Charlotte has just started her new job as a 2nd-grade teacher and has spent the day warmly connecting with her students. But later that night when she is out with friends, she comes across a rally of white supremacists, and one of them physically attacks her.
After the attack, she realizes that one of her students, Anton, is the son of the neo-Nazi who attacked her. Choosing to stay true to her calling as a teacher, she teaches the young boy a lesson that she hopes he will never forget.
Written and directed by Jimmy Olsson with clean, precise clarity in its visuals, storytelling and moral vision, this short drama tackles bigotry and prejudice at its roots, capturing not just the visceral fear experienced during a hate crime, but the grace to offer tolerance in service of a better world in the future.
Though its themes touch on social issues and it’s written with a pared-down economy, the story is handled with a marked intimacy, with the camera and framing constantly keeping Charlotte as the focus. She’s situated within visuals that prize thoughtfulness and precision, using luminously natural cinematography and a more television-like 4:3 aspect ratio to keep viewers focused on Charlotte, her experiences and how they impact her.
We see how she approaches her new job with idealism and hope. And when she’s stunned by the neo-Nazi rally and paralyzed by fear when confronted with one of them, we are right there with her, with no room to look away or escape. The approach isn’t confrontational — the story is deeply empathetic to Charlotte — but it is unflinching in portraying how harrowing and traumatic it is to experience hate directly.
With such a tightly controlled visual style, actor Hannah Davidson’s compelling, powerful performance as Charlotte takes on paramount importance. She radiates both an openness and optimism at her work, and a real pleasure in working with children and helping to shape their identities, confidence and understanding of their world.
But when she falls into despair after her attack and has to face her students in the classroom again, there is a question of how she will carry her recent experience into her role as a teacher. That narrative tension is heightened when she realizes that Anton is related to her attacker. But she keeps to her role as a teacher and guide for young children, meeting her experience of hate and bigotry with lucid compassion.
“2nd Class” can refer to the grade that Charlotte teaches, the second-class status that Black people have historically been relegated to, or the white supremacists’ fear of losing privilege and status. The story balances these various strands within a story that is empathetic towards its main character but tough in its refusal to soften the menace of what many would like to think of as fringe movements — but perhaps are more influential than thought.
But it also offers some much-needed hope, embodied by the impressionable hearts and minds of children that Charlotte teaches. In the end, the young son of a white supremacist learns a lesson about truth, love, hate and tolerance — and hopefully, viewers will learn the urgency of teaching it.