04 Grab My Hand: A Letter to my Dad
Our final Film Guide leads you through viewing the film and answering open-ended questions, as well as a closer examination of the character, themes, and story. You’ll learn about the filmmaker, their process, and the ways a filmmaker tells a story using moving images.
Content Warning: Note that this film, while ultimately a celebration of connection, is a personal story of grief and coping with the death of a loved one.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read the Note to Teachers—you’ll find tips for watching short films with your class and helpful resources for inquiry-based discussions.
- How would you define animation? What are some examples of other animated films?
- How was the film ACCENTS different from other animated films you’ve seen?
- How do you think animation is different from live action?
- What is your definition of a superhero? When you think of superheroes, what qualities/actions/images/details come to mind?
- Share this image from GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD. Have students look closely at the image and share predictions or ideas of what the film might be about in a brief Think, Pair, Share.
Visit the Glossary + Film Terms page for definitions of these terms or have students research the answers.
- We’re going to watch GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD by Camrus Johnson & Pedro Piccinini.
- The film is about 5 minutes long. It’s important that we are quiet while the film is playing. In a short film, every image and sound is important to the story being told.
- Note: Consider whether your class would benefit from a content warning in advance of the film.
Watch the film together and gather initial reactions using open-ended questions.
Follow the film screening with a moment of pause for the group to gather their thoughts. Ask the open-ended questions below and record students’ answers. Have students support their observations with evidence by asking, “What did you see that makes you say that?”
- What did you notice about this film?
- What did the film make you feel or think about?
- What moments in this short film stood out for you? Why?
- Did the film give you any new ideas?
- Did anything about this film surprise you? Why?
- What are some words you might use to describe this film?
- You can watch the film as a group by sharing your screen, and selecting the “optimize for video sharing” option. Make sure all participants (including yourself) are muted while the film plays.
- Consider using breakout rooms for small group discussions.
- Try using Mentimeter on Zoom to collect responses.
If you need a link to share this film with your students, email us at email@example.com.
A Closer Look
Consider posing a question before screening the film again and have students take notes while viewing the film this time.
Ask the questions below, taking a pause to give students time to think about their answers. Encourage them to support their answers with evidence from the film by asking, “What makes you say that?”
- Based on what we see in the film, what inferences can we make about the characters? About the narrator?
- What challenges do the characters in the film face? How do the characters grow or change throughout the story? Is there anything that we can learn from the characters in this story?
- Why do you think that the filmmakers might have chosen to illustrate the characters as superheroes? How does your idea of a superhero compare with the characters in the film? Revisit responses from pre-viewing activity.
- Share the following quote from the film: They’re two superheroes that don’t have it all figured out. But they’ll never let you know that. Because whatever you need, even if they don’t know how to get it; they’ll find a way to help. That’s what superheroes do. How does this fit with your description of a superhero?
- Do you know any real-life superheroes? How would you describe them? What would their superpowers be?
- What do you think the narrator means when they say You are who you surround yourself with?
- In the film, two friends say Gate Check to each other every day. Is there something that you say or do daily with someone you really care about?
- Ask students to consider:
- What are some ways that the characters in the film communicate non-verbally, using only body language? How can you tell what the character’s mood is?
- Does our body language always accurately reflect what emotions we are feeling? How could becoming more aware of your body language help you connect with others? How could it help you in your interactions with others?
If you have been recording students’ answers, revisit the responses as a group, and ask students to share any final thoughts or ideas.
Take a closer look at still images by pausing the film and asking students what they notice.
The Bigger Conversation
Continue your conversation about superheroes with students and consider the role race, gender, and (dis)abilities play in the film and in other media.
- How do the characters in the film challenge the way masculinity is represented in society? In the media?
- How does the story portray Black masculinity differently from most mainstream media? How does the father in the film express his emotions with others? How does he deal with his sadness?
- Why is it important for characters, including superheroes, to be diverse? What stereotypes does the film challenge or break with?
- Write about yourself as a superhero. Be as detailed as possible. Represent your superhero self through costume, gear, and symbol. What would your power(s) be? How would you help your community? Draw a scene to represent this. Add a description of your sidekick. What would their power(s) be? How would they support you? Share and compare superheroes or sidekicks with someone else. How can your superhero selves or sidekicks be on the same side? How would you work together for the greater good?
