Combining the genres of documentary, musical theater, and western film, Robert Greene’s experimental film Bisbee ’17 follows members of an Arizona community as they reckon with a dark episode in their town’s history.
In 1917, over one thousand Arizona miners—on strike for better wages and safer working conditions—were violently rounded up by their armed neighbors, herded onto cattle cars, and deposited 180 miles away in the New Mexican desert. Most of the workers expelled from Bisbee were immigrants. This event came to be known as the Bisbee deportation, and was discussed only in hushed tones during the following century. Bisbee ’17 documents Bisbee locals as they plan a centennial commemoration. They stage dramatic scenes from 1917, culminating in a large-scale recreation of the deportation itself on its 100th anniversary. These scenes are based on historical research but also convey the actors’ interpretations of their characters’ motivations, underscoring the complexity of collective historical memory. The reenactment raises difficult questions about contemporary issues of immigration, labor rights, corporate power and state-backed violence with haunting scenes created by people who are reckoning with history in real time.
In this lesson for Bisbee ‘17, students will explore the concept of historical memory and consider the social and cultural factors that influence how the Bisbee deportation has been remembered by the town’s residents. Students will then research and reenact an event from their own community’s past and analyze cultural factors that shape modern interpretations of the event.
Important Note to Educators
Viewing and discussing sensitive material: This lesson and the accompanying film address sensitive social issues and teachers should screen the film clips and review all of the related materials prior to the lesson. It would also be helpful to connect with a school social worker for resources specific to your school community’s needs and guidelines.
Remind the class that this is a supportive environment and review your classroom’s tools for creating a safe space, including class agreements. These might include guidelines like “no name-calling,” “no interrupting,” “listen without judgment,” “use respectful language,” “share to your level of comfort,” “you have the right to pass,” etc. And remind students that when they talk about groups of people, they should be careful to use the word “some,” not “all.”
Visit Teaching Tolerance for additional resources and strategies for tackling challenging topics in the classroom: