In only 15 minutes with some 30 people Jane Elliott manages to build up a realistic microcosmos of society today with all its phenomena and feelings. As already known from the ill reputed Milgram experiment, even participants who knew the "rules" are unable to remain uninvolved. What starts as a game turns into cruel reality which causes some participants' emotions to erupt with unforeseen intensity
Blue eyed, the colors of discrimination
After performing his workshop Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes in third grade classrooms, the life of Professor Jane Elliot changed forever. In the workshop, students are divided into two groups by the color of their eyes and, after a dynamic of dispossession of privileges to those who have blue eyes, occurs a powerful message on racism and discrimination. The implementation of the workshop led to her parents losing their job, and caused continuous harassment of their children. Elliot herself has lived her life between insults and vexations.
Directed by Bertram Verhaag, Blue Eyed follows the development of an adult version of Jane Elliot’s workshop to give us an idea of what it feels like to be part of a society that differentiates us in the most subtle ways. Elliot herself — who is white and blue-eyed — leads the social experiment, in which men and women are divided by the amount of melanin they have in their body, resulting in unexpected reactions and internal conflicts among those who have blue eyes, who suffer a hard and oppressive treatment by Elliot and the group of brown eyes.
The film transcends the walls of the classroom where the workshop occurs in order to bring to the screen other points and experiences that surround the experiment. There are several interviews with Elliot, who provides us with historical data and facts on racism and discrimination, while there are appearances of archival material on American apartheid and the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
In a great flash back to the seventies, we witness the experience of Elliot’s workshop in a third grade classroom. Subsequently, several of the participants of that experiment appear on the screen twenty years later to tell us how the echoes of that workshop continue to affect their lives.
Blue Eyed drinks from Frederick Wiseman’s by filming an irreverent device inside an institution like the school from the sharpest social scrutiny. Beyond the work of Jane Elliot’s project, that her workshop is being filmed produces a new level of reading. Both, the workshop and film, operate by the phenomena of identification, a window to live for a moment what happens to the other and thus experience compassion, that even though is in nature a selfish feeling, it doesn´t lack the possibility of a transforming power.