Utah film backed by North Ogden lawmaker targets critical race theory
NORTH OGDEN — A conservative contingent worried critical race theory is embedded in Utah schools, potentially tainting the minds of youth, has released a film meant to serve as a cautionary tale about the theoretical framework.
“Children are falling prey to a beguiling education under the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion,” the narrator intones in the film, Identity Marxism: The Rise of Critical Race Theory. “The history of this nation is being challenged and prosecuted for being systematically racist.”
Utah Sen. John Johnson, a Republican from North Ogden, had a key role in the film as executive producer, second in the list of credits and a chief financial backer, and Utah serves as the main backdrop. Brandon Beckham, a Utah Senate candidate from Vineyard, is the director and producer and it was made by Vox Populi Films.
The film jabs at Weber State University and Granite School District while featuring an array of Utah parents and others expressing concern about critical race theory, concern that notions singling out white people for criticism as racial oppressors are seeping into school curriculum. It also features video from last August of a Lehi High School teacher expressing alarm about the spread of COVID-19 and blasting former President Donald Trump, a video that made statewide headlines.
“Our schools should be safe places for learning not battlegrounds for divisive, tribal warfare,” Johnson says in the film.
He’s mulling introducing legislation in the Utah Senate targeting critical race theory, though the session is winding down, and in the film he alludes to that. “It’s time for us as a legislature to step up and pass meaningful legislation that gets us back to a point where we are united as a community rather than divided against each other,” Johnson says.
The film premiered to a packed house on Friday at a Salt Lake City movie theater, Johnson said Monday. Monday being a federal holiday, reps from Weber State University and a teachers group, the Utah Education Association, weren’t immediately available for comment.
Many, though, have levied their own criticism toward those, largely on the right, who have taken aim at critical race theory as a subversive curriculum educators are sneaking into the classroom. Critical race theory foes argue that the framework has the effect of painting white people as oppressors, regardless of their personal sentiments, and people of color as oppressed victims, among other things.
“Critical race theory — usually the buzzwords are diversity, equity and inclusion,” Christina Boggess, identified as a public schools teacher in Utah, says in the film.
The American Bar Association, by contrast, says critical race theory is not a means of training “but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.”
It’s not a school curriculum, but rather, a way of viewing the evolution of race and race issues by scholars and academics. “CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation,” writes Janel George on the ABA website.
Johnson, in an interview with the Standard-Examiner, maintains that critical race theory has seeped into schools, notwithstanding cries to the contrary.
“Instead of looking at kids for the content of their character, we judge based on other characteristics, namely if you’re an oppressor or oppressed and I just don’t think that’s right,” Johnson said. “I think this is a culture war, and oppressed versus oppressor or proletariat versus the bourgeoisie – there’s not a lot of difference between those. This is about power, it isn’t about making us better as a society,” Johnson said.
The film alludes to Weber State, among other references, in making its case. “At Weber State, the teaching of CRT is unquestionably indoctrination,” the narrator says.
The video shifts to Maude Beckman, identified as a Weber State student, who says critical race theory was introduced to an education class she took in the fall of 2020. The class’ professor had students read about white privilege, she says, “and when we discussed it in class, he said that white privilege was a thing and there was going to be no discussion to the contrary. He did, however, allow discussion that agreed with his points.”
The film alludes to an apparent instance in the Granite School District when a white student was called to the front of the class as part of some sort of educational exercise.
“The teacher tells the entire class that this white male student is harmful to everyone else based solely on the color of his skin,” the narrator says, while a reenactment of the incident plays out on the screen. “The teacher is proclaiming that it doesn’t matter what his character is. It only matters that he is white. Therefore, he is an oppressor, planted on nothing more than the color of his skin.”
There’s no counterpoint to the critical race theory concerns put forward in the film. Johnson said views counter to concerns like his of critical race theory already have plenty of play in the media.
“I think there’s enough of that already in the press. This was just kind of to counter what the story has been for quite a while,” Johnson said.
The movie is available on YouTube. “For now we want people to see it and wake up,” Johnson said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was corrected to reflect John Johnson’s role in the film as executive producer, its chief financial backer. It also corrects the hometown of Brandon Beckham, which is Vineyard, and clarifies his role as director and producer of the film, in charge of details of its production.