Teaching Text: Hiro Murai music videos as a BOW
Hiro Murai is a Japanese filmmaker living in the US. One of his specialties is in the music video text type, although he has also directed the television series Atlanta, created by Donald Glover (Childish Gambino). His recent work with Glover on the “This is America” music video has generated discussions about the valuable, political nature of music videos.
The Political Reader - concept focus
We started the year with a unit on “The Political Reader” as a concept focus (see more on this in my book) and with a look at literary essays from George Orwell. We investigated politics through a variety of lenses, including ethics, governments, writing as political, and individual political acts. I then asked students for input as we selected our BOW, and we settled on Hiro Murai music videos, Greta Thunberg speeches, and the feature length film Invictus.
BOW in the new course: student agency
The addition of the ‘Bodies of Work’ (sets of ‘non-literary’ texts under the same authorship) came as a late addition to the new DP Language A course, and therefore has been a stress for many teachers. Despite this, I’ve found it to be a more meaningful way to engage in different text types beyond the core literary genres in the Language & Literature course. It allows students to go deeper in analysis and context as they work towards understandings of Global Issues.
I have found that a great way to make the BOW come alive is to include students in the decision process of your BOW and the particular texts within it. We know that the new guide encourages student agency and IB teacher resources suggest students can investigate further texts in a BOW to use for assessment with some teacher guidance.
Murai works with many genres of musical artistry, which allows many students to get involved in his work. We literally hear a multitude of voices through his videos, allowing different forms of cultural expression to be valued as we aim to understand their importance to both individuals and communities.
For the Hiro Murai videos, we first took a careful look at “This is America” (musical artist: Childish Gambino) through different analytical lenses. These types of analysis were: cinematography & mise-en-scene, editing, music & sound, language (lyrics as well as any other dialogue or written text), and narrative (including characterization). Then, groups analyzed “Black Man in a White World” (musical artist: Michael Kiwanuka) from particular lenses and presented to the class. This allowed for my oral feedback and additions as well in order to continue to develop the analytical terminology.
Finally, the groups selected another Murai video from a list of my suggestions to analyze from all lenses and share in relation to a Global Issue in a carousel group. They did not present all of the analysis; rather, they selected what helped them to make a point about the Global Issue. Students selected “Cheerleader” (St. Vincent), “Dis Generation” (Tribe Called Quest), “It’s Only Life” (The Shins), and “Smooth Sailing” (Queens of the Stoneage).
Preparing for the Individual Oral
We are currently preparing for a written version of the Individual Oral where students must select an Orwell essay and one of the videos. Because the text types are so different, it allows students to really focus on the Global Issue to connect the texts. They have to be more creative in the way they develop their points. I have found that this G.I. focus as well as the rich differences between the works have prompted creativity. Students have had lightbulb moments about power, justice, racism, guns, and more and been able to articulate their line of inquiry in a careful and nuanced way.
Some teachers have asked practically how to bring in extracts of the videos to the oral. The new FAQ from IB identifies the ability to bring in both screen shots and a script from multimodal texts such as this. I have guided my students to select a 20-40 second clip with 2-4 screenshots and any lyrics from the chosen clip, up to 40 lines. This has been enough for students to talk about without feeling overwhelmed by analysis.
Murai is truly an auteur. His videos are diverse in message but always much more than what you might expect for a song before you see it. They tell stories and they provoke the viewer. In this way, my students tell me, he is political. And for this reason, looking at his films as a Body of Work is a useful and relevant study of artistry.