Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball tells the story of two talented athletes who weave in and out of each other’s lives as they pursue big dreams. Monica Wright (played by Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (played by Omar Epps) are sometimes friends, enemies, lovers, and competitors. Writer Liara Tamani first saw the movie in 2000 when she was a reluctant student at Harvard Law School. She says Monica’s dedication was a revelation to her. “When [Monica] turned around and looked at Quincy and their child, I almost felt like she was reaching through the screen, asking me, ‘So what you ’bout to do?’”
- List View
- Standard View
- Grid View
Blockers tells the story of three teenage girls determined to lose their virginity on prom night; it’s also about their parents mourning the loss of their daughters, watching them grow up and learning to let them go. The 2018 movie, directed by Kay Cannon, has everything you’d expect in a sex comedy: vulgarity, ridiculous gags, and hilarious jokes. It also complicates notions of sexuality and gender in surprising ways. Emily VanDerWerff, a writer and critic-at-large for Vox, was deeply struck by the movie when she first saw it. She realized it was showing her something she never could have imagined: a life for herself as a woman.
David Cronenberg’s The Fly tells the story of one man’s quest to develop teleportation — and everything that goes wrong along the way. The 1986 sci-fi horror movie stars Jeff Goldblum as Seth, the genius scientist, and Geena Davis as Ronnie, a journalist who falls in love with him. After an experiment goes awry, Seth begins a grisly transformation into a human-fly hybrid. Tony Banout, who works in interfaith dialogue, says he saw the movie as a cautionary tale about the dangers of an unchecked ego — and took lessons from it about grappling with death, decay, and grief.
So many of us have been getting through this year by watching movies at home by ourselves, or with friends on Zoom, inventing new ways to grieve and to hope, to keep ourselves laughing, all through the simple act of watching stories unfold on our screens. Movies have the power to unearth the many layers of our identities; to help us answer the question: Who am I? And that is what we trace, by way of a few beloved movies including The Color Purple, The Fly, and Blockers, in this episode.
Real Women Have Curves tells the story of a young Mexican American woman walking between two worlds, trying to please her immigrant family and be true to herself. Ana, played by America Ferrera, dreams of leaving Los Angeles and going to college. But even as she wants out, she yearns for her family’s blessing and acceptance. This in-betweenness — and Ana’s radical acceptance of her body as it is — was powerful to Virgie Tovar, a writer and body image activist. She says the movie showed her that she could ask for what her body needs, no matter its size.
The Way We Were is a quintessential breakup movie. Told across decades, it stars Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford as two wildly different people growing together before eventually growing apart. Writer Sophie Krueger says the 1973 movie has resonated differently over time. As a child, she idolized Streisand and loved her portrayal of an independent woman charting her own course. As an adult, she recognized the stakes of any romantic relationship — and how the differences that excite you initially can become irreconcilable.
The Color Purple is about the traumas and triumphs of a Black woman named Celie. Set in the Jim Crow South, the story radically centers complicated relationships between Black people, even as whiteness and racism loom in the background. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel was released in 1985. Both tellings have been beloved companions to Danez Smith, a queer writer and performer. Smith says Walker’s story helped them embrace the messiness of life; “to let life exist best within that brilliant complication that lives somewhere between the joy and pain of a single experience.”
As much as it is a coming-of-age story, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is also about the complicated relationship between a teenage daughter and her mother. Even as they argue, they want to connect; to be seen and understood as a complex and ever-evolving person by the other. Their on-screen dynamic resonated with writer Kyle Turner, who has had his own challenging relationship with his mother. He says Lady Bird helped him begin to develop compassion for her — and to explore the possibilities of expressing empathy.
Set in a coal mining community in Yorkshire, the movie Kes tells the story of 15-year-old Billy Casper, who is in many ways a victim of his environment: He’s picked on at school and at home, and the adults in his life have given up on him. But he begins to find freedom and refuge when he starts training a kestrel hawk. Podcast producer June Thomas, who grew up in a similar community to the one portrayed in Kes, says it’s this realism that helped her connect with her hometown in Northern England, even years after she left.
