Gifted on Screen

March 28, 2017

by Nicole LaChance, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

I have a confession to make: I’m a pop culture nerd. I often find myself responding to situations with movie or TV quotes and can ace most pop culture-themed categories on Jeopardy!, another obsession of mine. So, when I had the chance recently to attend a screening and press junket for the upcoming movie, Gifted, I jumped at the chance to combine one of my hobbies with my work here at IEA.

Pulling up to a hotel in Beverly Hills to meet movie stars is never something I expected to do when I entered the nonprofit world. But, nonetheless, I found myself doing just that last Thursday. I was seated in a small room at a roundtable with other “non-press” attendees, allowing the chance to really dig in and ask the stars questions about giftedness.

First up we met Jenny Slate, who plays the teacher in the movie. Herself a “smart and quirky” child, Slate related to the material.

“I didn’t fit into the system but I knew there was something different about me. I felt fear and isolation because I didn’t know how to express my intelligence or use it socially, so I really connect to this,” she said. When I asked her what the movie taught her about gifted kids, she said it reinforced her belief that these students should be encouraged but also be allowed to be kids and pursue non-academic interests. “It’s all about balance,” she ended.

Next up were the movie’s leads, Chris Evans and McKenna Grace. Grace described the challenges of playing Mary, a gifted seven-year-old, and how she could connect with her.

“We all go through a time when we feel like we are different or like we don’t fit in,” said Grace, describing the feelings of many gifted students in both the classroom and social settings. The hour ended with Octavia Spencer, who plays Mary’s friend and neighbor. Spencer noted the fact that Mary connects with her character, Roberta, who is over 30 years older than her, shows how intellectually advanced she is. It is a well-known fact that many gifted children often forge friendships with older kids and even adults, so I found Spencer’s observation very astute.

Most interesting is the story behind the movie. Screenwriter Tom Flynn was inspired to write the movie because of his gifted sister, as well as her two gifted daughters. Flynn has noted in interviews that he wrote the screenplay because of the characters and to tell the story of a gifted child. The team behind the movie worked to get the joys and struggles of gifted kids right, even visiting a school for gifted children and talking to their families.

Obviously, no movie can perfectly portray the nuances of giftedness, and Gifted can be said to be a Hollywood-version of the struggles these students face. But the care taken by the cast and crew to portray Mary’s struggles is evident and the film is definitely worth seeing.

Looking for some other gifted characters in pop culture? Here are a few of my favorite movies and TV shows featuring gifted kids.

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Based on the popular children’s book series, one of my favorites as a kid, this Netflix show adapts the first four books into an eight-episode series. The Baudelaire children have to use their gifts and wits to survive in increasingly unfortunate situations, kicked off by the death of their parents. The TV series does a great job of keeping the dark humor of the books while being loyal to the plot.

Gilmore Girls
I have written before about my love for this show and how it displays gifted teens in two different, but real, ways. It’s especially good for gifted teens and pre-teens, who may be able to identify with either high-achieving Rory or bored and dissatisfied Jess.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
This Japanese anime movie follows a young witch on her required year of independence. She soon starts a delivery service for the people in her new town, but then goes through a period of questioning her powers. It’s a relatable reflection on self-doubt and the power of believing in your own abilities.

Little Man Tate
A favorite of the gifted community, this Jodie Foster movie is still as relevant today as when it was first released over 25 years ago. It’s a compelling story that, much like Gifted, addresses the struggles many gifted kids face choosing between academic pursuits and being a “normal” kid. I also think it’s one of the most accurate portrayals of a gifted child in pop culture.

What are your favorite movies and TV shows portraying gifted kids (or adults)?

If you would like to see a screening of Gifted, please look here for one in your area and RSVP to the email address provided. Be sure to mention IEA!

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