Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Wanted: Readers/Reading in Films

When a TV station announced the Reading Room, a Hallmark film, as its weekend feature, it got me all excited, for obvious reasons. For one, I'm a bookworm. For another, this is one film that features reading and readers removed from the classroom and library setting.

After the memorial service for his wife, William Campbell, played by James Earl Jones, watched one home video and in it his wife broached the idea of opening a community reading room in a storefront business he owns in his former inner-city neighborhood. Using their library collection and personal money, Campbell opened it and immediately earned the suspicions of various residents.

Children and teeners thirsting for knowledge and hobbies slowly trooped into the Reading Room. Campbell's main problem was how to keep it open in spite of his being mugged and threatened. The Reading Room was also slightly burned but somehow that only spurred Campbell to continue with his wife's legacy. Through books and magazines, he was able to touch the lives of many people in the community.

Unlike other films where libraries, readers and reading serve only as backdrops to some scenes, the Reading Room is the main focus where most of the action takes place. Its collection of books and magazines is modest compared to Lex Luthor's yacht library in Superman Returns. The film was endorsed by the National Center for Family Literacy of America.

Among local films, Abakada Ina starring Lorna Tolentino as an illiterate mother comes to mind. Her mother-in-law (a teacher) looks down to her because she is "useless" and "unreliable." When one of her kids gets sick and the doctor prescribes some medicines, the latter has to put some colored stickers on the bottles to help her distinguish which to give for what symptoms. When one sticker gets unstuck, Lorna in her confusion gives the wrong medicine to her kid. When the kid gets hospitalized as a result, she realizes the importance of literacy. And in the final scene, she is seen with her daughter in class.

In local cinema and TV programs, there is a dearth of positive roles showing readers in real-life terms. Readers are often portrayed as nerds and shrinking mimosa types complete with eyeglasses and thick book props. In one weekend show, a reader is shown as such but with a superpower (invisibility)!

How I wish there were more positive reader roles in local entertainment like those in The Emperor's Club, Dead Poets Society, Finding Forrester, among others. With a literacy rate of 94%, why is this not reflected on local film and TV? Is it an inherent conflict of interest?

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