Coco is a heartwarming tribute to the spirit of El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican celebration of remembrance. The Pixar movie tells the story of Miguel, a young boy who dreams of becoming a musician. When his family forbids him to perform at a concert on El Día de los Muertos, he steals a guitar from the memorial of a renowned musician and finds himself journeying to the Land of the Dead, where he meets some of his ancestors — and learns more about the role they play in his identity. Writer and critic Monica Castillo was moved by the portrayal of family dynamics, forgiveness, and memory across generations that comes to life through the movie’s beautiful music and animation.
The Exorcist is known for being absolutely terrifying, but film critic Mark Kermode argues that it’s also a masterpiece. He was too young to see the movie when it was released and had to wait six years before he could watch it in a theater. Decades later, he has made documentaries about The Exorcist, written long essays and a book about it, and even became friends with the movie’s director and screenwriter. But he says every time he watches the movie, he’s still taken back to the experience of transcendence and magic he experienced when he watched the movie for the first time.
Career Girls is a love letter to the friendships that shape us in our formative years, and the nostalgia that accompanies us once we’ve grown out of them. The indie movie follows Annie and Hannah, college friends who reunite for the first time since they graduated six years ago. Karen Corday, a writer, was the same age as the characters when she first saw the movie. She says it helped her feel seen and comforted to know that her experiences “just living as a person in the world” were worth exploring.
The movie Brown Sugar is, at its heart, a tribute to hip-hop — complete with a soundtrack featuring artists like Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Mary J. Blige. It follows Dre and Sidney, childhood friends whose love of hip-hop is what connects them throughout their life. This coming-of-age story celebrates how love and music feed one another — an idea that spoke to Nick George. From the first time he picked up the DVD at Walmart as a college student to his life now as a spoken-word poet and community leader, Brown Sugar has accompanied him as a grown-up in life, in art, and in love.
Contact takes the sometimes opposing forces of science and religion and puts them in conversation. The movie is based on a 1985 novel by Carl Sagan about Ellie Arroway, a SETI scientist who discovers a radio signal that could suggest extraterrestrial life. During her search she encounters Palmer Joss, a Christian philosopher who challenges her convictions as a scientist. Ellie’s pursuit of meaning outside of religion — an oftentimes lonely endeavor — was an experience Drew Hammond had never seen portrayed in a movie before. A high school teacher, Hammond says the movie granted him permission to stay curious and pursue the questions he has about the world — and it continues to shape how he interacts with his students.
Black Panther made all sorts of history — as the first Marvel production to feature a primarily black cast and the first superhero movie to receive an Academy Award nomination. For Zahida Sherman, a writer and college administrator, taking her students to watch the movie in theaters felt like participating in a historical, cultural moment. “It was just black joy, all day long,” she recalls. In portraying a wide range of black identities — both superhuman and mortal — the movie offered Sherman permission to be herself and see that anything is possible.
Ratatouille is a Pixar feast. The tale of Remy, a rat who dreams of becoming an excellent chef, is a delight to experience in all five senses. One particular character — Anton Ego, the restaurant critic — brings A. O. Scott back to the heart of his own work as a New York Times’ chief film critic. He says Ratatouille changed how he understands the work of criticism. This conversation is not just about food; it’s a reminder to return to our love for our craft — whether that’s food, movies, or something else altogether.
Groundhog Day is a classic movie for two groups of people: Bill Murray fans and anyone who was alive in the ’90s. But writer Naomi Alderman falls into a wholly different category of fandom. The author of The Power first watched Groundhog Day when she was 18 and has seen it dozens of times since then. She says the movie has offered her solace in moments of existential angst and helped her devise a routine for the times when she’s stuck in a rut.
You don’t see many Asian leads in Western cinema, that’s why The Joy Luck Club’s all-Asian cast was so radical. Its portrayal of complicated mother-daughter relationships and the immigrant experience spoke to Amy Choi as a child — and again as a mother.
Step away from the week with us.
The Pause is our Saturday morning newsletter, a gathering of threads from the far-flung, ongoing conversation that is The On Being Project. Stay up to date with our latest podcasts, writings, live events, and more.
Search results for “”
- List View
- Standard View
- Grid View