I recently watched two films by South African director Neill Blomkamp, whose trademark is a blend of political science and science fiction. A repeated theme in his work highlights the conflict between those with wealth and power to those who have nothing, themes in District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013). Watching both movies, I thought about how the two main characters in his films could answer the free response question on the 2014 Advanced Placement English Literature exam :
It has often been said that what we value can be determined only by what we sacrifice. Consider how this statement applies to a character from a novel or play. Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.
The character Wilus in District 9 and the character Max from Elysium both sacrifice, surrender and ultimately forfeit their lives for others. Writing the essay using Blomkamp’s films would be easy for my students, which begs the question, when will film be taken seriously as a text?
The elements that students would write about in an essay responding to the above question for a novel or play would be the tone, the word choice, the metaphors…all of which contribute to the purpose of the text. These same elements would be included in an essay response using either of Blomkamp’s films. I am NOT advocating for less reading, and I recognize that AP English Literature is unlikely to absorb film as literature, but since students are being tested on their writing for questions such as the free response question above, films like Blomkamp’s could result in powerful responses.