The Learning Tree

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The Learning Tree Poster.jpg

The Learning Tree is a 1969 American drama film written and directed by Gordon Parks, a celebrated photographer. It depicts the life of Newt Winger, a teenager growing up in Cherokee Flats, Kansas, in the 1920s, and chronicles his journey into manhood that is marked by tragic events. The Learning Tree is based on Parks' semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which was published in 1963.

Why It Rocks

  1. This film established Parks as the first black director of a major Hollywood studio film (Warner Bros.)
  2. The film also depicts the ambiguous racial attitudes of black and white people with an ironic complexity rarely found in earlier films about racism.
  3. Touching and dramatic coming-of-age story.
  4. Relatable characters in various angles
    1. Newt and the rest of the Winger family are poor African-Americans who are victims of different kinds of racism including segregated accommodations, lynching, substandard housing and inferior schools but they're still strong and optimistic through it all.
      1. Newt in particular is brave, caring and honest as he was willing to exonerate a white man wrongfully accused of murdering his white neighbor, knowing full well that his eyewitness testimony incriminating a black farmhand might endanger the young man’s life and further inflame white racism.
    2. There's also the white school principal who shares Newt’s distain for the undercutting remarks of his teacher, but also  explains to Newt the long history of white anxiety and insecurity that informs her words.
    3. Even Newt's nemesis Marcus has his share of relatability traits. He may be a pessimist, but he's also poor, his mother had died, and his father's an alcoholic, so his anger was pretty justified. This also contrasts to Newt's family relationship.
  5. Strong acting from most of the cast.

Bad Qualities

  1. The film can be a bit slow-paced at times.

The Film