A friend sent me a home-made DVD of a Lifetime movie she’d recorded in 2006 titled Not Like Everyone Else. The movie was based on a true story of events that happened to a girl in Oklahoma named Brandi Blackbear in 1999-2000. I was surprised to get this movie. I’d missed the story the first time around (I was fifteen and in Hell… give me a break). Actually, I vaguely remembered the story, but somehow missed some of the details. I hadn’t thought a thing about it since, but was very pleased to become reacquainted with the subject.
Rather than write a review of the movie, I’ll simply copy some text from Wikipedia which sums it, and the issue that is based upon, rather well. That should be more than enough to go on.
Shortly after the Columbine High School massacre, Union Intermediate High School (in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) was one of many schools around the country increasing security measures to prevent school shootings. Brandi Blackbear wrote horror stories similar to those of Stephen King, dressed in a slightly Goth-like way, and was not afraid to be herself, or to stand up to bullying by popular kids. Her defiance engendered hostility toward her from certain segments of her school’s culture. False stories of threats of violence were circulated, and the combination of her writing and authorities’ natural hyper-awareness following Columbine led to her being suspended. When some of her fellow students later saw her checking out a book on world religions, including Wicca (as research for her stories), they immediately branded her a witch, and eventually accused her of casting a spell that made a teacher sick. Fear of her spread through much of the school, and she was once again suspended.
Finally, her parents went to the ACLU, where they were told they had a good case against the school for violating her civil rights. The ACLU sued the affluent school for $10 million, even though the Blackbears were not sure they deserved that much based on what Brandi had suffered. Still, the ACLU argued that the school would not take any lesser claim seriously. When the school offered a settlement, the Blackbears refused. They were not interested in the money, despite needing it; what they really wanted was to have their story heard in court to inform the public that the school had mistreated Brandi. The judge ruled to dismiss the charges rather than going to trial, and ordered the Blackbears to pay $6000 in court fees, which they could not afford. Eventually it was agreed to drop the fees if the Blackbears dropped their appeal.
That’s the gist of it, and is what the movie was based upon. I looked for the movie on Amazon.com, but apparently it isn’t availble on DVD. If it was, I would’ve made it available on the front page on PaganCentric. I felt a particularly painful kinship with Brandi Blackbear, because of my own experiences as Wiccan. It retrospect, I’m amazed that this story didn’t resonate more with me at a time in which my mother had been taken away from me because her religious beliefs (she was a Wiccan) were deemed by the courts to dangerous to my well being.
Some Americans might think it hard to believe that something like this could happen in modern times, that a student could honestly wind up in court defending herself against charges of witchcraft. But it did happen. Similar issues play out all across the United States every year. Pagans and Wiccans know what I’m talking about, while Christians will instinctively belittle what I’m saying as whining. The uncomfortable truth is that nearly every Pagan I know has faced something like this. My mother had her only daughter taken from her because she was Wiccan. I’ve had friends who have lost jobs because of their faith, been denied housing, had their children harassed and humiliated in school. Yet it continues.
Pagans and Wiccans make easy targets. We don’t have a centralized organization that can stand up for us, so we are each essentially on our own if our neighbors, or our police officers, or our judges, decide to cull us from the herd and destroy our lives in a misguided campaign to protect their own families from some perceived threat. What happened to Brandi Blackbear happens to Pagans and Wiccans all across the country every day and every week. The only difference is that most of these intolerant acts go unreported. I contend that if Brandi Blackbear had, in fact, been the witch she was accused of being, the public would have never known about the issue, because she would have never pursued it. Most Pagans and Wiccans instinctively avoid these types of conflicts, because it rarely goes well for us.
One would think Brandi Blackbear would have had an easy case to win. She was suspended by her school because it was claimed she had worked a spell on a teacher. And yet the judge dismissed the case. There aren’t many of us on this side of the issue who are surprised by that.
Oddly enough, in researching this I discovered that Wic’s long-time political web site, The Watch, reported on these issues “back in the day”. It probably says a lot about how little traction stories about Pagans and Wiccans getting screwed have in the public consciousness that not one person I mention this story to could remember it. But I think it’s worth mentioning.
If you want more information about these issues, you can find it at the links below.
- High School Expels Student for Casting a Sickening Spell
The Watch (Oct 29, 2000)
- Student loses lawsuit citing Wicca religion
The Watch (Jul 20, 2002)
- Not Like Everyone Else (2006) – Lifetime
- Not Like Everyone Else – Wikipedia article