Winter is (hopefully) on its way out here in Minnesota even though there is still a foot of snow on the ground and it is mid-April. Awards season has been done for awhile, but this has been a great winter for watching movies. Not all of the following films were a part of this year’s nominations, but these are the last seven films I’ve seen that have made me think and would recommend:
- Black Panther: I clapped when the movie finished in theaters. I’m a white woman, but it felt so rewarding to see a storyline with people who are black in decision making roles, with power and progress, and no colonization in sight. I have had a lot of difficulty in my own classroom finding texts that show the amazing contributions and conflict of black life instead of just painting the constant struggle, trauma, and horror of slavery. While this storyline is addressed, everything about the plot proclaims power and imagining a reality where people who are white never intruded and Wakandans prosper. I recently learned about Afro-futurism, which is basically this genre of black narrative without the historical trauma. Again, I’m white, but I’m also a woman. And I absolutely loved the portrayal of women: independent, fierce, intellectual, intuitive, and strong. They didn’t need the men to save them, and they weren’t more sexy than heroic. If this is the direction we’re headed for Hollywood storytelling, let’s go full speed ahead. Lesson learned: When you have a good thing going, you share it.
- Lady Bird: Lately, Zadie has been publically meowing and pretending to be a cat and I’ve actually felt a little embarrassed. Tonight, I whispered to her as she was falling asleep, “Zadie you’re one of my best friends.” With her eyes closed, she replied, “You are my mother.” The reason I mention this is because Lady Bird gets at the concept of parenting a child who you absolutely love but might not always understand. The opening scene shows a mother and her teenage daughter wiping tears from their eyes as they finish The Grapes of Wrath audiobook on a college visit road trip. Within minutes of this sentimental experience they share, the tone shifts to bickering, and the daughter impulsively jumps out of the moving car. In the next scene, you see her sporting a pink cast with “F*ck you, Mom” written in permanent marker. Most of it is a coming of age story and set in a high school with dramatic and misfit students, which I found amusing. I laughed a lot in the movie, but it didn’t make me cry. Lesson Learned: Embrace the vulnerability of saying honest things to the people you love, even if it comes out messy.
- I, Tonya: I was 3 years old when Nancy Kerrigan was assaulted and the whole Tonya Harding drama unfolded, so I honestly knew nothing about the story before the movie, and I was curious. The abuse is hard to watch. It kills me when kids are caught in the middle of unstable parenting. Even with the peek into Tonya’s upbringing, she still isn’t completely painted as the victim. I want to punch her mother in the face. The movie flows seamlessly between the styles of narrative and documentary. If you didn’t already live through the drama in real time, it’s worth the watch. Lesson Learned: Hurt people hurt people.
- The Martian: I watched this movie with my in-laws during spring break, and even though it came out in 2015, I hadn’t ever seen it. A couple things that struck me right away: a woman (Jessica Chastain) had a decision making role and there were men of color with expertise in all things space. The film gave me a lot to think about, and I kept returning to some of the plot even the next day. Lesson Learned: If no one else will take care of you, you have to take care of yourself.
- Murder on the Orient Express: Ben and I watched this one at the discount theatre. I had never read the book, so I didn’t know how it was going to end, but I had read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie a while ago. Even though I do not like scary stories, I did totally get caught up in the suspense of both plots. If I remember right, through a racial lens, the movie lacks a lot, (characters of color in general, positive worldviews about a variety of ethnic groups). But, I enjoyed the process of figuring out the crime as it unfolds. Lesson Learned: Justice isn’t always black and white.
- The Post: I saw this primarily for Tom Hanks, who for some reason, I admire so much, despite his aging and general goofiness. Through a racial lens, again, not much to report in terms of progressing positive associations for characters of color or for women. I do recognize that it is about a specific setting in a specific time period, so they may have been intentionally making things realistic. I believe there was one woman who answered an important phone call, although her message was interrupted by a man. And there is one woman of color at the end who works for a lawyer and has a speaking role. Otherwise, the movie is dominated by white, male voices. My favorite part, of course, is when Meryl Streep stands up to some of them and asserts her authority in her company. Lesson Learned: The truth needs to be told.
- Erin Brockovich: Even more than my love for Tom Hanks, I adore Julia Roberts. My mom loved her when I was growing up, so we always watched her films. Recently, I was in a 9th grade science class talking about environmental law, and they discussed the Hinkley, CA story told in the movie. Even though the movie was made in 2000, I think it is still timely in how women are portrayed or asked to present themselves in society. Erin is assertive, bold, direct, no-nonsense, she knows what she is good at, and she gets stuff done. It’s hard to watch some of her struggles, but it’s inspiring to see her make important changes. Lesson Learned: No one is too small to interrupt broken systems.
What have you seen recently? What would you add to the highlights listed here? What’s on your list to see now?