Nonfiction in response to No Poverty
January 2018
By Georgia Bernbaum
CC Image courtesy of Aanjhan Ranganathan on Flickr

Orlando is the Theme Park Capital of the World, literally. Just a year ago, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. trademarked that slogan in recognition of the fact that the area’s multiple theme parks are the biggest draw for the 66 million-plus tourists visiting each year.

 

Most children dream of visiting Orlando’s parks, immersing themselves in the imaginary lands of fairy tales and superheroes and claiming a piece of the fantasy as their own. In the shadows of the area’s theme parks, children living under the poverty level dream of claiming a home of their own. They live in $210-a-week motel rooms blocks away from $2100-a-night luxury hotel suites. Many of their parents work at the theme parks, making the wishes of other children come true.

 

Sean Baker’s latest film, The Florida Project, is told through the eyes of six-year-old Moonee, a resident of one of these motels. Baker’s film follows Moonee and her friends on their summer adventure and chronicles them eating too much ice cream, playing practical jokes on neighbors, and wandering the neighborhood until sundown. His storytelling portrays the normalcy of poverty.

 

Brooklynn Prince, the young actress playing Moonee, had never come face-to-face with poverty until she arrived on the set of The Florida Project. She soon learned, in her words, that this “isn’t a fairytale. It is real life.” On set, she met Rebekah Wiggins, the young girl who worked as Brooklyn’s stand-in. Rebekah and her family lost their apartment to flooding three years ago. Ever since, the seven of them have lived in one room at an Orlando motel. Both parents work at local theme parks, but, between their low wages and the lack of affordable housing, they have been unable to move out of the motel.

 

In the movie, Moonee’s innocence shields her from her family’s economic reality. The character, like many Americans, is blind to the poverty around her. But, with thirty million children living in poverty in rich, developed nations, we cannot allow ourselves to be blind to the struggles of our neighbors. In an interview, Brooklyn, just seven-years old, asked the question that we, as a nation, need to start asking ourselves, “how could the world let this happen?”

 

More important than the question of how this level of poverty happened is how we can eradicate it. Brooklynn’s goal is “to get a full country to help, not just think about how they can help. I want them to go out there and really help. I want them to feel thankful for what they have because these people are really struggling.” To that end, Brooklyn hands out pins to increase homeless awareness and has committed to helping Orlando families through Hope 192, a non-profit organization supporting families living in the tourist area.

 

What will you do?

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