- Camrus Johnson wrote and directed this film as a gift to his grieving father. Discuss the word grief in connection to feelings of sadness.
- What are reasons that people may feel or experience grief?
- What are some emotions a person may experience with grief and loss? What feelings and changes in behavior might arise for those grieving? Explain the importance of people of all ages being able to openly discuss their feelings around loss.
- Share ways people can cope with grief. Ask students: How might you express yourself when you feel sad? What are some things you do to feel better when you are sad or miss someone? What advice would you give Camrus’s dad?
- Encourage students to think about small moments or rituals they share with family or friends. In pairs, have them discuss the ways they check in with loved ones.
- How would you stay connected if the way you connect now was no longer an option?
- Did you learn anything about connecting with others from the film GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD?
- If you could write a letter to a loved one or memorialize someone, who would it be and what would you say?
- Allow space in your conversation for whatever emotions and thoughts come up. Consider responding with something similar to: “It’s okay that you’re feeling this way. I’m so glad you shared them with me. What do you think would be most helpful at this moment?”
- Explore the themes in the film further with works of art such as Lee Mengwei’s The Letter Writing Project, which invites viewers to write letters they had always meant to write, but never did.
Behind the Scenes
GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD is by Camrus Johnson, who wrote the story, and Pedro Piccinini, who designed the characters and the backgrounds (the settings) and animated the film.
Pose the questions below before showing the film once again and let students take notes while they watch.
- What do you notice about the animation in GRAB MY HAND? Did you like the style of the drawings? Have you seen other animated films that look like this one? What was special or unique about the animation in this film?
- How would you describe the colors of the film? (You can also use the images above to prompt responses.) How would you describe the mood of the film based on just the colors? How did the colors make you feel?
- Watch the film without any sound. How are the different parts of the story told through images and colors? What symbols or visual metaphors are used throughout the film?
- Play the film, but have students close their eyes as they listen. What sounds did you hear? How would you describe the sounds and music included in the film? How do the sounds and music make you feel? How would you describe the mood based on the audio alone?
Films are made by filmmakers who have something they want to say, which might be inspired by their own experiences or something they’ve encountered in the world. Therefore, a film often has an underlying message, or multiple messages.
Explain that there are no wrong answers to the questions below. Works of art, including film, can be interpreted in many different ways.
- Why do you think Camrus Johnson wanted to tell this story?
- Why do you think the filmmakers chose to tell the story in this way? (Here you can reference the answers to the previous set of questions.)
- What lessons or feelings do you think the film’s creators might want you to take from the story?
- Why do you think they might have chosen to use animation instead of live action to tell this story?
- Camrus Johnson is also the narrator of this film. How does knowing this add to or change the way you feel or think about the film? How do you think the film might have been different if another actor had narrated the film?
Camrus Johnson is co-director, writer and narrator of GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD. He wrote the film for and about his own father. Camrus also works as an actor and a producer, and can be seen playing Luke Fox on the TV show BATWOMAN. He says that video games are what inspired him to become an actor. He’s currently working on writing a graphic novel as well as a feature film.
Pedro Piccinini is the co-director and animator of the film GRAB MY HAND: A LETTER TO MY DAD. He is originally from Brazil and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to making films, he creates illustrations and comics.
Let students know that while the filmmakers might have had a message or idea in mind, we are all welcome to interpret the film in our own way.
What inspired you to make this film? Why was it important for you to tell this story through film?
I’ve been realizing more and more as I get older that men, especially Black men, have been wrongfully expected to keep their emotions hidden and in check. Because of that, we tend to not know how to communicate how we’re feeling sometimes. And even though I’m an actor and my job is to be emotionally fluid and know how to show how I’m feeling when I’m feeling it, I still found it hard to talk to my dad about how we were feeling when his best friend was in the hospital.
I’m sure the distance was a factor, and us talking on the phone and not actually seeing each other’s faces was too, but either way it felt like there was a “manly” wall that we were holding up in front of each other. We were “being strong” for each other, when in many cases the best way to heal is to stop pretending that we don’t need to.
