Sometimes, when you want to grab a new movie, you’re not exactly looking for a new movie. Instead, you want new to you rather than new to the world. But of course, with over a hundred years of cinema, sometimes finding something interesting can be overwhelming – or difficult. So here for Throwback Thursday are some old favorites that might not be on the average person’s radar.
For all the romance lovers out there, Children of a Lesser God is the perfect movie to pop in and enjoy. Directed by Randa Haines and starring Marlee Matlin and William Hurt, it is perhaps not as well known as many other more flashy and dramatic Best Picture nominees. Based on a play by Mark Medoff, the plot follows a deaf custodian named Sarah Norman and her relationship with a hearing teacher, James Leeds, at the school they both work at. Though the two get off to a rocky start, they enter into a relationship, despite James pushing that Sarah should start learning to speak instead of just signing.
William Hurt garnered much critical acclaim for his role in the film, but the movie belongs very clearly to Marlee Matlin. Matlin plays off Hurt well in what was her feature film debut, bringing a guarded fear and passion against Hurt’s playful vulnerability. Matlin’s performance is frequently described as being similar to a silent film actress and the comparison is apt – sice her character Sarah does not speak, Matlin conveys her emotion with soulful eyes and expressive gestures, to the point where the audience does not need Hurt to translate her signing.
Their romance is troubled but full of love and the journey they both take as they navigate what it means for a hearing man to be in a relationship with a deaf woman. The film is long, coming in at just shy of two hours, but it allows the journey between the couple to unfold both as a pair and also as individuals, delving into the struggles James faces as he wishes to protect Sarah and Sarah’s own need to stand as her own person apart from James.
Matlin went on to win Best Actress for her role in the movie. She is the youngest woman to ever win the award, winning it at the age of 21. She is also the only deaf performer to win an Oscar in any category, and one of two disabled people to win any Oscar (the first being Harold Russell in 1946).
The International Day of People With Disabilities, or Disability Day, has been celebrated every year since 1992. Each year a theme is announced for that year. Each theme touches on ways the international community can continue to push for accessibility for disabled people. The theme for this year is, “transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all.” To put it simply, the theme means that no one should be left behind when it comes to the betterment of society. This includes helping to pull down barriers that exclude disabled people while also encouraging disabled people to be active contributors of society.
To honor that theme, the included items on this list are movies that center not just on a disabled character but on those characters rising to the occasion and on the people around them helping to pull down the barriers that exist in society against disabled people. There is also a focus on actors and musicians who work to be active in the community as well.
Children of a Lesser God
Children of a Lesser God is a special case for many reasons. Much of the criticism when it comes to the way disability is portrayed in the media is two-fold: that the portrayal is incorrect and that disabled characters are being played by able bodied (or non-disabled) people. In this Oscar-winning movie based on a play of the same name, main character Sarah Norman is deaf and is in fact played by a deaf woman, Marlee Matin. It gives the film a bit more realism and ensured that the portrayal was true to the life of an actual deaf person as well. The story, based around new teacher James Leeds attempting to get school janitor Sarah Norman out of her comfort zone, is a touching romance that deals a lot with how isolating it can be to be disabled. Matin, for her part, not only won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, she is also the only deaf woman to ever win that award. She continues to speak for deaf people in the country, using her fame to contribute to the betterment of deaf people in the country.
The Station Agent
True fame didn’t come to actor Peter Dinklage until several years after this movie, when he was cast as the cunning Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. Yet despite that his role in this small-budget film is one of his most lauded roles. A bit of an ensemble film, the Station Agent focuses on pulling Dinklage’s character, Fin, out of his isolation and into the lives of his neighbors and friends. Also included in the movie is a woman named Olivia, played by Patricia Clarkson, who deals with severe depression after the loss of her young son. The two characters, along with a peppy neighbor played by Bobby Cannavale, form a close bond that makes them realize they cannot continue to isolate themselves from each other and from the world anymore. In his personal time, Dinklage campaigns in a more quiet way that most for those with dwarfism. While he doesn’t necessarily give long interviews, he has in the past used his fame to bring attention to issues – most notably during his speech for his 2012 Golden Glob win, where he casually brought the issue of “dwarf-tossing” into the public eye.
Little Miss Sunshine
Though the focus of this comedy is more on the entire family’s dysfunction than one person, part of that dysfunction involves the disability of Steve Carrel’s character, Frank. Frank has depression and attempts suicide before the events of the movie take place. His sister, Olive, feels unsafe leaving him home alone and so Frank is roped into a road trip for his niece’s beauty pageant. Much of Frank’s story centers around him attempting to deal with his own feelings. His ending is more realistic than happy; by the ending he has built a strong support system with his family. The importance of having a support system and how oftentimes, those without support systems can falter, is emphasized with Frank. He finds himself, if still depressed, then at least looking forward to the rest of his life more than he was before.
