Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Spare Parts"

In Search of "Spare Parts" and the American Dream...

Carl Hayden Community High School Falcon Robotics Club

Overwhelmed by the myriad of Oscar nominated films in the Cineplex, I had overlooked the one little indie comedy on the marquee. The only thing I heard about it was that it was set in Arizona, but was shot in New Mexico to benefit from their tax incentives. (Don’t get me started…) Like the Hispanic families of the inner-city robotics team, I didn't have great expectations. But it was impossible not to be inspired by this true story of four poor undocumented high school students’ courage and determination to pursue a better life through robotics. They decide to compete against the country’s best including the reigning champions, MIT. It is awe inspiring watching them figure out how to make an underwater robot with an $800 budget, PVC piping and other, “spare parts.”

Spare Parts,” is based on an article, “La Vida Robot” in Wired magazine. Writer Joshua David explained, “I wanted to write about the amazing thing they had done. If no one tells the stories, the real stories of people trying to do amazing things and succeeding, then the stereotypes persist. I want America to be as good as it can be. I like to find stories that emphasize the people that make the country great.”

Sure, it looks like a TV movie of the week. The school seemed too bright and clean to be the tough school it is made out to be. Director Sean McNamara and screenwriter Elissa Matsueda give it a comic tone to showcase the strengths of comedian George Lopez and to make it accessible to a larger audience. And they succeed. This is the first laugh-out-loud comedy I've seen in quite a while.

The movie may have been even more powerful if they portrayed more of the true day-to-day prejudices and challenges that these undocumented teens faced. The computer teacher (Marisa Tomei) sums it up, "Every day in a hundred ways they are told that they are hopeless, that they are beyond hope." The filmmakers make it accessible to more people by not casting blame. But they do show the results of being treated like a criminal - that you start to behave like a criminal. The brother of one of the team members has bought into this myth and has become a delinquent.

These teens have come to this country with their families to pursue the American Dream. After being rejected for the military, an enterprising young man starts the robotic team in hopes that the competition will lead to employment so he can support his family. In a heartbreaking scene, his mother confesses, "I told you anything could be yours. I don't think I was right."

The teens show incredible courage by continuing to work towards the competition despite daunting challenges such as: supporting a family, protecting a delinquent brother, being tracked down by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), being homeless, and fear of being deported. Keep in mind this all happened in Phoenix, Arizona where Sheriff Joe Arpaio imprisons undocumented people in tent city while it is 110 degrees outside, in a state where ethnic studies (that promote self-esteem and success in school) are illegal.

“Spare Parts” is an empowering underdog story that shows we can do anything we set our mind to. But it is so much more than that. Actor Esai Morales hopes that this movie will broaden what it means to be an American and our definition of the American Dream.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Read, "The Real-Life Teachers of "Spare Parts" on What's Wrong with US Schools."

UPDATE: News of what came of the Carl Hayden Community High School Falcon Robotics team.

GOOD NEWS: Tucson police revise immigration policy about asking for papers.

Read my thoughts on, "What's Really Happening on the Arizona/Mexican Border."

Read my review of, "Under the Same Moon."

For more information on the struggles of undocumented workers, watch the documentary, "Immigrant Nation."

1 comment:

Dan Stormont said...

Besides being much more inspiring and entertaining than I had expected, the Tucson community robotics team - the Bit Buckets - provided robotics support for the filming of Spare Parts. Go see it!!!