How ‘Hardball’ Avoids Problematic Tropes by Meeting Its Kids Where They Are

how 'hardball' avoids problematic tropes by meeting its kids where they are
how ‘hardball’ avoids problematic tropes by meeting its kids where they are

Hardball;

In fifth grade, we once had a long-term substitute teacher for a science class, and he was a Cool Sub. He let us call him by his first name. He sat on the desk. He brought in a guitar (but never played it). He tossed out candy for right answers. And most tellingly: he was a White Guy With Dreads. My feelings about him were mixed; I loved the chance for free candy, obviously, but even then I knew something about his persona, his approach to us kids was insincerely calculated, foisted upon us instead of shared organically.

Dead Poets Society is a noted, beloved example of this “unorthodox educator inspires kids” subgenre my Cool Sub so wanted to be the protagonist of. This subgenre then took problematic detours into the depiction of overcoming racial and socioeconomic tensions via this hard-working, usually white educator. Films like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers calcified this knotted take on the genre, inspiring works of parody like the John Lovitz spoof High School High​​​​​​. In all of these works, the educator develops a plan actively, working to elevate their children above their stuck stations in life, trying their absolute best to be a ladder to a better life. Films like these often age as poorly as my Cool Sub’s White Dreads.

Then there’s Hardball. Originally released in 2001, the Brian Robbins film is a sports-infused take on this genre, starring Keanu Reeves as a prickly pear assigned to coach an inner-city little league baseball team. After revisiting the film, which I loved upon its initial release, on its new blu-ray release, I am delighted to report it holds up and then some, satirizing and sidestepping these tropes of racial saviorhood in effective ways ranging in subtlety. Essentially, Hardball makes the statement that these children are good as they are, and that one must simply show up there.

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