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School Striving to Improve Image After ‘Schindler’ Flap

March 25, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A high school criticized after some of its students laughed during ″Schindler’s List″ is striving to become a symbol of hope instead of ethnic insensitivity.

Oakland’s Castlemont High School invited director Steven Spielberg to the school to talk about the Holocaust and his Academy Award-winning film.

He will attend an April 11th assembly and discuss a program in which ″Schindler’s List″ will be shown to students statewide to educate them about intolerance, racism and genocide. Gov. Pete Wilson will join him.

″This movie is an incredible teaching tool,″ said state education secretary Maureen DiMarco. ″If I had my druthers, I’d have every high school student 10th grade or older see the film.″

The California Schindler’s List Project will provide free showings for tens of thousands of students in 40 predominantly lower- and middle-class school districts beginning April 14.

The Oakland Unified School District, including Castlemont, most likely will be included in the program, which is still being organized.

Planners chose Castlemont to announce the program to recognize the school’s efforts to turn an ill-fated Martin Luther King Day field trip into a learning experience.

″The students at Castlemont and the education people in Oakland have been terrific,″ said Marvin Levy of Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment. ″Out of something that might have been bad came something good.″

During the Jan. 17 field trip, 69 Castlemont students were kicked out of a movie theater while watching ″Schindler’s List.″

Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater, said the students were acting up from the time they arrived. The last straw came an hour into the film when a woman was killed by Nazi guards.

″Oh, man 3/8 That was so cold,″ dean of students Tanya Dennis quoted one student as saying after the scene. The remark drew some laughs from other students.

At the time, theater manager Roger Brown said about 20 people, some of whom said they lost relatives in the Holocaust, complained that students were ″laughing and making jokes about people being brutally murdered on the screen.″ He and Michaan stopped the film and ordered the students out.

Brown said Friday he didn’t believe the students were anti-Semitic; just misbehaving, like many other teen-agers kicked out of films every week.

Theories about why the students misbehaved and who bears the blame were complicated by racial politics. Most of the students were black; most of the offended audience members were white.

So intense and long-lived was the media attention that Castlemont Principal Ellen Posey and her staff stopped giving interviews.

Some of the students later apologized. The teacher who led the field trip admitted he failed to prepare his students for the movie’s subject matter.

″They’ve had to live with it all and it’s just a lot on their shoulders and they’re tired,″ said Oakland Unified School District spokeswoman N. Z. Carol.

Spielberg has urged schools around the world to show ″Schindler’s List.″ In Dade County, Fla., 13,000 high school students eventually will see the film. More than 35,000 students in Vienna, Austria, already have.

California’s program can accommodate up to 16,000 students a week and will run through June.

Students, 10th grade and above, will get at least two hours of classroom preparation. There will be discussions after the movie as well. Because of the graphic violence and nudity in the R-rated film, permission from parents will be required.

″Schindler’s List″ is based on the true story of German businessman Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factory in Poland. The film won seven Oscars, including one for best film and best director.

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