Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film Clips!                                         

Terms of Use  TWM Blog 



    LEARNING GUIDE TO:

    WHITE NIGHTS
    SUBJECTS — Dance; World/Cold War & Russia; U.S./Diversity;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Courage;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS --- Trustworthiness; Respect.

    Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13; Drama; 135 minutes; 1985; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     An internationally known dancer, Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), has defected to the West from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He is flying to Japan when his plane is forced by mechanical problems to crash land at a Soviet air base. Although he tries to destroy his U.S. passport, Rodchenko's identity is discovered by the Soviet KGB. A black American tap dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines), has defected to the Soviet Union because of his disillusionment with the Vietnam War and with racism in the United States. He and his Russian Wife (Isabella Rossellini) are ordered by the KGB to take Rodchenko in, watch him, and convince him to dance again in the Soviet Union.

    Benefits of the Movie:     This movie explores the role of an artist in a totalitarian society and during the Cold War. It shows the little known phenomenon of African Americans defecting to the Soviet Union to try to find a society free from racism. It contains beautiful modern dance and tap sequences.

    The movie contains a fascinating episode about racism, Russian style. Greenwood and his wife have a biracial marriage and are deeply attached to one another. The KGB Colonel in charge of the operation is a racist. To put pressure on Greenwood to watch Rodchenko more carefully, the KGB takes Greenwood's wife away from him. In a ruse to get the KGB to return the woman, Rodchenko thanks the KGB Colonel for removing her, pretending to be disgusted at seeing a white woman married to a black man. He leads the KGB Colonel into a discussion of racist prejudices about sexual attraction between whites and blacks. The ruse works, the wife is returned (in an effort to increase the pressure on Rodchenko) and the couple is overjoyed. This incident is the first step in the development of trust between Rodchenko and Greenwood, which leads to the resolution at the end of the movie. The episode allows us to look at racism as an outsider and, in the process, learn about racism in ourselves and our society.








 









LEARNING GUIDE MENU
Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities
Bibliography

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.





    Possible Problems:    MODERATE. Roland Petit's ballet "The Young Man and Death" is featured at the beginning of this film. While the dance is beautiful, it involves a portrayal of suicide by hanging. This scene should be used as an opportunity to explain the dangers of playing with ropes or scarves around one's neck and the permanent nature of suicide.

    There is no graphic violence, but Greenwood is slapped once by his wife and there is a brief punching match between Rodchenko and Greenwood which resolves into a type of embrace.

    There is a moderate amount of profanity in the movie and most four letter words are used at least once. Rodchenko smokes and drinks, but not to excess. Excessive consumption of vodka is shown in a negative light through other characters, including Greenwood.

    Parenting Points:     This film will be great for children interested in the arts or in politics, history or political intrigue. See the Helpful Background section. Be sure to discuss with your child the dangers of playing with ropes or scarves around their neck. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up the Quick Discussion Question and at least the following: Discussion Questions 2 & 4; Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Question #1; and Moral/Ethical Emphasis Questions 1 & 2. Help your child to answer them.
 

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   Were both Greenwood and Rodchenko each traitors to their own countries or were their defections justified?

Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question. The easy part is Rodchenko. The Soviet system was so repressive and corrupt that people had the right to leave. There were many defectors and no one in the West has effectively argued that they were traitors. As to Greenwood, it could be debated both ways. The authors are U.S. citizens and of the view that the problems of the Vietnam War and racism did not justify leaving the U.S. However, they are not black and recognize that it is hard to put themselves into the shoes of a black American. Only a few black Americans have turned their back on the United States and moved to foreign countries.
     
    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
      Selected Awards:  1985 Academy Awards: Best Original Song (Say You, Say Me); 1985 Golden Globe Awards: Best Original Song (Say You, Say Me); 1985 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Original Song (Love Theme).

      Featured Actors:  Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Isabella Rossellini; Jerzey Skolimowsky.

      Director:  Taylor Hackford.
 


Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.


    Helpful Background: To understand this movie, children need to know something about the Cold War (1946 - 1991), how powerful and feared the Soviet Union was, and how the communist totalitarian dictatorship oppressed its artists. The movie will fill out and develop this understanding. For more on Russian Communism and for another film relating to the role of the artist in a communist dictatorship, see Learning Guide to "For Love of Country ". For a description of the situation in which Soviet Russia and the U.S. almost fought a nuclear war over missiles in Cuba, see Learning Guide to "Thirteen Days".

    In the period 1930 - 1975 there were a few African-Americans who defected to the Soviet Union seeking a society without racism. The Raymond Greenwood character was one of these. As shown in the movie, they were usually cruelly disappointed.
  BUILDING VOCABULARY: Defector, KGB, spook, embassy



Click on the link for a discussion of Segregation and Its Corrosive Effects in the Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful".
     


    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

    2.  Why did Rodchenko's lady friend decide to stay in the Soviet Union? What would you have done had you been in her position?

    3.  What effect do you think Rodchenko's smoking had on his dancing?

    4.  If Rodchenko had been such a big star in Russia before he defected to the United States, why did the young ballet students know nothing about him?

    5.  The screenwriters were trying to tell us something with the names that they chose for the male characters in this film. What was it?
 

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.



For suggested answers:    click here.




Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.


    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:

    BREAKING OUT AND COURAGE

    1.  Why was Greenwood's wife willing to risk her baby by trying to escape with Rodchenko? Would you have done the same?

    2.  Who acted most courageously in this film in their decision to try to reach the U.S. Embassy: Rodchenko, Greenwood or Greenwood's wife?
 
For suggested answers:    click here.






For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.


    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

    TRUSTWORTHINESS

    (Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)


    1.  See the Quick Discussion Question.

    RESPECT

    (Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)


    2.  The Russians portrayed in this film are extremely prejudiced against black people. Is it worse to be an American and prejudiced against blacks than to be a Russian and have the same prejudice?

    3.  What did you think of the discussion between Rodchenko and the Russian security officer about the biracial couple?
 


Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.


For suggested answers:    click here.



Become a TWM Fan on


    Bridges to Reading: None.
  MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Another film in which Baryshnikov plays a character modeled on his real life experience is The Turning Point. For another film about interracial marriage, see Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.


    Links to the Internet: For web sites relating to the Cold War, see Learning Guide to Thirteen Days.
 



 



 

© TeachWithMovies.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Note that unless otherwise indicated any quotations attributed to a source, photographs, illustrations, maps, diagrams or paintings were copied from public domain sources or are included based upon the "fair use" doctrine. No claim to copyright is made as to those items. DVD or VHS covers are in the public domain. TeachWithMovies.org®, TeachWithMovies.com®, Talking and Playing with Movies™, and the pencil and filmstrip logo are trademarks of TeachWithMovies.com, Inc.

TWM grants free limited licenses to copy TWM curriculum materials only to educators in public or non-profit schools and to parents trying to help educate their children. See TWM's Terms of Use for a full description of the free licenses and limits on the rights of others to copy TWM.
.