“A Dream on Fire” accomplishes its purpose on numerous fronts: It is educational and, at the same time, compelling for children and adults as the tough but comforting Ellerbee leads a group of 10 racially diverse children through a question-and-answer session on some rather complex issues.
With her usual upfront approach, Ellerbee quickly cuts to the chase in questioning the kids abouttheir feelings as to why the police beat Rodney King and about last week’s verdicts from a Simi Valley courthouse.
At times her approach becomes overly simplistic and preachy, as Ellerbee discusses the targeting of Korean businesses by rioters, asking a Korean girl and an African-American girl if they “hate” each other.
Yet the answers are often surprising in their candor. As one Caucasian boy notes, “My father speeds and he does it a lot, but when the police give him a ticket, they don’t take him out of the car and beat him.”
With taped segments detailing the 1965 Watts riots and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Ellerbee then jumps forward to film footage of last week’s burning and looting, trying to put all of the chaos into a historical perspective that dates back to slavery. “What happened in Los Angeles is not new ,” she tells her young entourage.
There are on-the-street interviews with children, especially about how they regard policemen, along with interviews of children who took part in the cleanup of L.A.
One boy tells Ellerbee there “were 13 fires surrounding our house,” but that he and his mother were among the first wave of people who joined in the cleanup.
There is a lot of consensus reached by Ellerbee and her young interviewees, none as telling as the opinion that the riots have changed little.