a teacher attended the screening with producer Eren Isabel McGinnis, participating in a Q&A after the film.
Precious Knowledge so single-mindedly concentrates on its subject matter that it never makes the obvious point that Arizona’s overheated cauldron of racism, death threats, hatred and hysteria apparently set the stage for the mass murder at Tucson Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ constituency event last January. But the doc doesn’t have to note this; those who read between the lines will get the point in this thoughtful exploration of an important, sensitive issue that was so effective it made me feel like shouting “Viva la raza!” – even though I’m a grinning gringo.