Best Kept Secret: Documentary Review

Leroy - Posted on 30 September 2013


In the Best Kept Secret the filmmakers come together through interview to create a seemingly reflective film about a high school graduating class of students with autism from JFK High School in Newark, New Jersey.


While the film provides unseen, unheard voices, it leaves a questioning audience wanting more dialogue about the intersections of race, class status and disability.


Leroy Moore, a Black disabled activist and independent scholar said, “first look I was excited to see Black people, Black disabled people being the main subject of a film dealing with inner city living, poverty and dealing with social service systems.  We don't see that in film!  It was great to get a father's voice in the film because 9 times out of 10 you don't ever see the father.”

However, Moore has many observations.  The transition process is a really big issue with 99% being about a job but he states in between there is a lot of alone time which leads to possible depression and suicide. He points out there was a lack of socialization, students reacting to each other, visiting one another and all that goes along with friendship.  “Transition is about getting services but should include disability culture, history and pride, even in the classroom. Life skills are one thing but being empowered about life is another thing.”


He is concerned that many of the parents are looking for babysitters and believes the teachers work means nothing if not followed in the home and also would have loved to have seen adults with autism as mentors.


Moore reflected from his childhood in the section that talked about what your kid can't do.  “Damn it’s the same today.  How can we feel empowered when out of the gate is "can't?"


Cheryl Green, a white disabled anti-racism ally and documentarian commented, "I thought it was a decent film in some ways. As long as you agreed that the film was about the teacher and not about those young men, then it was good. Sadly, they advertise it as being about the young men.


But I still got a lot out of watching it. What I could not bear was the interview with the film maker and one of her producers. I thought their comments were from their experience of being privileged and entitled, which left some of their comments self-contradictory.


As I listened to the description on the point of the film I thought "I bet that's not what the families you filmed think this film was for.” It reminded of a lesson I learned as a white documentarian that I must be careful not to reinforce that I am the expert, and helper and doer and the black person as interesting token subject who gives me points for superficial multiculturalism.


“I don’t think the filmmakers have the first clue that the families they documented live in different circumstances are relevant.  I have learned as an outsider coming in, I must check my privilege at the door.”


What stood out for me, a single Black parent of an adult daughter with significant impairment, with a long memory of my ancestry, was the disparity in values.  The young men appeared to be directed in janitorial and fast food services, while the white people with disabilities attended an arts and culture program. This practice is all too common in the Black/white disability divide. 


Like Cheryl, I wonder if the filmmakers saw what they were showing.  Like Leroy, I wonder if the teacher and families understand the students have the right to be all they can be.  And I wonder if mankind understands that it is not ok for people with disabilities to aspire to be janitors and clean-up workers for fast food companies.


However, had it not been for the Best Kept Secret there would not be this discourse.


Best Kept Secret


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