On Movies

I love the movies.

If I had indispensable funds, I’d go to a movie every single day. As a writer by trade, I feel like this makes sense. I love a well-told, unique, beautiful story. And movies give me the chance to see those come to life. 

My all-time favorite? Dirty Dancing. And no, you can’t tell me otherwise because I’ll never change my stance on this. I was riveted this year during Get Out and The Quiet Place. The first place I drove when I got my driver’s license was to the movie theater in Knoxville with my sister to see The Skulls. I saw the midnight premieres for most of the Harry Potterfilms, The Hunger Games, and yes, even Twilight. On a sick day, there’s nothing I want to do more than let You’ve Got Mail, 10 Things I Hate About You, or Father of the Brideplay in the background. To this day I can barely even talk about what happens in Goodwill Hunting, or Steel Magnolias, or Beaches, or this one scene in Manchester by the Seawithout weeping. That last one shook me up so much that I had to do a lap around my neighborhood to dry it up! And don’t get even get me started on musicals. I could watch a musical all day long! Newsies, anything starrint Elvis (yes, you heard me!), La La Land, Singing in the Rain…that list goes on and on. 

You get the point. Movies are my thing. 

My friend Steph equally loves the movies (though musicals are where she typically draws a line). So when something new comes out or the list of Oscar nominations get announced, she is my go-to movie partner. 

A few weekends ago, I corralled Steph into seeing Crazy Rich Asianswith me. I’m a die-hard book over movie girl so I’d spent the week before reading the book as quickly as I could. And if I’m being honest, the book wasn’t my favorite. But since I’d put in the time to finish the book and the promise of popcorn was in my future, I still wanted to see the film

So Steph and I settled into the packed house theater and ot our candy and popcorn combos situation (because who goes to the movies without snacks?) as the opening titles began to roll. 

Within about ten minutes, I was in it! Like so much more than I thought I would be, you guys! And by the time the end credits rolled a few hours later, I was thinking, “Gosh, I have to tell everyone I know about this movie.”

And so, here I am. 

Of course, it was a great movie in genre alone. I mean, if you don’t love a romantic comedy, I don’t trust you. It’s as simple as that.

But what surprised me the most was just how moved I found myself sitting in the theater. At one point, Steph leaned over and whispered, “I’m getting choked up.” My reply? “I’m already crying.”

Of course, the scene that was playing at the time was particularly swoon worthy (don’t worry, I’m not going to give it away!). But honestly, I was more overcome by the movie as a whole. I’ve never seen a film so genuinely, and glamorously, and honestly celebrate its culture like this one. 

Truth be told, I’ve grown up watching people who look and talk just like me on the big screen. White, blonde, middle class girls? Ya’ll know they’re everywhere. The Reese Witherspoons, and Rachel McAdams, and Margot Robbies, and Meryl Streeps, and Diane Keatons, and Gwyneth Paltrows—leading ladies like these have never been hard to come by. And don’t get me wrong! I love me some Reese Witherspoon. I want to be her best friend. 

But my point is that for girls like me—girls who look like me—watching a major blockbuster movie is like looking in a mirror. We’re everywhere. But for people who don’t look like me, that’s a different story. In most mainstream films of my generation growing up, people of other races or ethnicities were often relegated to the supporting roles. The racially stereotypical joke. The best friend who comes in and out of the story. The side player. And if they were the lead, well, they were typically one of very few cast members in the film who weren’t… well, white. 

And if I’m being totally transparent, I’d tell you that I’ve never really given much thought to that reality. Full admission here: Some of this is my own fault. I could’ve done a better job of seeking out films with more cultural diversity. But I didn’t know what I didn't know. And what I didn’t know (or at least what I didn’t realize) until recently is that there is a need to see and celebrate stories that show us people who aren’t just like us. 

I think this is true now more than ever. I don’t know about you, but I feel like a lot of the narratives I see playing out in the media lately are about the things that divide us. They’re about the ways in which we’re different from one another. The things that separate us. The things that make us afraid of people who aren’t just like us. They’re the things designed to make us believe people really do fit into two categories: us and them.  

Here’s what I know to be true about my movie going experience last week. I was surrounded by people in that theater of all different ages, races, genders, and ethnicities. And we were all laughing, crying, and experiencing the film the same way. Pieces of the story were resonating with all of us. It didn’t matter that nobody on screen looked like me. In fact, it made me love the movie that much more. I had a student in my dance class tell me last week that she took her picture next to the movie’s poster outside the theater because “the girl in the picture looked like me.” (Insert tears!)

I’ve learned a lot over these last few years as a writer, but there’s one thing that stands out the most: Our stories connect us. I may not come from where you come from and I may never be able to fully understand or relate to your specific experience in this world. But when I hear your story, I can connect. I can empathize. I can learn. 

And I think we could all use a little less division and little more connection in our lives, am I right?

I now have a running list of films I want to watch about other cultures, featuring stories about things I don’t fully know or understand and people who don’t look just like me. First, because I want to put my money where my mouth is and actually support movies like this with my wallet (and we all now movies ain’t cheap!). But also because I want to be a student of the world me. And not just the world I can see in my mirror, or at my church, or in my backyard, or even in my friend group. I want to learn about people and places I may never meet or visit in my real life because even if I never encounter them, they exist. And they matter. Because the more you know, the more you can connect. And the more you connect, the more you understand. And the more you understand, the more you speak up and support and show kindness to others.

So if you’re still reading this, well, I honestly don’t know why! Drop everything, buy a ticket to this movie, and prepare to laugh and cry into your overpriced, delicious popcorn. 

Sara Shelton