Editorial: It Is Exhausting Trying to Find Myself in Cinema, And That’s a Problem

By Morgan Roberts

Do you remember the first time you saw yourself in a movie or television show?  Do you remember the feelings that go with it?  The shock of seeing your reflection.  The little guilt that comes with your weaknesses or faults.  The elation you feel seeing yourself.  And also the relief that there is at least one person in the world who sees you, authentically and unabashedly.

I find it difficult to have those moments.  The first film that ever struck me that way was 2010’s “Easy A.”  Emma Stone stars as precocious, intelligent, ego-centric teenager Olive, who thinks she can outsmart life and feelings.  I loved that film so much.  I still feel a bit of a high every time I see it.

lady bird 1

It wouldn’t be until Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age triumph “Lady Bird” (2017) that I would see and feel that again.  I cannot tell you how often I recommend or talk about this movie.  It is a rare film and seemed endlessly rare when “Booksmart” (2019) – Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut – had a similar effect. Hermione Granger was a nice character for nerdy girls my age, but seeing the actual personification in Amy and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) was a whole new experience of seeing my younger self validated.

We need to tell stories or give platforms for the people who can tell stories of others.  Because everyone deserves the right to see themselves in cinema.”

Sure, I will concede, I do enjoy watching numerous films that have zero personal connection, but I can understand emotion or empathize a character’s circumstance.  I’m not a pro-skater who grew up surrounded by domestic violence but I loved “I, Tonya” (2017).  I am not a magical nanny nor am I British, but I love “Mary Poppins” (1965).  I am not a queer woman nor did I grow up in a family who would send me to a conversion therapy camp, but I love “But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999).  I am not a grown man, recently divorced, trying to be close to my children, but I love “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993).

mary poppins

The point though is that if it is difficult for me, a cisgender straight white lady to find myself reflected on screen, how tremendously more difficult it is for anyone who isn’t straight, who is not cisgender, who isn’t white, and a combination of all of those to see themselves reflected in cinema.  It is exhausting to see just little slivers of myself.  And if it is exhausting for me, I cannot imagine what it is like for others.

“Our current circumstances are horrendous – this global pandemic is a stressful, unprecedented, unknown time.  But the silver lining is that we can be watching a lot of films and TV.”

This is more than just hiring women – though we need to do that too. We need to tell stories or give platforms for the people who can tell stories of others.  Because everyone deserves the right to see themselves in cinema.

There are people doing that.  Directors like Barry Jenkins, Lulu Wang, Jon M. Chu, Gurinder Chadha, Jordan Peele, Jennifer Phang, and Ava DuVernay have been telling stories to better reflect different views, different narratives, representing more than just cisgender white dudes – and ladies.  I can only imagine what it was like seeing “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) or “Moonlight” (2016) for the first time.  Having those be the films that finally reflect who you are.  Finally seeing yourself on screen in roles that are not reduced to mere stereotypes.

moonlight still

Our current circumstances are horrendous – this global pandemic is a stressful, unprecedented, unknown time.  But the silver lining is that we can be watching a lot of films and TV.  The arts, at least for me, have been a real comfort and escape.  Why not use this rare opportunity to be watching films that give voice to more people, talk about it, and show Hollywood that we are interested in having these stories be told.

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