After a controversial reimagining of the syllabus that resulted in an obscenity trial, a court in Columbus, Ohio this week convicted a substitute teacher on four felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. The crime: screening the New Zealand horror movie anthology The ABCs of Death to five classes of students as young as 14. The conviction came following testimony from students and from the ironically named Detective Lolita Perryman of the Columbus Police Division's exploited-children's unit.
The idea of a substitute teacher using a movie as a way to fill a teaching period goes back to cavemen showing flickering fire lights on cave walls on rainy days. Sheila Kearns was attempting to continue that tradition by choosing a movie containing Spanish-speaking segments for her Spanish class. With her back to the class, Kearns played the movie, which features chapters called "F is for Fart" and "L is for Libido", apparently unmoved by the reactions of the students. Upon the showing of the film to a fifth class, the assistant principal entered the classroom and Kearns, in a scene straight out of an 80s sex romp comedy, paused the film with a pair of bare breasts visible on the screen.
One student testified that the movie was so "disturbing" that she was driven to doing her homework rather than watching it. The jurors in the case were required to watch the movie, which depicts graphic violence, gore, poop, strap-ons, 9/11 tattoos, a dogfight and more, in order to determine the harm it could have had.
One of the brains behind the film, New Zealand producer Ant Timpson is no stranger to controversial screenings himself, having previously battled in the High Court to show Irreversible making a life-long enemy of the Society For The Promotion of Community Standards (AKA the Fun Police) in the process. Timpson told VICE "It's sad that this teacher has been convicted and lost her job. It was a stupid thing to do but then again so was hiring someone who didn't speak Spanish to take multiple Spanish classes. I also agree with her when she said 'Those kids see worse than that at home."
Timpson continues "the defense attorney was worse than Lionel Hutz. The negligence of the defense meant he practically handed the prosecution the case by admitting the film was obscene."
The defense hinged on the accused being unaware of the content of the film, with her lawyer telling the court that only an insane person would show the "reprehensible" film to school students. To this Timpson responded "The sequel will be released on home video on February 3 in US".
Kearns will be sentenced in March, and although the conviction carries possible jail time, she'll likely be given probation. The ABCs of Death has been screened on pay TV in New Zealand and Australia but so far not in any classrooms that we know of.
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