Roger Ebert once said, “Movies are like a machine that generates empathy. They let you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears.” My love for movies grew as I realized that they allow me to experience the lives of others, to step out of my wealthy-employed-educated-cis-straight-white-male-nothing-is-challenging-me life and focus on the struggles of those who were given different circumstances.
This has allowed me, for two hours or so at a time in my everyday life, to briefly experience the lives of the marginalized away from the news cycle, away from the political spins, from their own perspective. I’ve gotten insight into the struggle of being black in America and the horrors of police brutality from a Bed-Stuy block, into passionate defenses of art from a courtroom in Tehran, into heroes providing women a choice when the government refuses, into people aspiring for more being held back by borders, into humans fighting institutions for their right to love, into the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and every emotion in between, all from my couch.
These movies are not blockbusters. They are usually not easy to find, and usually not easy to watch. They present real problems as they are, rarely shying away from harsh realities, and they don’t always offer up a buttoned up resolution. Despite all of that, they are absolutely necessary viewing to get insight into the world around us.
All that said, watching a movie does not solve a problem, nor does sitting on a couch all day. Just because I’ve spent a few hours with these characters does not mean I fully understand them, and it certainly does not mean I fully understand the group they may identify with nor the struggles they go through. I’ve realized that experiencing these problems from a first-hand perspective, standing a step behind the oppressed and sharing their voice whenever possible is necessary to driving these issues to the light. As we face an uncertain future built on oppressive nationalism and destructive close-mindedness, it is absolutely crucial that we as a people drive empathy wherever we can. This can be done in countless ways:
If you have mobility, move alongside those fighting for equality.
If you have a voice, speak out for those whose voices are being suppressed.
If you have a pen, write to those who represent us and demand change.
If you have a conscience, stand up for what you know is right.
If you have all of these and have used them to their fullest extent, then watch a movie.
It’s the literal least you can do.
I’ll be (attempting to) regularly highlight the works that have helped illuminate some of these issues for me, movies by and about marginalized individuals and groups that deserve to be experienced, revisited, and celebrated. Sometimes it will be a collection of movies, sometimes just one, sometimes a spotlight on something coming out soon. We live in a diverse, richly cultured country, so let’s ensure that everybody is represented in the popular culture wherever possible.