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Oh, to be young and able to see things as only black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. You might find yourself having such thoughts when you see The Wise Kids, the new DVD release from award-winning writer-director Steven Cone and Wolfe Video.
The film follows the lives of three friends. Molly Kunz is Brea, a pastor’s daughter, who is as sensitive and reflective as her best friend Laura (played Allison Torem) is intensely devout. Tyler Ross is Tim, their longtime buddy who has recently “come out.”
The friends’ intertwining stories take place in that restless and often-strange transitional space between high school and college, when the world seems like little more than what can be immediately found, seen, heard, and experienced in their small Southern town.
“My dad is still a Southern Baptist preacher, so I grew up in that environment,” Cone said. He attended church “at least three times a week for the first 18 years of my life,” he said.
Movies offered some escape, he said. As a kid, he first found inspiration in a book about the making of Star Wars.
“That changed my life!” he said. “Soon I was drawing my own movie posters in a notebook and reading every word of every capsule review in the weekly TV guide.”
In no time, he knew he would grow up to do something involving movies – he just wasn’t sure what it would be.
Cone gets his themes across subtly in Wise Kids, and he never settles for easy answers. These childhood friends are about to strike out into the wider world, and he uses that as a metaphor for their expanding consciousness. He also frames the action between several holiday events, opening with an Easter play and ending with a Christmas pageant. In doing so, he cleverly symbolizes not just the turn of the seasons, but also the changing and maturing of the three young people. The nativity signifies a new beginning – the “birth” of the next phase of their lives.
By not making any one individual storyline the sole focus, Cone makes the entire piece much more dramatically satisfying.
“I see it as a communal portrait – a tapestry,” he explains. “I never intended the sexual elements to stick out from Brea’s crisis of faith, Laura’s losing her friends, or anything else.”
He presents Tim as a teen perfectly fine with both who he is and his beliefs. His easy-going father supports him in this, even if the rest of his family (and community) aren’t so open-minded.
When he casually verifies that he does indeed have same-sex inclinations, Laura tells him, “I double-checked, and it’s definitely wrong.”
“OK,” he replies simply, later chuckling to Brea, “Uh … that went well.”
In many ways, Laura is the touchstone for all the action. She believes in a strict, literal interpretation of the Scriptures, and all the goings-on around her only solidify her convictions.
“If you just pick and choose what you like out of the Bible, why is it even important?” she asks. “It‘s the word of God. … We don’t have to like it, but it either is or it isn’t – otherwise, what does it mean?”
Little surprise, but still bittersweet, is how, when her two friends return home for the holidays, she finds she has little in common with them and contentedly lets them all go their own ways. Think what you will of her, though. Laura’s belief is pure and at its very worst, naive.
Laura’s narrowly defined view of spirituality leads Brea to question her own faith, determining that much of what she has been told doesn’t make sense when looked at through modern eyes.
At one point, while helping her rehearse her role as Mary Magdalene in a play, Tim feeds Brea the line, “Why are you so sad?” She pauses momentarily, genuinely unable to answer.
Several secondary characters prove as intriguing as the three leads. For example, Cheryl (played by Sadie Rogers) is the granddaughter of a lovable elderly parishioner. She shares none of the older woman’s beliefs, despite accompanying her to church every Sunday. Eventually, Cheryl even becomes something of a mentor for the questioning Brea.
“I’ve kinda been having my own …,” Brea tries to share with her, unable to completely voice her doubts.
“Yeah?” Cheryl asks nonchalantly. “Do something with them!”
Equally notable is Austin, a role that Cone himself portrays. At first glance, he’s a dedicated and happily married man. Secretly, however, he has a forbidden fascination with Tim – not because he’s into younger guys, but because the lad is one of the only gay people he knows (and certainly the only one at ease with it).
During one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Austin finally comes out to Tim. “I think I might be … like that,” he says with anguish, choking back tears. “And I don’t know what to do.”
Another terrific sequence has Tim and Brea getting together with Cheryl for a big night out at a dance club before the two go off to New York to study. Their evening is brilliantly interspersed and contrasted with Austin’s more subdued, “polite” anniversary evening with his wife. It’s obvious that the younger people are energized and maybe even a bit anxious over the possibilities the night may hold for them, while the married couple’s evening is fraught with underlying apprehension. The romantic awkwardness that all of them experience is deeply dissimilar -- in the kids’ case it’s endearing; for the presumably happy couple, it’s painful and empty.
One thing The Wise Kids never fails to be is life-affirming. Each of these characters is universal. After all, aren’t we all questioning at one time or another?
