Joy Cheriel Brown explores ten different genres of films that effectively explore diversity in screenwriting.
We live in a world that gets smaller and smaller with each passing year, due to technological advances, yet it seems like every day another White person calls the police on a Black person for doing something banal, like waiting at a Starbucks, playing golf, barbecuing, or falling asleep in the common area of a college campus after long hours of studying. It is more imperative than ever to really get to know each other and understand each other’s differences.
Our world is, and always has been, full of diversity. But that has not always been apparent in the stories we see presented on the large and small screens and in the media. Moreover, diversity does not only refer to race, but also gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and religion.
The following 10 films, released within the last four years, do a good job or representing diversity:
- Black Panther (2018, race/culture)
Black Panther, the origin story of the comic book superhero by the same name, and also known as Prince T’Challa, takes place in the fictional country of Wakanda, which is located in Africa. Not only is the majority of the principle cast Black, but there is also brilliance in the cultural detail. The film is about whether or not the nation of Wakanda will share their wealth and technology with the world or if they will use their advancements to oppress the oppressors, as the antagonist, Killmonger, wants.
The movie succeeds in making poignant commentary. In Africa, it is known to say that family members who move to America or abroad are lost because they don’t find their way back to Africa. In the scene where N’Jobu says to a young Erik (Killmonger) that his Wakandan relatives will say that he has been lost, is impactful on another level because of who Killmonger will become when he grows up, and what his morally questionable mission will be. The theme of this film certainly highlights diversity and an issue that might not be as well discussed outside the Black community, bringing international attention to it.
- Get Out (2017, race)
This movie brings attention right away to the plight of the Black man. After reluctantly agreeing to meet his White girlfriend’s family, on the way, the couple hits a deer and when the police show up, Chris is questioned even though he wasn’t driving the car. Later, when Chris is hypnotized by his girlfriend’s mother, he falls into the “sunken place.” We all have a sunken place that we fall into when we feel deep guilt. In the movie, the White characters take possession of the Black characters bodies and consciousness because of their perceived heightened talents and strengths. There are times in society when Black people can feel that they are only valued if they have some type of prowess or talent to contribute and not otherwise. Get Out shows that our society as a whole can fall into that sunken place.
- Moonlight (2016, race/sexual orientation)
Moonlight tells the story of a young Black man who comes into his sexual awareness as an adolescent but doesn’t know how to respond to it. Because there isn’t anyone around him who is like him, he develops a mentee/mentor relationship with a local drug dealer and his girlfriend who become his surrogate family while his own mother battles drug addiction. This is not only a coming-of-age story about sexual orientation, but about how we find connection and family even in the most dire of circumstances.
- Lady Bird (2017, gender)
Lady Bird is another coming-of-age story about a young woman named Christine who goes by the moniker, Lady Bird, which she has given herself. Christine struggles with her desire to be special and the complicated relationship with her mother, which any woman can relate to. Christine has a determination and pluck that any young girl could look up to, as she navigates relationships and her final year of high school in a town she seemingly hates and wants to escape. The movie also highlights the challenges a young woman faces with trying to improve her lot in life when she doesn’t really have the financial resources to do it.
- Big Eyes (2014, religion)
This movie is not an obvious choice to highlight religious diversity. It’s about the artist, Margaret Ulbrich, who let her husband, Walter Keane, take credit for her paintings and make a fortune off of defrauding the art community and the nation as a whole. But it is not until Margaret becomes one of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the guilt of the fraud eats away at her conscience enough to come clean. Usually Jehovah’s Witnesses are only referred to as a joke in TV and movies, and it is refreshing to see a different, more positive depiction.
- Captain Fantastic (2016, socio-economic)
When I saw this movie, I found myself admiring the character, Ben Cash, for raising his six children completely off-the-grid while giving them an unorthodox, yet superior education, as is evidenced when the oldest child gets accepted to the Ivy League. Most of us become all too complacent about falling into line with the norms of society, even if those norms don’t speak to our soul. It was fresh to see what an alternative lifestyle could look like in terms of education and tradition.
- Coco (2017, race/culture)
This animated film is centered around the actual Mexican holiday, Dia de los muertos, or Day of the Dead. It exposes many Americans to a tradition they may know nothing about. However, the core of this film is about family and honoring our ancestors, which is something all of us can relate to.
- Call Me By Your Name (2017, sexual orientation)
The refreshing thing about this movie is that sexuality is treated more fluidly and not as something that must be defined as either gay or straight. The young protagonist, Elio, has a sexual awakening the summer he is 17. He has sexual experiences with a teenage girl and with an older man. The most moving speech is given by Elio’s father when he confides that he wishes he had been able to take chances and explore his sexuality when the opportunity had been presented to him. One day, the world will look at sexuality as something fluid and not to be categorized as gay or straight.
- Glass Castle (2017, socio-economic)
This movie is about a strong young woman who gets tired of her family’s nomadic, often chaotic, lifestyle and makes a decision to do better for herself and spurs her siblings along to take matters into their own hands and make a better life for themselves as soon as they’re able. Even when we come from nothing, we all have the power to improve our lot in life.
- Disobedience (2017/2018, religion/sexual orientation)
This movie deals with the conflict that arises when Ronit, a young woman from an orthodox Jewish community returns when her rabbi father dies and she’s confronted with a childhood friend, a girl, who she fell in love with many years before. Disobedience examines what it’s like when religion conflicts with what you know in your heart to be right.
These films draw attention to the wide diversity that we experience in the United States. Even if we live in homogenous communities where we aren’t exposed to people who are different than we are, we can still experience differences in race/culture, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and religion without even having to leave the comfort of our hometown. But, hopefully, what these movies do is inspire us to step outside our comfort zone and get to know the other, which in reality, is all of us.