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HBO Movie and the Illegal Alien Protests
April 3, 2006

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

The recent spectacle in which students cut class to take part in immigration reform protests was disquieting to many Americans.

The sight of young people waving Mexican flags and professing loyalty to another nation spurred vigorous debate across the country. Media outlets, educational venues, business offices, worship centers and family abodes were replete with discussion.

Some were disturbed by what they saw. Some were puzzled, some infuriated, some torn.

Apparently, writer Victor Villaseñor did not share the same sentiments.

About the student walkouts, Villaseñor expressed to the San Diego Union Tribune, "This is a wonderful thing that's happening," characterizing the displays as "a win-win for the consciousness of Latinos."

Villaseñor, who resides in Oceanside, California, has written on the subject of immigration in books such as "Rain of Gold," "Macho!" and "Burro Genius."

More importantly for the current discussion, he penned the underlying story for an HBO movie titled "Walkout," which debuted in March 2006, just days before the immigration protests took place. The film continues to be rerun at regular intervals.

Moctesuma Esparza (who also made "Selena" and "The Milagro Beanfield War") produced "Walkout." The movie tells the story of the protests that took place in 1968 by thousands of Mexican-American high school students in East Los Angeles.

Over the course of a week, the film's teens participate in a multi-school walkout in protest of alleged Mexican-American discrimination.

Could it be that the students who recently exited classrooms en masse to participate in the immigration reform protests were influenced by the HBO movie?

Well, it turns out that prior to the real-life protests, director of the film Edward James Olmos predicted as much.

In a recent interview, Olmos was asked if Latino students of today were capable of engaging in activism similar to that of the students of 1968.

"I think the young are not only capable of doing it, but I think [the film "Walkout"] will inspire them to do more," Olmos said.

"Walkout" cinematically romanticizes student protest activities. The main character is a straight-A student who refuses to accept the status quo. Disobeying her father, she sneaks out of the house at night to attend protest-planning meetings in preparation for the big day, where students will gallantly march out of school and take to the streets. A revolutionary-minded teacher guides the teens in their foray into civil disobedience.

Villaseñor speculated that "the movie perhaps doubled the numbers [of students]" who participated in the recent immigration reform protests.

According to the writer, producer Esparza ran into a number of young people at his public appearances who said that the film was their inspiration to walk out of school.

In this writer's opinion, as the major political, cultural and societal issues of our times continue to take a more prominent place within our entertainment arena, the influence of product content, overt, implied and concealed messaging, and behavioral nudging must also be part of a truthful and salutary discussion.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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