Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Who is My Neighbor?

Many Hollywood films are frankly unfit for human consumption. But there areexceptions—films that treat important subjects and ideas in a way that a thinking Christian can affirm. Such a film opens tomorrow. It’s called Radio. It tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a severely mentally retarded black man and a successful white small-town football coach—a friendship that transforms an entire community. Our first glimpse of the title character Radio, played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., shows him wandering the streets of Anderson, South Carolina , being seen but never noticed. None of the people he passes knows anything about him, including his name or the nature of his disability. This begins to change when coach Harold Jones, played by Ed Harris, catches some of his players playing a cruel prank on Radio. He not only puts an end to the prank and punishes his players, he also begins to wonder about this young man who watches his team practice every day. Before long, he makes Radio a team manager. He gives him a place of honor along the sidelines during games. And after the football season ends, Radio is allowed to “attend” high school, where he makes the morning announcements and becomes a diligent hall monitor. Jones’s efforts to integrate Radio, whose real name is James Robert Kennedy, into the larger community, draws Radio out of his shell. His academic and social skills, although still very limited, improve noticeably. Of course, not everybody likes the idea of a severely disabled man in such close proximity to their tidy lives. They look for an excuse to institutionalize Radio—even blame him for a disappointing football season. In the climactic scene Coach Jones defends what he and others have done for Radio. But he doesn’t stop there: He reminds them that while they have been teaching Radio, Radio has been teaching them as well. Coach is referring to his goodness and innocence. Anybody who has spent time around people with severe developmental disabilities, as I have with my autistic grandson Max, knows exactly what he means. Their guilelessness and innocence shame us. But there’s something else that both the film’s characters and the audience learn from Radio. They learn the answer to the questions: “Who is my neighbor?” and “Who am I responsible for?” At its heart, Radio is a re-telling of the Good Samaritan story, an assessment, by the way, that Cuba Gooding agrees with. As with Jesus’ interlocutor, our culture is looking for the narrowest possible answers to these questions—answers that set them free to go about their business without inconvenient pangs of conscience. But the film, like the parable, doesn’t let us off the hook. It reminds us that those we—especially certain bioethicists—might regard as disposable are our neighbors and the proper objects of our compassion. Casting them aside is a sin, not only against their God-given dignity, but ours as well. This social dimension to the story may not have occurred to Radio’s creators, but it’s there on the screen. That makes Radio that rarest of movies: a well-made, well-told story that will leave people better-off for having seen it.


Chuck Colson


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