(Image Source) Just finished watching Losing Isaiah.
I thought Isaiah 11:6 was a fitting end: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.”
High level plot summary (I’m not spoiling it):
- a poor, black drug addict leaves her baby on a trash heap while high.
- After being in the elements overnight, trashmen find the child after almost throwing him away.
- White, middle class social worker Margaret (Jessica Lange) sees the infant being resuscitated and feels a connection to the child only mothers know.
- Isaiah is three or four now, and is found in an affluent family that loves him. However, there’s some sort of dissonance in his frequent outbursts and as his adopted sister points out (though he doesn’t understand) that he looks different than them. He is black.
- Khaila finds out that the baby she abandoned is actually alive and seeks to win him back, if she can get clean.
Powerful movie that touches on so many conundrums of race, nurture, and community. In my opinion, one of the best scenes in this movie is when Samuel L. Jackson, playing the black lawyer advocating for Khaila to reclaim custody of Isaiah, and Margaret, find themselves standing outside of the courthouse together in the rain under an awning, smoking.
Jackson offers his lighter. ”Thank you.” ”You’re welcome.” So much is left unsaid. They could almost be on the same side. Margaret loves Isaiah, it’s unquestionable. But the lawyer notes they haven’t read him black children’s books, etc. Will Isaiah truly know himself?
Side note: Many of the reviews I saw online of this movie questioned how anyone could not side with the loving, white mother. Love is all that matters. Love IS all that matters, but I’d argue that by not exposing the child to black culture, even at his young age, was to deny him the full measure of love.
But having a black mother is no guarantee to being exposed to black literature and culture, especially if she’s strung out on a high.
Teaching and learning black history is not about revisionism and exclusion of ‘white’ or general history. It’s about communal and personal identity making. It doesn’t matter if in aggregate, black contributions are proportionate (say 13%) or less to the american population of African descent (and are thus covered less in the history books.) If I never read about black accomplishments and successful civilization, maybe I’d start to believe the bell-curve comments of YouTube. Plus, once I got to college I realized my high school history courses definitely, though not wholly, lacked in black facts and ideas.
Who is Isaiah’s mom? Khaila Richards (Halle Berry) or Margaret Lewin (Jessica Lange)?