8 Films for Talking About Diversity

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Conversation around the dinner table may be difficult this holiday season given our current political climate. Be prepared with some talking points by watching these excellent films about gender, religious, sexual, and race/ethnic diversity — eight films to recommend to family and friends who might need an eye-opener or just want to broaden the scope of their entertainment choices. While there are a number of excellent films to choose from, these picks might feel more approachable than others. Happy watching!

The Laramie Project

The impact of Matthew Shepard’s violent murder on the people of Laramie, Wyoming and the world.

From Gay Celluloid:

Consequently this film, like the play, places the issue of hate crime directly on trial and yet to cite Laramie as ‘the hate capital of America’ is deeply offensive to its largely law-abiding and non-judgmental citizens. And yet it was the fact that two of their own carried out such a brutal attack, that shamed the community itself. But then the whole of America was shamed by one of the darkest acts of homophobia in recent times, namely how a young man was savagely beaten and left for dead, solely on account of his sexuality. That his assailants, one Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, were duly convicted with Henderson sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and McKinney the same but without the possibility of parole, for many fell short of their view of a life for a life. Then again, Henderson in pleading guilty had agreed to testify against McKinney to avoid the death penalty, with Matthew’s parents having brokered a deal that would come to save the life of a man, who in their own words had “refused to show any mercy” to their son.

North Country

A retelling of the first major sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States.

From Roger Ebert:

Caro sees the story in terms of two worlds. The first is the world of the women in the community, exemplified by a miner named Glory (Frances McDormand), who is the only female on the union negotiating committee, and has a no-nonsense, folksy approach that disarms the men. She finds a way to get what she wants without confrontation. The other women miners are hard-working survivors who put up with obscenity and worse, and keep their heads down because they need their jobs more than they need to make a point. Josie has two problems: She is picked on more than the others, and one of her persecutors is a supervisor named Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner), who shares a secret with her that goes back to high school, and has left him filled with guilt and hostility.

School Ties

Set during the 1950s, a Jewish prep school star-quarterback feels forced to hide his identity.

From the Washington Post:

Director Robert Mandel makes sure we bond with David on his lonely trip, sharing his wonderment at the lushness of the privileged life and his bewilderment at its arcane ways. For his part, Fraser gives David a brooding dignity and a clear-eyed righteousness that gradually toughens as he wisens.

A Time for Drunken Horses

The survival story of young Kurds on the Iranian/Iraqi border.

From critic Jeffrey M. Anderson:

A powerful first film from Iranian writer/director Bahman Ghobadi, A Time for Drunken Horses forgoes the sentimental kids’ stories we sometimes see in Iranian film. Instead, it presents a gritty story of a Kurdish family saddled with a crippled son and the efforts of the remaining kids to raise money for his operation. A twelve year-old boy smuggles tires out of the country on donkeys (who are forced to drink alcohol to withstand the cold). It’s a lean, realistic film, free of conventions and manipulations.

Black Panthers

Shot during one Oakland, California summer in 1968.

From Slant:

More conventionally structured, but equally inquisitive and exceedingly urgent, the following year’s Black Panthers forgoes the playful formal measures of Uncle Yanco in favor of observational energy and objective tact. Centered on an Oakland chapter of the radical racial organization, the film flits between on-the-ground dispatches from the frontline of protests, performances, and rallies, to interviews with an imprisoned Huey P. Newton, a founder of the Panthers then recently accused of killing a police officer. On the one hand a powerful time capsule of the burgeoning civil rights movement (Martin Luther King Jr. would be shot just months later), the film is, on another, an all-too-relevant reiteration of an ongoing struggle for equality.

The Color Purple

The harrowing life of one Southern black woman during the early 20th century.

From critic Noel Murray:

The objections that greeted Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple still apply, to a large extent. Walker’s book is told from the perspective of an abused, neglected black farmer’s wife in the early 20th century, and Spielberg’s decision to understand her plight as one of “yearning for escape” cheapens the character, making her just another E.T. (or suburban white kid). Worse, Spielberg’s specific sensibilities remain rooted in the color and clamor of old Hollywood, and given a choice between entertaining the audience and rubbing its faces in dirt, he almost always goes for the polish. His movie-addled worldview prompted the broad, retro ethnic stereotypes of 1941 and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and even though the tin-eared cornpone dialect of The Color Purple comes primarily from Walker, Spielberg earns ire for the way he zeroes in on the story’s light comic elements. He gives the slapstick choreography of juke-joint brawls and marital disagreements more play than the book’s carnal sexuality and intense emotional cruelty. On the other hand, Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing sense of rhythm and eye-catching visual style–heavy on shafts of light, purposeful shadows, and Hitchcockian forced perspectives–makes Purple engaging, and even moving.

Chop Shop

Life on the streets in Queens, New York.

From Roger Ebert:

Chop Shop has such an immediate sense of time and space that it comes as a slight shock to understand that the time is now and the place is in the shadow of the late Shea Stadium — or, more accurately, next to the right-field parking lot. This area is known as the Iron Triangle, a crowded, ramshackle bazaar of auto-parts shops. We see it through the eyes of Alejandro, universally known as Ale, a 12-year-old who lives and works there. If you squint a little to turn the automobiles into carriages, this would be a story by Dickens.

The Namesake

A film all first-geners can relate to.

From the Austin Chronicle:

A complex meditation on family, relationships, and identity, the film traces two generations of the Ganguli family. The parents, Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Khan), are near strangers when, after their arranged marriage, they move from Calcutta to settle in New York City. Born in New York, their son, Gogol (Penn), embraces his American identity at the expense of his Indian heritage. As a child of immigrant parents, Gogol grows up surrounded by echoes of a vast culture. But while his parents struggle to maintain their identities, Gogol rejects his.