Sometimes, you find representation in the most unexpected of places.
Last night, my husband pulled up the 2013 movie Homefront on Netflix. It’s an action movie, based off of a novel by Chuck Logan of the same name, and
adapted to screen by Sylvester Stallone. The film’s about an ex-undercover cop, Phil Broker, trying to rebuild his life as a laborer after retiring due to a drug bust gone terribly wrong.
It had rather decent action scenes and one or two good lines (“So, are you thinking hard? ‘Cause I can smell the wood burning”), but otherwise, it wasn’t one of my favorites.
One of the kids who had a reoccurring appearance was a little boy, Teddy, who opened up the film as bullying the main character’s daughter, Maddy. She gave him two warnings, as her father had taught her to, before giving the boy a bloody nose.
Naturally, the action turned from the kids to the adults.
Teddy’s behavior was brushed off by the school psychologist when she explained what had happened to Phil because he was a “special needs child”.
Later, we learned more about just how dysfunctional the boy’s family is. His mom’s a meth addict, while his dad puts in a lot of hours at a manual labor job to support his family, and his uncle is the area meth cook/dealer. Within the family, the boy is the one who struggles to make peace between his parents, which is enough to cause any child to act out in school.
The next few times he was on screen, he seemed to be a happier, nicer child, because those around him were actually treating him with kindness and respect.
The thing that bothers me the most is how much that single interaction reinforced the stereotype struggling kids have of misbehaving for the attention. Teddy’s initial actions were intentional ways to garner power over the new kid, not a meltdown from over stimulation or awkwardness over misreading social cues.
His subsequent turn around implies that kids bearing the special needs label aren’t in need of accommodation, but only kind treatment and being included in the social world. Although these kids do need both of those things, they also need specialized accommodations and a focus on their strengths.
Then again, that line could have also been a throw away comment on a school’s over-willingness to identify “problem kids” as “special needs”, rather than trying to get to the root of the issue. While I’m sure there may have been schools that do that, I doubt that’s as big a problem as is implied. Getting the right diagnosis, or testing to begin with, seems to be difficult in many cases, and too many students only get the help they need once they get to the higher grades or college.
Of course, there’s also always the fact that scene could have just been a way of adding drama or grit to the story. In that case, I don’t think the term “special needs” was necessary.
In the end, Teddy was little more than a plot device. He provided an indirect connection between the protagonist and antagonist, and served to help demonstrate his mother’s more compassionate side. The movie wasn’t about the kids, so I understand why it didn’t center more sharply around them.
I still wish Stallone had handled the character differently, though. The media we consume reflects and influences how we view groups of people. Reducing such a complicated issue to a way of pardoning bad behavior only adds to the misconceptions already rampant in our culture.