Li Dong (first feature film) couldn’t have know about the battle going on against systemic racism and racism in general when he was writing then directing his film Stealing School. Timing is everything. It also shows that this is (not to anyone with eyes and a brain) not a recent problem, but has been going on for decades and even centuries. Even in Canada. This is one of the first films I have had the chance to watch while BLM, demands to defund the police, protests, and dicussion of systemic racism have been going on.
Dong has taken a slightly satirical slant here. Examining the issue of systemic racism in the setting of a university. Show how visible minorities are subject to different treatment everywhere, even institutions of learning.
Just a few days before her graduation ceremony from the prestigious Dupont University, April Chen (Celine Tsai – appeared in episodes of Private Eyes and In the Dark) is going through hell. This is because the teaching assistant Keith (Jonathan Keltz – from television’s Reign) in her political science class is accusing her of plagiarism. April is a computer science student and this is an elective class. Her entire degree is put in jeopardy as a result of the charge.
The procedure is that April will stand trial in front of a three person tribunal – a member of staff, faculty and a student – and each side’s case will be presented. Happening despite the fact that the actual teacher, Professor Thorton (Matthew Edison – appeared in episodes of Rookie Blue and Republic of Doyle), seems not sure of the charge and less than thrilled to even be there. One has to wonder why this is occuring.
As the trial proceeds we begin to understand that there is more going on here than first meets the eye. Professor Thorton has secrets he wants to keep. Keith is an angry man who seems really out to get April. April, who is a brilliant programmer and already has a job for after grad, does not place much merit in her elective classes. Even the three members of the tribunal all have things going on underneath the surface. Biases and secrets are everywhere.
Race, gender, power dynamics, and the value of a liberal arts education are all elements of this film. While there are some issues with the dialogue, wooden acting and low production values, they do not entirely eliminate the value of watching this film. It does draw you in and entertain.
Most of what goes on here is a little over the top. At times it felt a little like a soap opera rather than a film dealing with several serious issues. The fact that April is undergoing this because of the way those of Chinese origin are perceived is not to be taken lightly. Though satire, if done correctly, with its exaggerated methods can be effective.
One very interesting part of the film is when Thorton does not want his indescretions coming out and what happened in the Creative Writing department at Montreal’s Concordia University was directly referenced. They did not change the name. Used Concordia! Unbelievable! Especially since the professor charged was found “innocent” after an internal investigation by the university.