The DVD also includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, titled The Wise Kids: Religion vs. Sexuality. In it, Cone declares, “This is a humanist view of a religious group of people.”
He adds: “The film is observational. The lens doesn’t have a ‘spiritual filter,’ but I think that’s how we learn about each other.”
Above all else, the film’s creator feels that The Wise Kids conveys a simple but powerful truth: “Christian or atheist,” he says, “people are people.”
The Wise Kids is now available on DVD at retailers and video on demand destinations. For more information, go to www.wolfevideo.com.
Worldwide opera star Renée Fleming will perform in Kansas City on Thursday night, November 18, but the day before, she'll be part of a panel discussion for "Music and the Mind" — a conversation about how music affects the brain, cognitive development, healing and quality of life.
WHAT: Music and the Mind with Renée Fleming
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
TIME: 4:00-5:30 PM
WHERE: The 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods, KS, 66205
Music has a profound impact and the ability to shape 86 billion neurons in the brain for cognitive development, healing, and therapy. Science research has clearly shown that music therapy interventions can improve quality of life across nearly all neurological disorders. And there is tremendous public-interest in applying music to creative aging, childhood development, and community wellness.
But scientists want to know more.
Join soprano Renée Fleming and a distinguished panel of local Kansas City experts in neurology, music therapy, music and healing, and more for this cutting-edge discussion. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A following the panel discussion.
*Please note this Music and the Mind Event is not a musical performance*
As Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Renée Fleming has spearheaded a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH, and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. This initiative has also led the NIH to recently award $20 million dollars in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years.
As part of her advocacy, Fleming is also advisor to the recently launched NEA/UCSF Sound Health Network and co-chair of the Aspen Institute/Johns Hopkins NeuroArts Blueprint, both working to advance the field of arts and health.
This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please call the Harriman-Jewell Series at 816-415-5025 to reserve your seat.
WHAT: Renée Fleming, soprano in recital
WHEN: Thursday, Nov 18, 2021
TIME: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
COST: Tickets from $25.00 *discounts available for students, educators, first responders, active duty military and veterans with valid I.D.
Pair a glorious voice with a winning personality and you have a diva for the ages. Renée Fleming is a longstanding Harriman-Jewell Series favorite. With her many television and Broadway appearances, Fleming has been embraced by music lovers of all genres.
Whether singing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Olympics, or Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming represents opera to the world. In addition to her numerous operatic performances, Fleming often works classic show tunes and the Great American Songbook into her recitals. Fleming’s trademark rapport with audiences will give her Kansas City performance a warmth that is personal and sincere.
Rob Ainsley is pianist for the recital. His diverse career as a musician, conductor, educator, and administrator has taken him to top organizations and colleges from coast to coast. He now serves as Director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists and American Opera Initiative. Ainsley performed with Renée Fleming in The Metropolitan Opera’s August 2020 “Met Stars Live in Concert” that was streamed worldwide.
ABOUT THE HARRIMAN-JEWELL SERIES
Renée Fleming's recital will mark the 977th performance since the Series was founded in 1965. From free education events that allow interaction with musicians and dancers, to our free Discovery Concerts that are open to the community, the Harriman-Jewell Series continues to offer life-enriching opportunities for its community's youth and lifelong learners.
Whether you're spreading truth, information, or love, traveling abroad for humanitarian reasons can have risks. Detained American journalist in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, is to be released from jail, and to fly home soon. But it doesn't always end well for every foreign national attempting to do good in a foreign country.
The missionaries consisting of sixteen Americans and one Canadian kidnapped by the Haitian “400 Mawozo” gang on October 16, is extremely scary. The gang has threatened to kill the humanitarian Christians if a million dollar per person ransom is not fulfilled. The group consists of men, women, children and an eight-month-old baby.
These missionaries have sacrificed their time and paid their own way to go to the poorest place in the Western hemisphere to try to spread God’s love and save some souls. In turn, the missionaries are experiencing a nightmare like they’ve never imagined. They’re imprisoned and being threatened with a bullet in the head.
Most of us will never get over seeing journalists being beheaded and tortured in Syria and Iraq by the barbaric Islamic extremist group called ISIL. Burning people alive and beheading others were too graphic and gruesome to ever be forgotten.
Years ago, I traveled to a third world country on a “missionary trip” with others thinking it would be a nice break. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
Sadly, the 17 missionaries in Haiti are undergoing a cruel experience that may end with the cost of their very lives. What are they thinking now? What is going through the minds of the little children who traveled to a world to help others and spread God’s love?