I’ve learned through acting, writing, and art of all genres that storytelling is the easiest way for me to say how I’m feeling. So instead of just asking my Dad if he was okay and telling him how sorry I was that he was going through this, I wanted to show him. And I wanted him to see it and hear it in the exact way that I felt it in my heart.
Why did you decide to tell this story with animation?
There were a few reasons actually. It was partially convenience because my animator/co-director, Pedro Piccinini, and I were already working on an animated short film concept, so when the idea for GRAB MY HAND came up I was already teamed up with an incredible artist that understood me, creatively.
But also, from working with Pedro on the first project, I came to fully realize how much I enjoyed storytelling in the animated space. The art, the colors, and the fun of the animated world make for such a wonderful way to pull someone in; so much so that they don’t even know that they’re learning a lesson until it’s too late. I thought that retelling the story of my dad and his beautiful friendship with his best friend while sort of hiding my message to him about how much I love him underneath it would best be told with the help of animation.
Since film is based on your personal experience, is it ever hard or sad to watch the film? What was it like working on a film that was so personal?
I’ve seen it so many times now that it just makes me happy to watch it, because I think less of the film’s message and more of the way that my dad, friends, and the audiences of the festivals reacted to hearing it. Working on the film was scary because I wasn’t sure how my dad was going to react to it, or my entire family for that matter. I didn’t want to cross any lines or pry by turning their relationship into a story – even if it was only intended for my family’s eyes. But thankfully they reacted to it even better than I expected! They see it as a sort of never-ending memorial for my uncle/my dad’s best friend, and that makes me deeply grateful.
What was the most challenging part of making this film?
Recording the monologue in the hospital moment. That was based off of what my dad actually said to my uncle but I dramatized by actually crying why recording it (which I’m not sure he actually did) and adding the “Gate Check” – turning into a whole monologue. I wasn’t sure how emotionally connected I wanted to get because I was afraid of it coming off corny or forced, so it took many takes until I finally got to a place that I felt was right.
Tell us about your experience with the film once it was complete.
Well first my dad watched it with me when he came to visit me in Vancouver, Canada – he had no idea I was working on it or what I was about to show him. We watched it together, he cried a lot and just kept saying “This is amazing” until we hugged. It was really, really beautiful. Then I sent it to my aunt and she wasn’t sure about it so it took her a couple of days before she was ready to watch it, then she finally did and sent it to my cousins who connected to it as well.
The plan was to end it there – the people that I made it for saw it. I thought maybe I’d put it in a couple tiny festivals just to get my animator some love for his hard work, and while waiting to hear back from the 3 or 4 that I submitted to, I showed the film to a few friends just so they could see what I had made and to my surprise they all cried. So once I realized that people outside of my family connected to the film, I submitted it to more festivals and to my greater surprise it has now been to 51 festivals to date and won 16 awards so far. I’m very happy with how far it’s come and how much further it will go! ∎
- Listen to Camrus Johnson on his activism and how he uses the power of words—utilizing intentional, clear rhetorical strategies—to raise issues of racial justice, in this video of his speech Does That Sound Fair?
- Watch a brief video message from Camrus Johnson reminding us of the importance of friendship and connections.
- Watch a Q&A with Camrus Johnson where he discusses his inspiration for the film.
- Find new ways to stay connected with your class during the school year. Use Flipgrid or other similar applications to share messages and stay connected during remote learning.
- Reflect on the roles family plays in the four films in this Lesson Plan: WELCOME TO MY LIFE, AMELIA’S CLOSET, ACCENTS & GRAB MY HAND.
- How can family influence our identities? How might it shape how we see ourselves and the world?
- How are the character’s identities shaped by their interactions with friends & and family members?
Have students illustrate personal reflections.
- Ask students to think about someone that is special to them and consider the following:
- What do you want to say to them?
- What do you really want them to know?
- What do you want them to remember?
- Encourage each student to write a brief letter that tells this person how much they mean to them.
- Prompt students to illustrate a three or six-block storyboard to accompany their letters.
As a group, reflect upon the films in the Lesson Plan you and your class have seen together.
- Ask students to share their favorite film or scenes and what messages or lessons they took away from GRAB MY HAND and the other films you explored together.
- Have these discussions changed the way you might think about films you see in the future? How?
- What is something new that you learned from these films?
- How have these films inspired or expanded your thinking and/or changed you perspective?