Tell Me You Love Me –Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato, former Disney idol and current pop star, has had a difficult journey to get to where she is. Since her big break in the Disney Channel’s Camp Rock, the star has dealt with eating disorders and severe mood swings. After an infamous confrontation in 2010 that ended in Lovato punching one of her back up dancers, Lovato revealed she had bipolar disorder. She started in therapy and on medication and since then has found herself living a much more stable life. Her new album Tell Me You Love Me, available on hoopla, dropped in late September to positive reviews. In addition to her music career, Lovato has helped with many charities and programs for mental illness. She even started her own, the Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program, to help pay costs for mentally-ill patients.
A science fiction film is not the first place to look for disability representation, and yet Pacific Rim offers a unique look at disability. Most of the named characters suffer from PTSD, and all attempt to move about their lives despite their illness. Also included in the main cast is a physically disabled character and a cancer patient, both of whom play important parts in the movie. Between epic fight scenes the characters build each other up and create important emotional bonds. Sure, the movie isn’t a dramatic look at disability, but it incorporates disabled people into its story seamlessly. Above that, it shows that disabled people can rise to any occasion – even one that involves fighting sea creatures from the deep from the inside of a giant robot.
International Day of the Girl is not one of the more well known holidays but it is an important one. Taking place on October 11th, Day of the Girl was started to bring awareness to the trials faced by girls. Yes of course steps have been taken to equal the playing field, but the fact is that many girls still face incredible obstacles and barriers. The day started as a youth lead movement to shed light on things such as underage marriage, inaccessibility of education, and barriers in the job market. The activists that organize the events – all ranging around 17 years old but some are even younger – work to emphasize raising girls in healthy environments and with a supportive community.
So how does that affect the average little girl in Berwyn? Well, it’s important for girls to know they can be heroes, can stand up for themselves, that they can be weird or sporty or heroic or vulnerable or strong. It’s important to show little girls that they can be whatever they want to be, no matter how odd what they want may seem to you. And since it has been studied that movies impact our sense of the world and our sense of self, maybe taking a day to watch a movie about a brave hero who also happens to be a girl could go a long way to helping your own girl believe in herself. When it comes to brave girls and heroes, these movies are fun to pop in and kid friendly – and may even inspire a conversation about what your little girl wants from her life.
Lilo and Stitch
This classic Disney movie about an alien looking for a family is also an important study in girlhood. The movie hinges around the importance of family, so naturally, when Stitch crash lands on Earth, he is immediately adopted. The movie makes an interesting choice to drop Stitch into a family that is only made up of two orphaned sister: older sister Nani and young Lilo. Lilo, for all her charm and love, is an outcast among the girls her age. She does things like keeping voodoo dolls of her friends in a pickle jar, locking herself in her home and blasting Elvis Presley music to feel better, and coming up with a tragic backstory for a doll. Despite how over-dramatic Lilo’s oddities are Nani never tries to change Lilo and often celebrates her uniqueness. Nani, for her part, is hard working and honest. She puts Lilo before everything and works hard to keep her small family together. When celebrating girlhood, Lilo and Stitch is a fantastic movie to look to, a movie that makes it clear that it’s ok for girls to be silly and odd and strong and to value the bonds of family.
A modern day retelling of the classic radio show and musical, Annie is just as important now as she was decades ago. This version of Annie, starring trailblazer Quvenzhané Wallis, puts a focus on the impact the foster system has on young girls. At one point in the movie, Annie is prompted to read a speech aloud and storms off. She reveals to a heart broken Mr. Stacks that because of her time in foster care, she fell through the cracks in school and never learned to read. Considering the fact that girls still face barriers to education even today – the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai being the most popular example – it’s an important topic. Mr. Stacks and Miss Grace raise Annie and all the foster girls in her home up, allowing them to flourish and thrive and ultimately find families. On top of that, well – it’s just a really cute movie and Quvenzhané and Jamie Foxx play off each other fantastically.
Bend it Like Beckham
It’s easy to overlook this movie as nothing but a silly sports movie, but Bend It Like Beckham actually focuses on important topics relating to girlhood. Namely, the treatment of girls in sports. It’s true many women have broken into the the sports world but there are still barriers. In this comedy, the focus is put on the struggles of Jess as she navigates playing soccer and her desire to go to college. Jess faces much backlash from a cultural standpoint because of her family’s views on how a woman she act. Added to this are her struggles and the struggle of her father to be accepted in the world of sports because of their race. The movie focuses on the changing landscape and how many conservative views of sports and women were forced to change as women started making a mark for themselves in the world. The ending is, naturally, a happy one, where Jess’s parents start to accept that they must change for the sake of their daughter’s happiness.
