After much debate, we have made a tough decision. It’s a decision many of you will disagree with, but one I hope you consider deeply as you read our rationale.
We are removing El recreo ha terminado from the website. On July 1st, 2020, the video will be taken down, and it will never return to Señor Wooly.
El recreo ha terminado is the story of a black student who gets dismissed early from lunch detention. The moment he gets outside, the bell rings and recess is already over. What follows is a mournful ballad about the loss of his favorite time of day.
The casting of a black teenager in this particular video was myopic, at best.
Here’s what happened: In 2011, I held auditions. The script made no mention of the protagonist’s race, and when a black teenager named Joshua gave the best audition, the casting decision was easy.
I even distinctly remember wondering whether some of the imagery would be problematic with a black actor. However, the script was already written, and I naively decided that it would actually be inappropriate of me to change the script simply because I had cast a black actor.
So, I barreled forward without truly reflecting on that imagery.
For years, I couldn’t really see any problems with the video. It was nothing but a cute story about a kid bemoaning the loss of recess. It was made with the best of intentions, and as far as I was concerned, intentions were what mattered.
But I was wrong. Intentions don’t matter. Students don’t get direct access to a creator’s intentions while they watch the video, nor can the creator control how that imagery is disseminated by its audience.
Let’s not mince words. Here are some descriptions of that imagery in El recreo ha terminado:
A black student…
… does menial labor for a white teacher while alone in detention.
… copies homework from a white student.
… threatens to punch a girl that he has a crush on.
… climbs a fence to escape school.
… is dragged back to school by white teachers (yes, really)
When I write it out like this, I can’t believe that I ever made this video.
As we internally discussed the removal of this video, one person said, “Come on, all students in Wooly videos engage in misbehavior. Anita is ditching class. Emma is lying about doing homework. Justin is refusing to go to school. It’s always been equal-opportunity bad behavior!”
And yes, it’s true that poor student behavior is a running theme in my videos. But I can’t be naive that imagery is perceived equally across racial lines. A narrative that features a white kid ditching class is fundamentally perceived differently than a narrative with a black kid ditching class. When it’s a white kid, we tend to ascribe that behavior to the individual. When it’s a black kid, we tend to ascribe that behavior to race. Pretending that they’re the same simply because I wish they could be the same is just my white privilege talking.
El recreo ha terminado features extensive imagery that reinforces damaging stereotypes about black students, and frankly I just don’t want to add one more micro-transaction towards the development of those stereotypes.
No, the video is not evil, but I do think it runs counter to the narratives we here at Wooly seek to foster.
I will miss El recreo ha terminado. I love all of my babies, warts and all, and there are legitimately things that I love about it, not the least of which is Joshua’s awesome lead performance. I’m also sorry to remove a video that 30 kids spent their entire weekend making with me back in 2011.
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past weeks, it’s that we can’t just continue on the same path forward. True change requires learning, listening, and sacrifice. As painful as growth may be at times, we have to lean into this reality with unrelenting courage and be willing to accept change as growth. With absolute conviction, we at Señor Wooly believe that removing El recreo ha terminado is the right decision.
P.S. A huge thank you to Jahdai Jeffords for patiently and kindly talking to me about the problems with this video. His warm, but relentless words of encouragement have been reverberating through my head for months, and I am eternally grateful for him caring enough to ask for change.