Parent objects to content in Barrington High School film class

  • Adepero Oduye is shown in a scene from the R-rated movie "Pariah," which is included as an option for film class at Barrington High School.

    Adepero Oduye is shown in a scene from the R-rated movie "Pariah," which is included as an option for film class at Barrington High School. Focus Features

Updated 12/17/2020 12:08 PM

The mother of a senior at Barrington High School complained to the school board about a movie some students in a film class watched that portrays a sex toy.

School officials said they take the complaint seriously, but emphasized that students always have a choice about what to watch.


Heather Ewalt lodged her complaint in a voicemail that was played as part of public comment during the Barrington Area Unit District 220 board meeting held via Zoom on Tuesday night.

Ewalt's comments focused on what she called "reckless incompetence" from Superintendent Brian Harris for keeping students in distance learning. She mentioned the movie's depiction of a sex toy as an example of Harris' failed leadership, she told the Daily Herald.

The 2011 R-rated movie "Pariah" is a coming-of-age story of a Black lesbian teenager, a theme that Ewalt said she doesn't have a problem with. But she objected to some of the film's scenes, including one in which the main character wears the sex toy.

"I have an issue with the hyper-sexualization of our children," she said. "This is high school, it isn't college. I wouldn't even want to watch it in college, but I'm conservative."

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Ewalt's son watched the movie at home because he's learning remotely, and her three younger children could have caught glimpses of it, she said. "I hope they didn't," she said.

"Pariah" is part of the catalog of K-12 movies offered by the company Swank Motion Pictures Inc., Barrington High School Principal Steve McWilliams said. The film class, open to seniors and occasionally juniors, features a list of movies that students can choose from. The syllabus indicates which movies are rated R and which come with disclaimers regarding scenes that students and parents might find objectionable, he said.

"It isn't something that we hide. We are very forward," he said, adding four students chose to watch "Pariah."

"There are themes throughout literature, and certainly movies and such, that can be a little bit ... controversial," he said. "Certainly this is a video that talks about the struggles of a young lady that ... struggles with her sexuality, and it's a tough theme. In the right setting, those are important opportunities for students."

McWilliams said the school takes Ewalt's complaint seriously.

"We will look at it and made sure we made the appropriate decisions for this. If things were violated in terms of school board policy, we will address it," he said.


The school also will re-examine its Swank catalog of movies to see if there are additional concerns, he said.

A representative for Swank said, "We don't respond to reports like this. I have no comment."

At the school board meeting, Harris acknowledged Ewalt's "disturbing comment" about the movie and said the district would look into it. He also announced a plan to reopen schools for hybrid learning Jan. 19.

Ewalt said she appreciates the district's quick response. She doesn't blame her son's film teacher, she said, but blames district officials who approved the curriculum, which ultimately means the superintendent, she said.

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