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>Cheap Thrills on the Moral High Ground

>We were discussing Holocaust education on child_lit, and a member forwarded an outline of her temple’s planned seventh-grade Holocaust unit, which included a showing of Schindler’s List. The outline noted, parenthetically, that “sexual content will be edited out.” I thought of that this weekend when Richard and I saw The Black Book, a racy thriller from the director of Basic Instinct about a Dutch Jewess who gets involved in the Resistance after she sees her family shot by Nazis. When the Resistance head insinuatingly asks our heroine how far she’s prepared to go in pursuit of bringing down a powerful German commander, I fully expected her to answer “at least as far as Sharon Stone did,” and sure enough, we see her bottle-blonding her pubes as well as her head. It’s an awfully dumb (R and I are divided on whether this was intentional) movie, with improbable escapes, melodramatic music, and lots of shots of the heroine stealthily, perkily, cutting her eyes from side to side as she enters yet another forbidden room or darkened alley. Very Alias meets Perils of Pauline. And very teen-friendly with its surfeit of sex and flesh, furious brain-spattering gun battles and double-crossing action-packed plot–there’s even a nod to teen movie classic Carrie in one of the heroine’s more disgusting humiliations.

It’s certainly not a learn-about-the-Holocaust movie in the way that Schindler’s List was. But the flaw of that movie was the way it wore its virtue on its sleeve, and the way it seemed to applaud its viewers for watching it: I felt like I was being congratulated for being a Morally Serious Person Made Even Better for watching it. This heavy handedness is also what makes it a high-school required-viewing staple, because there’s no chance kids will miss the message. Black Book offers the same message but, daringly or dumbly, packages it in an entertainment; Schindler’s List feels more like going to church (irony acknowledged). Compare and contrast–there’s a high school term paper I would have loved to write!

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >That’s just how I felt about Book Thief, which I know lots of people loved. Its insight into the human condition seemed to run along the lines of Holocaust = Bad, Writers = Good, and This Book = Moral Seriousness. (Compare to a novel like Our Holocaust, which I think is much more worth teaching.) Plus the prose, on a sentence-by-sentence level, was seriously awful. Wish I knew more about what people saw in it.

  2. An Authoress says:

    >Jewess? What century are you living in, Roger?

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >I was attempting to convey the tone of the movie.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >It could be said, gently, that a certain distinguished journal in the field of children’s and young adult literature has occasionally “worn its virtue on its sleeve,” to borrow a phrase.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >Ya think? (And see today’s post, too.)

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