I am convinced that films often serve as the “sermons” of our time, interpreting what Jesus was all about.
As a boy, I was sometimes left to entertain myself on Saturday afternoons. Watching TV, I happened onto a film that touched my experience even before I could name it. I knew I was different and was pained by my difference because, like most children, I wanted to be like everyone else.
The Boy with Green Hair was about a war orphan my age who woke up one morning and discovered his hair had turned green. Now, I had to gather this from the dialogue, because we only had a black and white television set. Besides my nascent sexuality, which I could hide, I had an analogous experience: I had bright red hair. My father affectionately called me “carrot top,” which I didn’t mind, but hated it when a stranger called me “red,” usually in a less-than-respectful way.
So I could understand from several vantage points the discomfort of the boy with green hair who wanted to fit in, but had schoolmates make fun of him, fear him, even scapegoat him. The boy had learned the day before his hair turned green the truth that he was an orphan, having never been told his parents were killed doing relief work in war-ravaged Europe. Passed around by various selfish relatives, he finally landed with “gramp,” a compassionate, retired vaudeville performer and magician.
The orphan has a mystical encounter with fellow war orphans in the woods, one of whom tells him his green hair may be a sign of something good, a way to tell others of the cost of war. No one believes him, of course, and he finally submits to the pressure of conformity and has his head shaved, an act which causes all who tormented him to be ashamed. When read a letter his father left behind, assuring him of his parents’ love and encouraging him to warn others of the price of war, he resolves to let his hair grow back green if it wants to. He accepts his difference. I identified with him because I knew I was different, though being gay was then more unspeakable than having either green or red hair.
Not many years ago I discovered a whole community online that had similarly identified with the boy, having seen the film on television in the 60s, themselves experiencing in various ways what it was like not to fit in, those whose differences “orphaned” them. I also learned that the director of the film, Joseph Losey, was blacklisted three years later for refusing to appear and refusing to cooperate with the inquisition known as Senator Joe McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities.
Another form of McCarthyism is expressed today by those who vilify “identity politics,” as if it were a new thing or a bad thing. But it’s nothing new, having been practiced by dominant cultures that required conformity to their identities to belong. And it’s only bad when refusing to welcome those of different identities.
A friend of mine, Mel White, used to do a series for churches entitled, “I Saw Jesus at the Movies.” I saw Jesus in this movie about pacifism and diversity and the courage and compassion required to achieve both.
Chris will be leading “Claim the God in You! A Midsummer Retreat” in Roanoke, Virginia, July 13-15, 2012, hosted by the MCC of the Blue Ridge. Various events may be attended singly or together. The public is welcome! See details on the church’s website, clicking on the far right box: MCCBR Retreat.
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Head to Chris Glaser’s website for the original posting and other excellent progressive Christian articles!