The first time I ever saw “My Brown Eyes”, I cried. I was in an ESL teaching methods class in college and we were shown the film as part of our preparation for becoming ESL teachers. I believe one of the biggest virtues an ESL teacher, or anyone else for that matter, can have is the ability to be empathetic towards others and “My Brown Eyes” is so powerful it ekes cultural awareness and empathy right out of anyone who watches it.
“Brown is the color of Earth. I didn’t notice the color of my eyes until I became ten years old. When I was born, everyone around me had brown eyes. Now all around me there are eyes blue and green. Brown is the color of my eyes, and like Earth, they are round and Earth is brown here as it was where I was born.”
And so begins “My Brown Eyes,” a film with very little on dialogue, but a lot on powerful scenes. After the opening monologue, producer Jay Koh introduces us to a young 5th grade boy getting into bed the night before his first day of school in America. His parents get home late after a long day working in a restaurant and he it becomes quickly evident that he is left to his own devices for just about everything.
The next morning, while his parents sleep off their tiredness from work, the young boy readies himself for school. He fixes eggs and ham for his sleeping parents and puts some on a sandwich smothered in ketchup for his school lunch. Oddly, while on his way out of the house, the boy notices that the front door is a bit squeaky, and so he grabs some WD40 and fixes the squeak. And so begins his day…
Flash forward to school. Our young hero is sitting in his new classroom just watching all of the chatter going on around him, taking it all in. The teacher starts class and asks the students to share stories about their summers. She soon comes upon the boy, who clearly has no idea what she’s asking him to do. It takes her long enough to figure out that he doesn’t understand her, and when she finally realizes he doesn’t speak English, more chatter and laughter fills the classroom.
As the day rolls on, scene after scene of sometimes heart wrenching situations come up: the boy gets into a fight with three bullies, he becomes embarrassed by his lunch, he wets his pants for fear of leaving his seat without being told he could. In the end, we’re left with the boy once again at home, eating his sandwich by the front door with his can of WD40 beside him.
“My Brown Eyes” is a powerful, short film that shows viewers what it’s like to find yourself in a different culture, surrounded by people speaking a language that you can’t understand. Many misconceptions people have about non-English speaking immigrants are unraveled in the film’s persuasive message. The short is a perfect tool for raising cross-cultural awareness among all people.
I was recently asked to do a professional development presentation on what I do to the fellow teachers in my school. Many of them have my ESL students in their classes and sometimes need to be reminded just how difficult it is for them to be successful. Oftentimes my students come to me in a panic with homework assignments or essays that they don’t have a clue what they have to do, or they’re discouraged when they haven’t had ample time to complete a test. There are practices that teachers can easily employ when working with ESL students (see Tips for Working with ESL Students), and I hope that seeing this powerful film will remind teachers to be aware of these often overlooked and often failing students.
In order for me to review the film once more before my presentation, I showed it to my students today. Within moments of starting the film, they were engrossed. As they watched that first scene in the classroom, unhappy memories flooded their collective thoughts. The scenes that they saw were all too familiar to each of them: the embarrassment that comes with not knowing the language, the bullying that they experienced from taunts and teasing, all understood via facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language alone. I asked them to write down their thoughts about the film afterwards. To a person, each of them said that everybody should see this.
To view “My Brown Eyes”, click here. (Note: The film is approximately 18 minutes in length and is part of a longer string of short films on this clip. It is the first film short.)
You can read more about the film and purchase the video of “My Brown Eyes” at Master Communications website : http://www.master-comm.com/mbevideo.htm