I am eleven and I can change the world
The year I turned 11 marked huge events in history: oil reached $24 a barrel, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Britain, and China instituted the one-child policy. But I knew nothing of all that. I spent 1979 nagging my parents for the new Sony Walkman, watching Mork & Mindy and wishing Wayne from 6B might look up from his rugby ball and notice me.
Fast-forward 30 or so years and I’m in a school hall listening to 11 year-olds speak about multiculturalism. In a week where the leaders of our country have neither the grace nor the wherewithal to deliver on asylum seeker policy, these kids blow me away. Not just with their ideals but their insights.
One boy who was eight when he moved from Singapore to Australia speaks eloquently about “the power of people like me”. A girl (OK, she’s mine) quotes Anh Do when imploring her audience to embrace all cultures: “There are only two times. Now and too late.”
They’re only 11 little people lingering between innocence and maturity, but these kids give me hope. I want to bottle and distil their convictions and passion, and deliver cupfuls of their clarity tagged with “Drink Me” to the likes of Abbott, Gillard and the Greens.
If you thought childhood was going to hell in a handbasket, being sabotaged by technology and sexualised imagery, then you need to quit listening to the adults and start listening to the kids. Because while “11” for me was all shameless self-interest and Blondie songs, today’s kids care deeply, and can argue fiercely, about their world.
I Am Eleven is the sweetest film I’ve seen this year. Australian director Genevieve Bailey’s documentary features 11 year-olds from around the globe walking the isthmus between their private concerns and a world that’s ambushed them with images since two tall towers were obliterated in the first year of their lives. I’m unsure if this generation of internet-connected, globally-cognisant children will be harmed or enriched by their knowledge. Only that they know no other.
Bailey introduces a melting pot of kids: Indian girls living in an orphanage; Muslim rapper boys living in Sweden; an inner-city Aboriginal girl who lives with her dad; a bullied British boy; a Czech girl who dreams of becoming a secret agent.
Some still have the delightful self-absorption of youth; others seem burdened with more than their skinny shoulders can bear. At first it seems their only commonality is their age, but you later realise something else unites them: 11 year-olds are blessedly free from cynicism.
French boy Remi thinks racism is “absurd” and is disenchanted with his nation’s politics. But he’s hopeful: “I’ve always dreamt there would be no borders – that the world would just be one country. That way, there will be no more inequalities.”
Environmental degradation, terrorism, bullying and war concern them. They regard religion as unnecessarily divisive. And love, for some, has already brought problems. “Last year,” says Dagan from the US, “I had a girlfriend who was very annoying. She talked very fast and all I could do was smile and go, ‘Ha, ha’. But this new girl, she talks mellow, so that’s good.”
Bailey says she made the film because age 11 was the happiest time of her life. In many respects, it was also mine. I didn’t get a Walkman, but Wayne did notice me and I also met the girl who would be my friend for life.
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