Haiti has been the site of years of humanitarian efforts. The United States and other countries have given billions of dollars to help Haiti. Sadly, hurricanes, political unrest, underdevelopment and extreme poverty have all made for a sad scenario.
How much money would the world have to give to Haiti to make life better for this nation? This is a question no one can answer because usually aid is a short-term solution. We spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and they aren’t any better off today.
Good missionary people went to Haiti with good hearts for helping others in the name of God’s love. They went to share a message they hoped would bring about change and better lives. They may now lose their lives.
Christians point to Jesus as the model for such missionary efforts. He came preaching and teaching in an effort to demonstrate and spread God’s love and it cost him plenty – his life, executed in public on a cross.
There are some Christians today who, like Jesus, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Did these men and women literally go to Haiti taking their children with them truly believe they could be killed? Would they purposefully do this to their children? Who convinced these people that such a trip with small children was a good idea?
My goal here is to simply say, think about such trips to places like Haiti. Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Nigeria and numerous others countries are not vacation spots. Foreign travel may sound exotic and adventurous but consider the possible cost.
Many missionaries and Christian workers have paid the ultimate price in order to spread the gospel of Christ. Only eternity will reveal what their selfless sacrifice has meant to those whose lives they impacted.
By chance, if you decide such an international trip is not for you, don’t feel bad. Consider helping in an American inner city, Appalachia or maybe your own neighborhood. Service at home is needed across America.
Let’s pray for the safety of these missionaries and for those negotiating their release. May God help them and all who may consider such endeavors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Glenn Mollette is a graduate of numerous schools including Georgetown College, Southern and Lexington Seminaries in Kentucky. He is the author of 13 books including Uncommon Sense, Grandpa's Store, Minister's Guidebook: insights from a fellow minister. His column is published weekly in over 600 publications in all 50 states. Glenn Mollette has been on numerous International humanitarian and missionary group trips. Hear Glenn Mollette every weekday morning EST at 8:56 on XM radio 131. Editor-If you need to tweak or do a small edit for you paper or website that is okay. Please respond to this email if you need a picture for this column. Scroll down for additional biographical info. Buy his latest recording titled "Black Coffee" on iTunes. Learn more at www.glennmollette.com
The Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color launched the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first-ever national fund explicitly dedicated to transgender girls and gender-expansive youth of color.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, and Bré Rivera, program director of the Black Trans Fund are together spearheading the Holding a Sister Initiative to bring attention and resources to organizations supporting trans girls of color, normalize concern and investment in their success, and create learning opportunities for cis and trans girls of color to move in deeper community with one another.
The initiative will award $1 million in grants in the first year, and will ultimately engage trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color in the decision-making process for selecting grantees on an ongoing basis.
While there has been an increase in donor attention to work led by people of color, it has yet to translate into significant gains in funding for trans and gender-expansive youth of color.
According to recent regional studies in Detroit, South Florida and New Orleans, trans women of color face higher levels of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and discrimination. At the same time, the majority of this year's record-breaking anti-trans legislation are targeted to affect youth, including bills that prevent transgender athletes from playing in school sports and the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act." Research has show sharp rises in suicide attempts among trans youth during 2020 and 2021.
"The reality is transgender and gender-expansive youth of color require more attention, and resources to interrupt the staggering intersections of trauma and crises they experience," said Bré Rivera.
The initiative joins existing funding intermediaries who have been leading the work to resource trans communities and engage trans people in the direction and distribution of resources, including the Third Wave Fund, the Black Trans Travel Fund, and Fund for Trans Generations. As funding partners, the Black Trans Fund and Grantmakers for Girls of Color aim to expand and transform philanthropy's investments in trans and gender-nonconforming youth. The initiative will move resources to organizations serving and led by trans girls and young women of color. It will also amplify narratives that elevate the humanity, dignity and leadership of trans and gender-expansive youth of color, as well as the ways their experiences and contributions have been overlooked, minimized and targeted by oppositional and systemic forces, and larger social justice movements.
The Holding a Sister Initiative will be led by a manager, who will steward culture change through grantmaking, capacity building, narrative shifting and philanthropic organizing. The position is currently open for applicants.
About Grantmakers for Girls of Color
Fiscally-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) works to mobilize resources and amplify transformative organizing work to dismantle systems of oppression led by girls and gender-expansive youth of color. Grantmakers for Girls of Color openly invites partners and stakeholders to co-create an inclusive space in support of girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color across programmatic issues and geographic areas. Learn more by visiting Grantmakers for Girls of Color.
About the Black Trans Fund
The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy. Learn more by visiting Black Trans Fund.