Friday, September 24, 2021


The British documentary from director Lyttanya Shannon looks back at a time when immigrant children with dark skin were being disproportionately labeled "educationally subnormal" and sent to special ESN schools where their chance at a proper education was drastically reduced. Including interviews from former students, their parents, educators, and advocates who helped bring the situation to light, Subnormal offers an intriguing look back a story that cuts to the heart of racism and disenfranchisement.

Although short, and a times a tad dry given the shocking subject matter, the documentary is informative delving into  the schools which started in the 1940s and only stopped because of investigation and activism in the 1960s and 1970s that the British Government eventually could no longer ignore.

The lasting stigma of those that attended the ESN schools is highlighted early in the documentary as Shannon struggled to find those willing to speak openly about their experiences even decades later. The film hits home the most with the interviews of those willing to speak out and the disguised voices of those still unwilling to show themselves on camera. The other stand-out here is Bernard Coard who did the work to find proof and publish How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System which helped galvanize a community to fight for the future of their children.

The documentary also touches on the use of biased IQ tests and various studies the government used as attempts to justify its policies. There are places where the community involvement, the growing movement to end the process, and the effects of that movement could all be fleshed out a bit more, but the hour-long documentary certainly succeeds in acknowledging a dark period for the British School System and reminding us how easily government can turn a blind eye to those who need its

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