Easily the most serious look at sexism in this list, Whale Rider is a modern day classic and enjoyable movie nonetheless. While it’s not exactly the most obvious pick for a movie night with your young daughter, it is still kid friendly. At the very least, this writer enjoyed it a lot as a girl, if only because of my unhealthy obsession with whales. The movie focuses on a girl named Pai, whose family was killed several years before the movie takes place. Pai is the heir apparent of her people’s clan as she is descended from the whale rider Paikea, but cannot inherit this title because she is a girl. Pai spends much of the movie fighting with her grandfather over what she views as her destiny. Her grandfather blames her for many things including the deaths of her family, being better than the boys around her, and a whole host of things that aren’t actually Pai’s fault. The constant criticism weighs on Pai and she moves out of her grandfather’s home. Despite this, Pai remains determined to prove that she is a capable leader. The movie earned lead actress Keisha Castle-Hughes an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. At age 13, she was the youngest person ever nominated for the award – until Quvenzhane Wallis broke the record a few years later at age 9.
Over the years, Labor Day has been associated with barbecues and pool parties, as a way to throw one last hurrah before school starts and summer is officially over. However, Labor Day started as a way to honor working class people in the US.
In the late 1800’s, many people lived in “company towns.” This was when a town is essentially owned by one employer. One such town was Pullman, located on the South Side of Chicago. Pullman was owned by George Pullman and employees of his Pullman Palace Car Company lived in the town with their families. There he provided decent housing, public services, and entertainment – though he did charge rent for his housing. The Panic of 1893, an economic depression that eventually caused great civil upheaval, caused people to forego the luxury railroad cars. As Pullman started losing money, he made up the losses by firing many workers and slashing the wages of workers that were left – without lowering rent.
The workers formed a union, The American Railway Union, and called for a strike. Clashes between the union and Pullman occurred as the strike spread to a total of 27 states. Eventually federal troops were brought in and violence broke out. 34 union workers were killed during the ensuing riots and the ARU leader was arrested. As a way to smooth things over with the angry union workers, President Cleveland pushed legislation through that would make Labor Day a national holiday. The date was set for the first Monday in September and the legislation was passed within a week.
So when you’re cooking out and settling in for a movie and some s’mores, maybe take a moment to remember the struggle of the workers that came before. Here are some interesting movies that deal with the class struggle of workers that came before us.
The Grapes of Wrath
The 1940 drama based on John Steinbeck’s moving novel details the struggle of a family of migrant workers. As the Joads move all over the south looking for paying jobs, they face many hardships and often much exploitation at the hands of their employers. Towards the end of the novel, the Joads find themselves living in a number of company towns, similar to Pullman. They are paid nickels and dimes a day; just enough to buy food at the company town grocer but not enough to find a house of their own with better living and working conditions.
Selected for inclusion into the Library of Congress in 2011 for cultural and historical significance, Norma Rae tells the story of a single mother who fights for better working conditions the cotton mill she works at. The story is partially true; inspired by the protesting of real life Crystal Lee Sutton, the iconic scene where Norma Rae holds up a white board that says “UNION” until all the machines fall silent is directly taken from Sutton’s own activism. This sort of fight for better conditions is exactly the sort of work that Labor Day is meant to commemorate.
In this harrowing biographically film, viewers get a disturbing image of the health risks many workers face. Karen Silkwood (played by Meryl Streep) was a union leader at a plutonium plant who noticed that the company was cutting corners in safety protocols. After she tested positive for plutonium poisoning, Silkwood starts building a case against the company before dying under suspicious circumstances. In real life, Silkwood’s father sued the company for their practices and the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court – where her family won the case. They were awarded $10 million, the highest amount of money a person had ever been awarded in a case like this.
Based on the real life activists who co-founded the United Farm Workers union, César Chávezchronicles farm workers fight for safety practices as well as his nonviolent protests. The film focuses in particular on the plight of braceros or migrant workers who are only allowed int he USA so long as they have a farming job. These workers often face racism and brutality and were not given much of a voice. Chavez co-founded the union along with Dolores Huerta, and the two eventually merged unions with a majority Filipino union to form the United Farm Workers that still exists today.
The Pajama Game
In a more lighthearted take on labor disputes, the popular musical The Pajama Game chronicles the fight of employees at a pajama factory striking for a higher wage. The strike comes when union leader Babe Williams realizes that the employees are being paid seven and one half cents less than the industry standard. Complications arise when Babe and a new manager, Sid Sorokin, become romantically entangled. Of course, being a musical, the ending finds the employees winning their raise and Sid and Babe finding happiness in each other. It’s an optimistic take to be sure but it is also a relatively realistic look at some of the disputes, corruption issues, and fights that Labor Day honors.