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“School of Rock” Fifteen Years Later

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I recently re-watched “School of Rock” for the first time in years and was struck by two things: how charming and funny I still found it and how problematic it was.

“School of Rock” has a lot going for it, assuming you happen to like Jack Black’s oeuvre a lot. (I do.) And the overarching theme of the film is joyful: everyone grows and changes for the better while discovering a passion for rock. Overall, it’s a happy, funny movie and I really do dig it. I mean, who wouldn’t want an imposter substitute teacher and rocker to take over of your class, turn it into band camp, and turn you into a rock star? Nobody, that’s who.  But the film has a misogyny problem.

I don’t think that’s because Mike White (SOR’s writer) is a slavering sexist. In fact, I’d be willing to bet folding money he considers himself a feminist. But–wow–that does not come through in the film more often than not. Take the movie’s three main female character’s– Patti, Summer, and Rosalie. Patti is as close to a harpy as a character could be short of actually affixing a beak and wings to the poorly-served Sarah Silverman. Summer is a grade-grubbing goody two-shoes Tracy Flick-type. She has no musical talent, natch. And Rosalie is the school’s stick-up-her bum headmistress, who’s clueless that Jack Black’s “Ned” (who goes by his best friend’s name through most of the film) has commandeered a class in order to turn it into a band. The message is clear: rocking is stuff dudes do. Women and girls are killjoys. They DON’T rock.

When “Ned” assembles his band the drummer is a boy, the keyboard player is a boy, the lead guitarist is a boy. A girl gets to play bass. And three girls get to sing back-up. In a cringe-worthy aside “Ned” instructs the girls with no role in the band to be groupies.  Again the message is clear: Girls don’t rock. Not really.

When “Ned” is trying to arouse a passion for rock in his students, he shows them clips of the artists he worships. They’re 90% white (Jimi Hendrix makes a quick appearance) and 100% male. If you wanna rock, you gotta be Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Doors, The Ramones,The Stones, Black Sabbath. You gotta be a man. Men rock! And women never have, apparently.

When “Ned” quizzes his class about their musical influences one student mentions Christina Aguilera, another Liza Minelli. Ned says? “What? NO.” Women don’t rock and definitely not those women. Rock–in the SOR world–is a very narrow world, where the genre hasn’t been tainted by an infusion of rap or R&B or disco or country or funk or pop.

It’s unfortunate, because “School of Rock”–if you ignore all its problems–is a funny, fun film. Maybe the next school of rock we attend will be a tad more inclusive. I have high hopes it will be.

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