Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Three Movies that Give a Wider Look at the World

Last March I wrote a popular post about three major movies changing cultural discussions for the better. A year more of movies have been released, with messages about our world, our society, and the fight for human rights. Here are three to consider.

Mockingjay's Depictions of Autocracy, Oppression, and War

Part 1 of the final Hunger Games movie showed us the districts of Panem igniting in war. Katniss's rebellion in the Games has become a symbol that living under tyrannical government isn't the only way to live. With her as an unwilling mascot, the people start fighting for freedom.

The scenes and sketches we get of that war paint a chilling picture. People sacrificing their lives take out a group of soldiers. Refusing to work and getting gunned down. Terrified families running for safety while government hovercraft fire-bomb the streets, killing thousands.

The most intense moment comes after Katniss sings a bone-chilling song about accepting death. The scene switches to rebels in one of the districts, carrying a bomb and their scant weapons and singing Katniss's anthem. As they raise their voices, they run straight at the oncoming soldiers. Those at the front fall like a crashing wave as the soldiers fire. More and more die, until those carrying the bomb are running over bodies. When a carrier is killed, another runs forward to take their place. Nobody stops. Nobody falters.

It hit me so hard because this is real. Somewhere in the world right now, those scenes are playing out in real time, with real people. Suzanne Collins wrote about more than love and family, more than hunger and the toll of killing people. She writes about desperation, slavery, children dying, governments denying people aid, and the systems that withhold freedom.

The beauty of Collins' story is that she doesn't pull back from those moments. She makes it personal. Every trauma of war, every aching moment dying while fighting for the right to live, is horrifyingly real.

14-year-old Aliko fights to survive & protect his family
from Boko Haram. Emmanuel Braun, Reuters.

For those of us in happy, middle-class America, this is a wake-up call. To not just see what others face daily, not just acknowledge it, but to feel it, to understand it, to ache with it. It is through empathy that we will be moved to action.

Some say the Hunger Games franchise is too violent. I say it's reality. If you have a problem with it, think how the rest of the world feels.

Imitation Game's Dealings with Gay Rights

Imitation Game told a number of stories within narrative of Alan Turing's brilliant contributions to computer science. Turing is the father of computers, but he also worked during a dangerous time of war and espionage. His field was extremely hostile toward women, even the highly intelligent Joan Clarke, a member of Turing's team. It was also extremely hostile to queers.

In Turing's time, gay "activities" were criminalized. Throughout the film, he's forced to hide his identity, which gets tricky when he gets involved with a woman. We see snippets from his early and late life: the first time he fell in love, with a tragic result, and his ultimate conviction for "gross indecency" which forced him to undergo chemical castration.

We tend to forget that queers have always existed. We forget that people like Turing weren't just brilliant scientists and thinkers. Sexuality is something we cannot ignore: the fabric of how people relate with others. We can revere Turing as a codebreaker and inventor, but it's unfair to ignore the struggles he faced as a gay man living in 1940s England.

Imitation Game showed the complete man, celebrating his accomplishments and portraying his frustrations.

The Diverse Future of Big Hero 6

Child prodigy Hiro Hamada lives in a not-so-distant future where clean energy is everywhere and commercial robotics is just starting to take off. The movie is set in a mash-up city called San Fransokyo, a jumbled fusion of Californian and Japanese elements.

The city is beautiful and chaotic, with the whimsical, happy-go-lucky feel we'd expect from Disney. Tall metropolitan buildings line the skyline behind shops with the sloped roofs and large eaves typical of Japanese architecture. We get a view of the classic Golden Gate, remodeled in the style of a torii gate.

This picture of the future isn't simply American. So much of speculative (sci-fi/fantasy) art is created by white authors for white audiences, and thus set in a Euro-centric context. It's good to stretch the imagination and show a glimpse of somewhere new.

Big Hero 6 also included a diverse cast of voices. The protagonist is a Japanese American kid who befriends a bubbly blonde latina, a monster-obsessed white dude, a dependable, OCD black guy, and an athletic Asian gal. Their characters break stereotypes, but most importantly, their tight-knit group has the same unquestioned diversity most colleges see. The heroes look like real life: not all white, not flat, not simplistic.

When was the last time you saw a superhero movie--let alone a kid's film--with a cast like that?

Whether its the end-of-the-world intensity of Mockingjay, WWII thriller Imitation Game, or Big Hero 6's playful science-fantasy, all these movies are worth the cost of a Redbox. The fact that we have films tackling these issues--and under the PG or PG-13 rating--is awesome. The fact that they did it so well is even better. Carry on, artists!

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