From Igloolik to the Sahel: In Search of Multicultural Approaches to Teaching the Epic
Sometimes the unfamiliar, rather than the too-familiar, provides the best frame of reference for the epic as universal expression of the human predicament in the multicultural humanities classroom. Hollywood hits often exploit the epic, recently creating pseudo-historical settings in the American South for the "Bhagavad Gita (The Legend of Bagger Vance)" and the "Odyssey (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Cold Mountain)". Other interpretations include slick and quickly-dated hits like "Troy" (2004) and post-modern "chansons de geste" such as "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings". The excessive entertainment value of some films may encourage students to draw superficial comparisons with literature. Others awkwardly introduce culture-specific social issues unrelated to the epic prototype, distracting thoughtful students into heated discussions of the films' problems. Classroom use of high-quality productions from other cultures and non-written languages may draw students more deeply into the universal elements of epic literature. Films that convey the immediacy of the oral tradition overleap the traditional progression from folk to literary epic in a direct transition from orality to film. This paper will analyse the merits of teaching the epic with several films including three in non-written languages: "The Fast Runner" (Inuit, 2002), "Genesis" (Bambara, 1999), "Yeelen" (Bambara, 1987).
Keywords: Teaching with film, Epic, Multicultural classroom, Oral tradition, Non-written languages
Dr. Ann M. Moore
Assistant Professor and Director of International Programs, Department of Modern Foreign Languages, Hampton University