This Movie Changed Me

Movies create space to explore some of life’s biggest questions. This Movie Changed Me features conversations about how they teach, connect, and transform us. In each episode, host and lifelong movie fanatic Lily Percy guides guests to explore and celebrate the transformative role movies play in their lives.

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The Wiz is a reimagining of the classic Wizard of Oz tale, complete with an all-black, all-star cast and Quincy Jones-produced soundtrack. Diana Ross stars as Dorothy, a 24-year-old school teacher who has never set foot outside her neighborhood in Harlem. When a violent storm transports her to a faraway place, she’s taken out of her comfort zone and yearns to find a way back. Lawyer Michael Strautmanis had never seen a movie that offered a warm portrayal of his experience growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a tight-knit African American community. His love for every aspect of the movie — from the iconic casting to the costume design and music — speaks to the idea that movies help us feel seen.

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most watched films of all time. When a tornado whisks Dorothy and her dog Toto from their Kansas home to the magical Land of Oz, Dorothy has to seek out its wizard to find a way home. Along the way, she makes new friends and encounters all sorts of obstacles — all made delightful by the movie’s iconic original music and use of color, which was groundbreaking at the time. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says the movie made a strong impression on him as a child: Seeing a young person take action inspired him to do the same. “It’s up to us,” he says, “and we could do it if we wanted to.”

The Namesake, an adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, is a moving exploration of the immigrant experience told through the story of the Ganguli family. The parents, Ashoke and Ashima, marry in India and emigrate to New York state, where they raise their two children, Gogol and Sonia. In tracing the lives of two generations of a family, the movie examines not just the opportunity and promise gained from immigrating to a new country, but also all that is lost from one generation to the next. The wholeness of this depiction offered solace to writer Nishta Mehra after her father’s death. For her, the movie mirrored back the parts of her parents’ lives she did not understand as a young person.

“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” So declares the title character in the 1958 comedy Auntie Mame. She introduces her Bohemian world to her nephew, Patrick, who comes under her care after he is orphaned. The movie’s celebration of individuality and independence inspired comedian Justin Sayre to embrace his own — whether as a gay person or a queer artist. “You don’t have to do anything you’re told,” he says. “You just have to be kind. And you just have to never stop looking. That’s it.”

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X paints a nuanced portrait of a historical icon — as a human being who was constantly searching for his truth and who was willing to change his mind in public, over and over again. The movie takes us through the various chapters of Malcolm X’s life: first as Malcolm Little, then, in his early 20s, as “Detroit Red,” to his rise as Malcolm X, the activist preserved in history books today — and beyond. Activist and poet Andrea Jenkins related to Malcolm X’s experience of transformation and evolution portrayed in the movie. She’s a city council member in Minneapolis and was the first openly transgender black woman elected to office in the United States. She joined us for a live recording and screening of the movie at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis.

A League of Their Own is a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed during World War II. Geena Davis and Lori Petty play the competitive Hinson sisters, who are recruited to join the Rockford Peaches and play in the league. Since its release in 1992, the movie has inspired many young female athletes, including baseball commentator Jessica Mendoza. She grew up playing softball with her sister and went on to compete at the Olympics — including winning gold and silver. Jessica says one of the movie’s famous lines — “It’s the hard that makes it great” — inspired her to break records on the field and off.

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.

What does it mean to be good? What does it mean if we aren’t good? Whose fault is it? These are just some of the questions that animate Amadeus, a fictional portrayal of famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his musical rival Antionio Salieri. These questions also inspire Sue Phillips, a Unitarian Universalist minister. She first watched the movie in the late ’80s, just as she was coming out and understanding her place in the world.

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.

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