Monday, April 24, 2017

Tobin Miller Shearer's "Two Weeks Every Summer"

Tobin Miller Shearer is Associate Professor of History and African-American Studies Director at the University of Montana.

Here Shearer shares his idea for a film based on his new book, Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America:
So, here’s the pitch.

Two Weeks Every Summer is not about children. It is not about the city. It’s not even about fresh air. The book is about sex and violence and mystery. Those three themes will make this movie sizzle.

First, the sex. In the movie, we will dramatize the sexual tensions present in white families hosting children of color as they approach dating age. We show a white middle class family at dinner – father, mother, daughter, son – discussing the sleeping arrangements after their long-time Fresh Air guest – an African-American twelve-year old from the Bronx – arrives the following day. The tension is understated but palpable when the twelve-year-old daughter notes how handsome their guest is and that she can hardly wait to see him.

A second major scene will dramatize the violence associated with the programs. The camera will pan across the aftermath of one of the hundreds of rebellions that broke out after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. Switch to a press conference where the director of the Fresh Air Fund, played by Meryl Streep, declares how sending children to the country for two-week summer stays will forestall future urban unrest. Fade to a sylvan scene as reporters call out questions.

Finally, the mystery. The narrative arc of the film will turn on the mystery of why hundreds of thousands – indeed more than a million by mid-twentieth century – of urban children travelled in some cases hundreds of miles away from home communities where they were known and loved to visit strange suburban and rural families who had never before set eyes on them. Over the course of the 115 minute story line viewers will receive clues to the answer: a chance to travel, the host’s desire to be viewed as racially progress, white perceptions of the country as morally superior, the children’s love of swimming, multi-million dollar endowments. Only at the end, when an intrepid, superficially cynical but ultimately compassionate reporter, played by Forest Whitaker, sits down with a Fresh Air Alum, played by Lupita Nyong'o, does the full story of courageous civil rights action, joyful independence, and conflicted relationship come to a complete and satisfying conclusion.

Two Weeks Every Summer – coming to a theater near you.
Learn more about Two Weeks Every Summer at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue