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Show and Tell: Jemima + Johnny (1966)
Introduction Primary Primary (2) Citizenship English  
image from  Jemima + Johnny (1966)
AuthorPoppy Simpson
ThemesFilm and topical issues, Film and public opinion, Racism

The idea that children are 'colour blind' is neatly (if a little simplistically) expressed in a scene just over six minutes into the film, in which Jemima and Johnny help a blind black gentleman cross the street. Is this the central message of Jemima + Johnny - or is it more complex? After watching the extracts, you might start by asking students to write a one line summary of the film - similar to a DVD tagline - that encapsulates its core message. They might find the synopsis of the full 30 minute film on the main Screenonline site helpful. As students feed back their ideas, discuss their different interpretations of the film - there's bound to be a few!

Jemima + Johnny also affords the opportunity to consider the contextual influences on film in general. The film is set in and around Notting Hill, the scene of a number of race riots in late 1958. What's more, the director, Lionel Ngakane, was Nelson Mandela's contemporary in the ANC and moved to London after being exiled from South Africa in the 1950s. How does this information impact on the way students view the film? Do they think that the film's message has had the same impact on them as a modern audience as it might have had on an audience in the 1960s?

This debate is worth exploring further. If students can learn something about the 1960s from this film - anything from the fact that rag and bone men were a feature of London streets to the implication that racial conflict divided certain local communities - then it follows that future generations could look to films and television programmes made today to understand the early 21st century. What programmes or films would students 'archive' for this purpose? Put another way, what films or television do they feel best represent their various experiences. Can they come up with a list of four?

Jemima + Johnny uses a gritty, realist style with no 'sync' sound. Why do students think Ngakane adopted this particular style and how does it add to the audience's experience of the film? This question might be tackled better by an in-depth analysis of a particular extract or sequence, in which students analyse the types of shot used, the use of sound, methods of editing as well as any symbolism etc. (For more support on analysing film in the classroom, see the free BFI guide Moving Images in the Classroom).

This leads nicely into a discussion about the relative abilities of film and/or television to tackle difficult social, political and cultural issues compared to other media. Do students think film and television have a unique role or particular strengths when it comes to commenting on and reacting to difficult issues such as racism? And how significant do they think film and television are (individually and combined) in informing and influencing public opinion?

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