Half Nelson was distributed in 2006 and is the story about Dan Dunne, a Middle School inner city White Social Studies teacher who abuses cocaine and crack and gets discovered by one of his students, a 13 year old African American female, Drey.
Mr. Dunne seems quite charismatic, and Drey becomes somewhat infatuated with him, and the relationship deepens when, mature beyond her years, she colludes with him to keep his secret.
The creative tension in the movie is created by the character study of Dan Dunne who seems like a very good teacher, and girls basketball coach, but whose drug addiction goes undealt with by colleagues, family, girlfriends. He seems to go through the motions of life depressed, discheveled, engaging in dysfunctional behavior like trying to rape his colleague girl friend, but bright and caring. The only person in his life that seems to actually see what is going on and cares about it is his 13 year old student. At times she is brought to tears over her sadness of what she witnesses. The film is poignant and moving because of the shame and helplessness of "Teach" in the grips of addiction but still functioning, in the eyes of a child.
I have been interested for some time in the idea of how children care for their dusfunctional parents, and other adult authority figures. Children are significantly marginalized in our contemporary society being segregated in schools, and treated as objects of our educational, entertainment, child care, human service, and health care industries. They are rarely asked for their opinions, genuine help, and are treated in a consumer oriented, materialistic culture, as creatures of consumption rather than creativity and production. To see a film which depicts a 13 year old African American 8th grader, mature beyond her years, care for her 30 something Male White Social Studies teacher turns our cultural expectations and models upside down. The role reversal is subtle and nuanced, and also stunning.
Like good art, this film raises far more questions than it answers, and probably will mean quite different things to different people. I highly recommend this film.