Every teacher's nightmare is being accused of violating the trust they've been given: doing something to abuse or harm one of their students.
And, in a culture that has become hypersensitive to the threat of sexual abuse (because it was kept secret or dismissed for so long), that threat seems doubly potent for gay teachers. Already lumped together with pedophiles by the religious right, simply for their sexual preference, they must walk an even thinner tightrope, it seems.
And what happens when that threat is made real - when a gay teacher is accused of inappropriate behavior with a student, even though the accusation is false? That's the subject of The Green, a compelling and provocative new film by Steven Williford that will be released today (10/18) on a variety of digital platforms for video-on-demand access. Written by Paul Marcarelli, it is bound to touch off discussions, at a moment when presidential politics begin to muddy the waters about gay marriage, gays in the military - and, basically, the rights of gays to exist simply as citizens.
In the film, Michael (Jason Butler Harner) is an English teacher at a private school in a small Connecticut town. He lives with his partner, Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson), a caterer at a popular organic restaurant in town.
One of Michael's favorite students, Jason (Chris Bert), is having problems - indeed, though he's invaluable to Michael as lighting designer for the school plays that Michael directs, Jason is about to be expelled for behavioral problems. But Jason won't open up to Michael - and, indeed, is the subject of bullying for being a teacher's pet with the school's gay teacher.
Michael tries to intervene to keep Jason from being taken out of the school. But his attempt to protect Jason from bullies at a parents' night leads to a misunderstanding with Jason's mother (Karen Young) and stepfather (Bill Sage). The next day, Michael is called into a meeting, accused of having inappropriate contact with Jason and led away in handcuffs - without ever getting a chance to talk to Jason to find out why he's making these baseless charges.
Michael quickly discovers that the town's tolerance only goes so far. And, like Salem, his town takes accusations of guilt as guilt itself. Michael hires an attorney (Julia Ormond) but must deal with the fact that even the contractor who is restoring his house no longer wants to be associated with him - or to have his sign in front of the house of an accused molester.
It's a nightmare that is hard to recover from; consider the case of the parents involved in the California case chronicled in the 2008 documentary, Witch Hunt, or the McMartin daycare scandal. The accusations alone are sufficient to brand someone, even without a conviction.
Williford's film lets the nightmare build to a confrontation that may strike some as melodramatic. Indeed, the climax seems to raise the possibility of further grief for Michael; Marcarelli's solution seems a tad too easy, given the misunderstandings and misperceptions that have come before.
Still, this is a strong film that makes important points about the obstacles and hurdles that gay men and women face in their everyday life, of which straight people know nothing. And it's built on movingly human performances by Harner and Jackson, as the couple whose commitment to each other is threatened by the unfolding events. Ormond is feisty and soothing as the attorney who takes on Michael's case.
The Green, which is being released on digital platforms rather than in theaters, is worth tracking down. It will force you to deal with prejudices you may not even know you had.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentaries on my website.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Marshall Fine