yAbout any documentary set in a school, between children’s bloated struggle this way and that, and the strained network of teachers they master preemptively, is emotionally exhausting. If you have the slightest bit of imagination or empathy or sympathy—the slightest bit of sense, really—you can’t fail to sit at the end of each one, exhale deeply and shout, “I don’t know how they do it.”
Add Covid and a focus on the GCSE years to this little pot — as Sixteen: Class of 2021 (Channel 4) does — and you can expect it to be crushed. This is the first in a series of four films in which we follow the eleventh year of Link Academy in Dudley, in the West Midlands, as they return to school in September 2020, after the first shutdown. The previous year’s group exams were canceled, and grades were given on the basis of mock results. As such, we learned that Year 11 has been introduced, in an attempt to mitigate the disaster in case of another shutdown.
Student Callum wants to be a professional soccer player, but is beginning to admit that it might also be better to have a Plan B, based on academic qualifications. The problem is that the review is very boring, and friends and girls are very, very sexy. Amna wants to be an architect and her review sheets are plastered on her bedroom wall. She is Calum’s friend. “Some might call her a nerd,” he says, bearing in mind. “But fair play – I like to be academically talented.” Sade, whose charisma and liveliness have jumped off the screen, wants to become a prison psychiatrist. She’s best friends (“She’s annoying and annoying and annoying but I love her”) with Cara. “Everyone was trying to put me in my hair and beauty and everything,” says Kara. “But I want to be a mechanic. I just don’t think there’s much opportunity for us Dudley people.”
Comments like that, terrible youthful insight, is always what a crush does, and they come to the fore in this movie more frequently than they usually are. Elsewhere, Sade tells the camera, “I feel like people are seeing me and thinking: She’s just going to be a little lazy girl, and she’s not going to do anything… Shock people with what’s going on inside.” Her mother, Sam, said to her interlocutor, “Being black and of Dudley, they will judge you. I’m talking like I’m stupid—but I’m not!” Sade was suspended a day later for throwing lunchtime baked potatoes at a boy who invited her and scorned her mother. “Mom, she said, the potato jacket was beautiful and I haven’t even tasted it!” Sam says while laughing. We later saw her on the phone, after it seemed likely that the boy did not receive an equal or appropriate punishment, nor did he laugh. Round and round revolves around the lives of teens in a stunningly unfair world.
Cara has a bit of her friend’s optimism. “I want a college life,” she says. “But I guess that’s how I grew up. Some people don’t want more. But I’d rather stick to the bare minimum than have my dreams shattered… I don’t see myself living this rich art gallery life. It’s what I dream about, but I don’t think I see it.” …that’s a little sad, isn’t it?” The filmmakers do a good job of letting the kids (and they’re kids—the late, scarred baked potatoes prove it if nothing else) and the moments speak for themselves, trusting viewers to piece together the bleak, sad emerging themes. .
Ms Edwards-Wright, the company’s president, is only in her second year on the job, though you wouldn’t know to look at her as she mobilizes forces, delivers short, compelling speeches to students, and runs through Covid protocols with her staff. It’s already hard to remember how new all this was, and how baffling a year ago, even when you only had to work it out on an individual basis, and not rebuild an entire school and its physical and administrative work, not to mention the emotional toll of suddenly taking responsibility for the health of an entire community. at your door. All while battling another disease: inequality, low expectations, narrowing choices, and desperate competition for scarce and scarcer resources that leads to it. Really, I don’t know how any of them do that.