To Mark Twain Forum members:
WGBH has provided detailed information regarding the forthcoming PBS
program, "Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Information
about other programs in the CULTURE SHOCK series and educational outreach
follows the press release.
"...there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it,
because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a
tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more."
--Huck Finn, from Mark Twain's "Adventures of
Celebrated and censored, revered and reviled, "Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn" is one of America's most enduring literary classics, fueling heated
debate since it was first published in 1885. Mark Twain's novel is the focus
of "Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," premiering on PBS
Wednesday January 26, 2000 at 9pm (check local listings). This ninety-minute
film opens the landmark four-part documentary series, CULTURE SHOCK.
More than a history lesson, "Born to Trouble" is storytelling at its best,
probing important questions about race, class, censorship, and culture: Why
does this universally admired book offend so many? How do we distinguish
between a critique of a social problem and the perpetuation of the problem?
Does the required reading of prior generations have relevance for today's
"Born to Trouble" utilizes a dramatic retelling of the novel's plot,
compelling interviews, and historical artifacts to examine Twain's literary
genius, the 100-year-old conflicts surrounding the book, and the American
social and political climate from which the novel emerged. Featured
interviewees include writer David Bradley and literary scholars Jocelyn
Chadwick-Joshua, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, and James Miller. In addition to
looking at the past history of the book, the film interweaves both the
recent crusade of a Tempe, Arizona mother and her daughter to remove "Huck
Finn" from their high school's required reading list, and looks at
present-day race relations in Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri,
which was once a slave-holding town.
To many, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is one of the world's greatest
novels--and a national icon. Twain's satirical attack on slavery, hypocrisy,
and prejudice in antebellum America compels readers to look not only at
slavery and racism but also at the whole tradition of American democracy. It
is the story of a white outcast boy, Huck, and his adult friend Jim, a
runaway slave, who flee from Missouri together in search of freedom on a
raft down the Mississippi River in the 1840s. Most critics agree that Huck's
moral awakening to the injustice of slavery is among the most powerful
statements against racism in American literature. As writer and Twain expert
David Bradley sees it, "You can't arbitrarily say this book is trouble,
we're not going to teach it, because a book like 'Huckleberry Finn' is part
of American literature. You can't get around it."
In Hannibal, Missouri, Twain's hometown and the inspiration for "Huck Finn,"
residents celebrate National Tom Sawyer Days around every Fourth of July
honoring the author by reenacting some of Twain's local activities. Yet
according to one Hannibal resident quoted in the film, very few of the
African American residents choose to participate in the festivities because
Huck Finn "degrades them." "Hannibal presents a selective version of what
Mark Twain was about," says Twain scholar Shelly Fisher Fishkin. "It ignores
the fact that Hannibal was a slave- holding town. It ignores the role that
slavery played in shaping Mark Twain's imagination and in shaping the work
of Mark Twain."
While many praise the book, there are others who find it offensive. No
American novel has been attacked by the public as long and as continuously
as "Huck Finn." "Born to Trouble" transports viewers back to the end of the
Victorian era when Twain's then new novel was banned from the Concord,
Massachusetts public library after members of the Library's committee called
the book "trash." Other critics of the time followed suit, denouncing Twain
for threatening public morality, childhood innocence, and the purity of the
English language. The author's response was equally acrimonious: "Those
idiots in Concord are not a court of last resort and I am not disturbed by
their moral gymnastics," wrote Twain.
Although writers and critics elevated the novel to the canon of classic
literature in the 1930s, the controversy surrounding "Huck Finn" was far
from over. In 1957, as the Civil Rights movement started to gain momentum,
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peopled (NAACP)
charged that "Huck Finn" contained "racial slurs" and "belittling racial
designations." While they didn't advocate censorship, the book was
nevertheless removed from the New York City school system.
Since then, the book has been called "racist" for both the use of the word
"nigger" and a portrayal of blacks that some consider stereotypical and
demeaning. It has been removed from reading lists in schools from Texas to
Pennsylvania. "Born to Trouble" chronicles one such school system's battle:
Kathy Monteiro, a Tempe, Arizona mother, recently launched a crusade to have
the book removed from her teenage daughter's high school curriculum. "I'm
wondering as a teacher and as a mother, how you can ask kids to go home and
read the word 'nigger' 200-something times in the "Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn" and then expect kids to come back to school and not use the word,"
observes Monteiro in the film.
In 1985, the nation marked the centennial of the publication of "Huck Finn"
and the 150th anniversary of Twain's birth with celebrations around the
country. "Born to Trouble" follows the parties and the protests.
Although Twain could no longer respond to his critics--he died in 1910--he
had no shortage of supporters. President Ronald Reagan, seen in archival
footage in the film, commends the author's legacy. "In the decades to come,
may our schools give to our children the skills to navigate through life as
gracefully as Huck navigated the Mississippi. And may they teach our
students the same hatred of bigotry and love of their fellow men that Huck
showed on every page, and especially in his love for his big friend Jim,"
Beloved or banned, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," with nearly 700 foreign
editions printed, is one of the best known American novels across the globe,
which would undoubtedly please the author. "I have never tried to help
cultivate the cultivated classes. I was not equipped for it, either by
native gifts or training. And I never had any ambition in that direction,
but always hunted for bigger game--the masses," wrote Twain.
"Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is produced and directed
by Jill Janows, who also serves as the series' executive producer. The
writers are Jill Janows and Leslie Lee. Courtney B. Vance narrates.
ABOUT THE SERIES:
CULTURE SHOCK tells the stories of classic works of art--in literature,
music, film, and painting--that have been controversial and explores their
present-day relevance. Each program examines the cultural conditions, past
and present, that lead artists to create and audiences to react. CULTURE
SHOCK takes viewers into the heart of the debate about the role of the arts
in society and explores the power of new forms of art to enthrall and also
challenge. The four series programs are:
Born to Trouble: "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
Wednesday, January 26, 2000 at 9pm (90 minutes)
One of America's most beloved and banned books, Mark Twain's novel was
attacked for its "low morals" when it was published in 1885. Later it became
part of the American literary canon, only to become controversial again on
the grounds of racism--a charge that is still debated in schools today. Is
"Huck Finn" a brilliant satire against racism, or does it reinforce
The Shock of the Nude: Manet's "Olympia"
Wednesday, January 26 at 10:30pm (60 minutes)
The painting is now regarded as a masterpiece, but scandal surrounded the
1865 Paris exhibition of "Olympia." Manet had dared to paint visual art's
most universal subject, the nude, as an unidealized woman--a prostitute who
boldly stares directly at the viewer. By flouting the accepted ideas of
beauty and propriety in art, Manet outraged audiences. Today's visual
artists continue to test society's conventions, stirring up new
controversies for the modern age.
Hollywood Censored: Movies, Morality & the Production Code
Wednesday, February 2 at 9pm (60 minutes)
The mass appeal of movies, including their graphic portrayals of sex and
violence, has made them a target of censors since the medium's early days.
In the 1930s, Hollywood studios enforced a set of guidelines for movie
content, known as the Production Code, to answer growing charges of
immorality. The Code held for more than twenty years. As feature films still
have the power to provoke controversy, the question remains: Do movies
reflect--or cause--social behavior?
The Devil's Music: 1920s Jazz
Wednesday, February 2 at 10pm (60 minutes)
In its early years, jazz faced resistance across America. Like rap today,
jazz was considered a dangerous influence on young people and society. It
featured improvisation and the liberating rhythms of the black American
experience over classical music forms. As jazz's popularity grew, some
fought to suppress the music on moral grounds--but it finally won acceptance
as an art form.
Log on January 10, 2000 to the CULTURE SHOCK companion Web site
(www.pbs.org/cultureshock). There visitors will be able to explore their own
views about examples of provocative art, learn about arts controversies from
ancient times to the present, and gain a greater understanding of the
processes of arts censorship. They may also join in a moderated discussion
of topics related to the series.
To accompany the series, WGBH Educational Print & Outreach has developed a
CULTURE SHOCK teacher's guide, a "Huck Finn" teaching guide, and a "Huck
Finn" coursepack. Teachers can obtain their free copies of one or both
teacher's guides by writing to WGBH, Educational Print and Outreach, 125
Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134 (please include grades and subjects
taught). "Huck Finn" coursepacks can be ordered for $8.75 plus $4.75 for
shipping and handling (total: $13.50) by calling PBS Video at
1-800-344-3337. Please reference special item # HFIN111
CULTURE SHOCK Teacher's Guide
This free, forty-page guide provides discussion questions, activities,
curriculum links, and resources for all four CULTURE SHOCK films.
"Huck Finn in Context: A Teaching Guide"
Developed to complement one of the four CULTURE SHOCK films, "Born to
Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," this guide focuses on Twain's
famous novel by exploring the controversy surrounding the book, then and
now, and providing a comprehensive curriculum that places the book with its
historical, literary, and cultural contexts.
"Huck Finn Coursepack"
This comprehensive coursepack includes a copy of "Huck Finn in Context: A
Teaching Guide," the "Born to Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
video, and a copy of all companion readings cleared for classroom use.
NCTE Conference Workshops
Denver, CO November 1999
Inspired by the film "Born To Trouble: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"--one
of four films from the upcoming PBS series CULTURE SHOCK--WGBH has teamed
with the Cherry Hill, NJ School District to conduct two workshops at the
National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference, November 18-21,
1999 in Denver, CO. WGBH and Cherry Hill educators will share the
controversy faced at their school surrounding "Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn," the steps taken to address the challenge with parents, students and
staff, and the "Huck Finn" curriculum which emerged as a result of these
efforts. Both sessions are part of the NCTE Rainbow Strand.
Contact NCTE at (800) 369-6283 or email [log in to unmask] to register.
Session F.44: "Huck Finn: Born to Trouble"
Saturday, November 20, 1999 8:00am-9:15am
This panel discussion will focus on how school district turned a divisive
issue--charges that "Huck Finn" is a racist book and should be removed from
the curriculum--into an opportunity to create new curriculum and new
relationships among groups.
Session J.52 A Novel Approach to Teaching "Huck Finn"
Saturday, November 20, 1999 3:15pm-4:30pm
This demonstration workshop will describe the new curriculum created as a
result of the collaborative effort by Cherry Hill, New Jersey parents,
staff, and scholars, which teaches this controversial book in its historical
and cultural context.