‘Homeroom,’ streaming, Hulu

By Chris Byrd, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Having debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the 90-minute documentary “Homeroom” is streaming on Hulu.

Revealing, often touching but undermined by vulgarity, the film completes Oakland, California, filmmaker Peter Nicks’ trilogy about his hometown. The movie follows 2012’s “The Waiting Room,” about the plight of Oakland’s medically uninsured, and 2017’s “The Force,” which documented efforts to reform the city’s police department.

Fellow Oakland native and prominent African American director Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) executive produces “Homeroom.”

Employing a cinema verite style, which incorporates his subjects’ cellphone videos, Nicks charts the lives of seniors at Oakland High School during the 2019-20 academic year, the most tumultuous in recent U.S. history. It was marked by COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

It’s the second of those factors that mainly shapes the show’s drama. With the local school board considering budget cuts, student leaders campaign to convince them to shift funding designated for school policing to educational and social services.

This is an image for the TV show “Homeroom,” streaming now on Hulu. (CNS photo/Hulu)

Among the numerous figures featured in the documentary, Denilson Garibo, a Latino immigrant without legal papers, emerges as its primary protagonist. Along with a female counterpart, African American Mica Smith-Dahl, Garibo is an elected student representative to the school board.

In the fall of 2019, several board members balk at the first attempt to pass a motion recommending the reallocation of funds. But, after the emerging pandemic ends their in-person learning in March 2020, something else unforeseen gives a new impetus to the students’ undertaking: the wave of activism that followed the killing of George Floyd.

Frequent coarse language, while perhaps a necessary byproduct of Nicks’ verite approach, means that “Homeroom” cannot be endorsed for real-life high schoolers. For their part, adult viewers will find that homosexuality becomes an incidental theme in the film because Garibo identifies as gay.

The filmmakers correctly see Garibo’s immigration status as much more germane to their story — as a result of it, his activities put him and his family at risk. And believers in the audience will not want to allow his sexuality to cloud their appreciation of Garibo’s courage, passion and sincerity.

Despite its artistry and edifying aspects, the excessive crassness that confronts TV fans in “Homeroom” — with students using obscene words and gestures and a similar vocabulary being employed at public rallies — dissipates its positive effect.

St. Paul VI once famously said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” To which a corollary might be: if you want justice, promote civility.


Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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