I had my fill this past month in heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspiring and thought provoking films. It began with the wonderful Hidden Figures, the story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served vital roles during the early years of the US space program. I have two nieces and a nephew who are all mathematicians and I thought of them all, getting a clearer sense of the excitement they must sometimes experience and being thankful that they did not have to bear the prejudices of the extraordinary women at the center of the film. Octavia Spencer, Taraji Hensen, and Janelle Monae were all wonderful. The film’s only fault is making Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, a hero for the women as he fights against discrimination. Reading background information it is clear that Harrison was not a villain but he was never a hero either. Did the film makers not think I would enjoy the film if there was not a white hero?
I then went to Moonlight, which won this year’s Best Motion Picture-Drama Golden Globe. Wow! Three different actors portray African American Chiron, as a child, teenager and young adult. As if being small for his age and the son of a crack addict mother in Miami is not hard enough, there is even more to this individual’s story. The actors portraying Chiron could carry the film but they never have to because the supporting cast is equally as talented. It includes Monae and Mahershala Ali from Hidden Figures and my favorite of the entire ensemble, Andre Holland.
If you love history, this next film is for you. There had been a lot of buzz among my Lutheran clergy colleagues about the Netflix film 13th, from Ava Duvernay, who directed Selma. Here is a first rate documentary which traces racial inequality in the United States from the constitutional amendment ending slavery to the prison system of today. Duvernay is a master of weaving interviews, statistics, and old film footage and the result is an important 1 hour 40 min piece that everyone should see, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.
I noticed that 13th was, unsurprisingly, up for an Academy Award so I went to see what else was nominated for Best Documentary. This led me to O.J.: Made in America, a multi-part production created by the producers of ESPN’s award winning “30 for 30.” “It is the defining cultural tale of modern America – a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system. And two decades after its unforgettable climax, it continues to fascinate, polarize, and even, yes, develop new chapters….To most observers, it’s a story that began the night Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were brutally murdered outside her Brentwood apartment. But as “O.J.” lays bare, to truly grasp the significance of what happened not just that night, but the epic chronicle to follow, one has to travel back to a much different, much earlier origin point, at not the end, but the beginning of the 20th century, when African-Americans began migrating to California … Written by ESPN Films
For the last five winters, a small group of Trinity Lutheran members have congregated in a parishioner’s home on Monday evenings in January-February to watch films. Two years ago the suggestion was made to watch uplifting films, not a bad idea during the days with the fewest hours of sunlight in a world that is always experiencing brokenness. But many people, including those in our congregation, see the complexities of the world’s problems and want venues to learn and discuss and ultimately discern how to act. The films I have listed above give us plenty of fodder for conversations about how we are to live in the world and how we might be small agents of change and transformation.