A Connection, Not A Cause.
Fruitvale Station is sure to be an intense movie that will touch on difficult issues and will inspire varied, passionate and emotional reactions. Game Dog Guardian feels a special connection with the scene writer/director Ryan Coogler created between the lead character and a pit bull – both for the amazing dog, Ian, who plays the part and for the stark symbolism.
Game Dog Guardian was never just about dogs. It was always about people – how we relate with each other and how the human-canine bond can deepen those relationships. Like many, my first dog just happened to be a “pit bull.” I wasn’t raised around pit bulls, I wasn’t seeking a pit bull, I wasn’t a pit bull “guy” and I really didn’t know anything about them. I just happened upon an abandoned dog that needed a home and I adopted her. It wasn’t long after that – as an owner of a “pit bull” – I was forced into the fray of pit bull-related issues and all the accompanying anger and frustration.
At first I attributed my negative experience to the many academic shortcomings, sensational manipulation, and fear mongering of the media, politicians and anti-pit bull zealots. But at some point in the process it occurred to me that my outrage was much deeper than intellectual indignation. After much thought and introspection the reason became clear:
This was the first time in my life my options had ever been limited.
As a white, straight, Christian, middle class, educated male the world had been my oyster. For the first time, there were towns I couldn’t live in, apartment complexes I couldn’t rent from, insurance companies that wouldn’t cover me, and people crossed the street when they saw me with my dog. I was automatically a criminal and assumed to be a drug-dealer just because of the way I looked with my dog, not because of who I am or what I have done with my life.
My life with my pit bull is the only way I ever experienced stereotyping and hate. That was the genesis of Game Dog Guardian.
It’s not the glass ceiling, it’s not racism, it’s not homophobia, it’s not systemic oppression – it’s just not the same. But having a pit bull was my only window into a world of intolerance. After that realization I knew that pit bulls and dogs could be a bridge to help me reach out to other people; a way for me to learn to think outside of my own experiences and my own world view and start to understand how the world looks and works for other people. I saw not just lessons in stereotyping and bigotry, but also in the patience and communication it takes to bridge a gap between disparate sides of an issue that is inflamed by emotions and fear.
This philosophy is carried out regularly at Game Dog Guardian in our community outreach programs. Our organization’s purpose is to be a connection, not a cause. The human-canine bond has been a special thing throughout human history, and we see it as a great way to enhance interpersonal bonds and understanding. The bridges we build teach us about each other and our different life experiences, but more importantly they teach us about the life experiences we have in common.
In the interview below, Ryan Coogler, the writer and director of Fruitvale Station, discusses the parallels he sees between “pit bulls” and young black men, and how in some ways they carry a perceptual connection in the media and society at large.
“[M]any times with pit bulls when you hear about them in the media…it’s always for doing something bad. [T]here’s a disparity between what most of the animals do in real life and what they are shown doing in the media. The same thing exists for young African-American males. We’re shown in the media for only a slim percentage of how most of us really are. So there is that connection there.”
That is something many of us will never experience or truly understand. But if it is someone’s life experience, it should matter to all of us.