The term “Inner City” hadn’t been invented in the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s, when my neighborhood pals and I grew up in America’s third most densely populated city (bracketed by numbers one and two). This was likely a good thing, because it meant we had no idea we were supposed to be “underprivileged.” Instead, we just lived and played and went to school as if we were just as “normal” as anyone else in America. We were English, German, Irish, Italian, Spanish, and Jewish, with a few African Americans (“Negroes” in that era) tossed in for a savory bouillabaisse of heritages. For us, this made no difference; we were fundamentally “color-blind” and “ethnicity-blind.” Derogatory racial or nationality labels were pretty much taboo among us (although we overheard such words used by some parents and other neighborhood adults). Yes, we faced our occasional challenges with a few neighborhood bad guys, but mostly we just had fun growing up.
I was a Scout; most of my friends weren’t. At six feet tall by the time I graduated from eighth grade, I was lucky. I could wear my Scout uniform on the street and nobody messed with me. Others weren’t so lucky. Had I been Tristan, the inner city middle-grader whose story we follow in the film, “TROOP 491—THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS,” I probably wouldn’t have been so fortunate. And that’s the point of today’s column.
“TROOP 491—THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS” is a film every BSA council in America needs to have in its library—whether they have an “inner city” in their service area or not! It’s also a film both younger Scouts and middle school boys who aren’t Scouts need to experience.
Tristan, the main character in this film, is bright yet shy, creative yet unsure of himself, and—worse—he’s on the cusp of becoming a part of a potentially sordid “’hood life.” In short, it’s decision time for Tristan, and it won’t be easy.
Tristan’s mother enrolls him in Troop 491—perhaps, she hope, a way to keep him off the streets and aimed at the straight-and-narrow…if the values of Scouting take hold, that is. Tristan’s not exactly thrilled with this, but he goes along with Mom’s decision, even if half-heartedly at first.
As a viewer with some Scouting background, I was delighted to see how much this film got right. The uniforming was the most accurate I’ve seen—nothing like the fictional “Khaki Scouts” of “Moonrise Kingdom,” for instance. I also appreciated how the screenwriter depicted the way the Muddy Lions Patrol was formed and named, and the emergence of their natural leader, as well as the blend of cultures among the patrol’s six new Scouts. Troop meetings went well, the Scout Oath and Law were accurate, and the blend of “serious Scout stuff” and “just having fun” was pitch-perfect.
There were a few departures from accuracy, and some viewers may have difficulty accepting such technical strays as having to do push-ups for misbehavior and the impression left that the Scoutmaster is sort of a “universal” merit badge counselor. There’s also a reference to a “medal of honor” that goes a bit far afield. However, none of these is “lethal” and none gets in the way of the thrust of the story—and it’s definitely a story worth telling…and seeing!
To preserve authenticity, Tristan’s neighborhood friends use “street talk,” which at times is difficult for the average viewer to understand; but this doesn’t interfere with comprehending what’s going on. My suggestion is just roll with it—you’ll not miss much even if you don’t catch every word. The thrust of the story is clear and still comes through.
Noticing that this film was produced with the assistance of the staff of the Heart of Virginia BSA council, I reached out to their Scout Executive, Brad Nesheim, for further insights. Here’s what he told me:
“Praheme, the screenwriter-director-producer, was himself a Scout and his two older brothers are both Eagle Scouts. He used much of his own knowledge and understanding of Scouting when he wrote the script. Our council’s Deputy Scout Executive, Todd Martin, was involved in helping to find uniforms, literature, facilities, camp properties, and he got to know Praheme quite well.
“We were a little skeptical (of the final product) at first, and weren’t sure if we could or should endorse the movie. (But) as things have turned out, the movie’s been met with great acclaim here and shown to middle school groups and received standing ovations. I know that several other councils have used the movie and endorsed it…I think the character and good decision-making value of the movie is what carries it.”
I agree wholeheartedly. So, for those of us who are indeed “inner city,” it’s right on the money; for those who aren’t, it’s a superb insight into this world and its demands on one’s character and spine.
For troop-wide viewing, it’s a superlative springboard for lively intra-patrol discussions on decision-making and “living the Scout Oath and Law.” It’s as real, timely, and compelling as today’s headlines.
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)
[No. 485 – 4/26/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]