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From Educational Media Reviews Online
Right off the bat, I've got to say that I'm a big fan of filmmaker and social activist Debra Chasnoff. Her films It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School (1996) and That's a Family (2000) (about the increasing cultural and sexual diversity of the American family told from the perspective of kids in those "non-traditional" families) were groundbreaking for their time. Chasnoff's films are uniformly characterized by their good humor, good sense, and lack of stridency or overt polemicismnot an easy task given the often emotional and controversial nature of her subject matter. Her latest, multiple-award winning film, Straightlaced is a logical addition to this growing body of work. Chasnoff allows fifty California high school students from diverse cultural and social backgrounds and with widely varying sexual orientations to speak their minds frankly about the ways in which peer pressures and the bombardment of media and pop culture messages shape, influence, and frequently confound their worldfrom clothing choices, to body and self images, to sexual activities and gender roles. Watching Straightlaced, I was immediately struck both by the complexity and social perilousness of teenage lives compared to when I was in school back in the late Mezozoic era, and by the forthrightness and honesty of the kids in this film in discussing and analyzing the issues and anxieties that confront them each day. Despite its engaging "stars", cool graphics and music, and generally upbeat tone, Straightlaced is not without its problems. The structure of film tends to be loose and a bit rambling for my taste (although for the Twitter and Facebook generation, who knows?) It takes quite awhile to figure out exactly where the filmmaker is going or what her specific focus might be. Eventually, it becomes clear that one of Chasnoff's central concerns is high school homophobia, or at least the relentless pressures on teens to conform in terms of gender roles and expectations. By the end of the film these specific topics begin to seem like the stuff of a separate, more focused documentary yearning to break loose from the broader discussions that that surround them. These, however, are fairly minor quibbles. Although many of the points made in Chasnoff's film about gender, have been covered in greater depth by other documentary films (particularly those produced by the Media Education Foundation), the "voices" and often eye-opening first-person viewpoints in the film are absolutely unique. Straightlaced would be an excellent discussion starter in high schools, and perhaps even in colleges and universities. It would be a valuable addition to public, school, and academic library collections.