Films That Show Us the Power of Community

By To Write Love on Her Arms

With the 89th Annual Academy Awards taking place this coming Sunday, the TWLOHA team jumped on the opportunity to share some of their favorite films of the season. While all of our choices may not be critically acclaimed, it is a collection of cinematic works that address a myriad of inspirational journeys and thought-provoking topics. Our hope is that by highlighting these stories of human struggle, emotion, and triumph, we can share the connection between TWLOHA’s message of hope and film’s ability to make us feel and relate on a deeper level.

Reminder: This collection of films may not be suitable for everyone. Our recommendations come from personal interpretation of the films, the characters, and the stories they portray.  We ask that you use discretion and recognize your own boundaries as you take our recommendations into consideration.

La La Land (PG-13)

Reviewed by: Coco Fernandez (Intern)

While giving a nod to the classic Hollywood movie musicals like Singing in the Rain, La La Land offers us an updated look when it comes to romance, ambition, and the ever-present hustle of an artist — which is certain to touch the hearts of the world’s creators and dreamers.

The storyline follows Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), the stubborn and incredibly talented jazz musician, and the bright-eyed, yet strong and determined actress, Mia (Emma Stone), as they both search tirelessly for that single opportunity that will land them the gig of their dreams. As they struggle and thrive professionally, the couple attempts to maintain a supportive and healthy personal relationship. But the life of an artist — like most of our lives — can be littered with uncertainty, rejection, and mental and emotional strain. Ultimately, we discover that it is never too late to follow what you are most passionate about. And, more importantly, we are reminded that we were designed to support one another because our journeys were never meant to be experienced alone.

Mental illness will do its best to thwart any attempts we make at chasing our dreams, artistically or otherwise. If you need a reminder that hope is still out there, that dreaming “big” isn’t as idealistic as it sounds, or even something to make you smile, La La Land will do just that.

Noteworthy Quote: [singing] “Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.”

Moonlight (R)

Reviewed by: Ty Johnson (Social Media + Communication Manager)

Nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars and winner of Best Motion Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globes, Moonlight is the story of a young man growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, Florida. As if living in poverty isn’t enough, Chiron struggles with self-identity, an abusive, drug-addicted mother, and uncertainty concerning his sexuality — all leading to bullying and persecution from classmates starting at a young age.

When running from a group of male classmates threatening to hurt him for being “different,” Chiron is discovered by Juan (Mahershala Ali). After earning his trust, Juan takes a timid Chiron back to his house for shelter and food. Once he grows comfortable, Chiron opens up to Juan and Teresa (Janelle Monae), telling them of his home life and personal struggles. The couple does their best to tell him that these feelings — while confusing and unfamiliar — are not abnormal nor something to be fearful of. For the first time in his life, Chiron finds comfort in who he is. And though Juan may not be a pristine role model, for Chiron, he is the first person to tell him that he is okay, that his feeling are valid, rendering Juan’s flaws unimportant to this young boy.

Moonlight is heavy to watch, and at times it feels as though no true resolution reaches the main character. As we follow him through three chapters (child, teenager, and adult), it isn’t until late in life that he finally begins to find a place of love and acceptance in the world.

A film about blackness, poverty, and sexuality, Moonlight is an infinitely important film that challenges our conceptions of race and what it means to be a man. But it is not just that. It is a film that shows us the importance of community, and how a single person can provide hope and reassurance to someone trapped in a state of fear and uncertainty; it shows us the detrimentality of alienation and the importance of standing up for one another. It displays that by helping someone who feels helpless acts as a significant reminder that they are not alone in their struggles. And it gives us hope that through all the storms and clouds and darkness, it is still possible to find ourselves. To be who we truly are, and to conquer what holds us back.

Noteworthy Quote: “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

Hidden Figures (PG)

Reviewed by: Becky Ebert (Editor)

The biographical film, Hidden Figures, shines a well-deserved light on the Black women at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), whose advanced mathematical skills and unwavering determination boosted multiple missions into space success in the ‘50s and ‘60s. While the cast is stacked with talent — just recently winning the Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture — the three leading ladies take front and center with their stories of overcoming discrimination and sexism in the workplace.

Katherine G. Johnson, as played by Taraji P. Henson, becomes the first Black female to join the Space Task Group. Katherine endures an overwhelming workload and blatant disregard for her abilities from her new teammates due to both the color of her skin and her gender. Meanwhile, acting veteran Octavia Spencer portrays Dorothy Vaughan, the West Area Computers unofficial supervisor who fights to be granted both the formal title and respective position salary despite the fact that no Black woman has ever led a staff at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Lastly, we follow Mary Johnson (Janelle Monae) as she strives to become the first ever Black female engineer at NASA.

While each woman is faced with man-made hurdles, they find support amongst each other to never lose the faith and hope that they can and will beat the odds. By doubling their efforts, they forge paths to squash the professional inequality at NASA — essentially validating the idea that belief in oneself and utilizing the encouragement of your support system can result in great things.

Noteworthy quote: “We get to the peak together, or we don’t get there at all.”

Swiss Army Man (R)

Reviewed by: Chad Moses (Music + Events)

The film opens on a desert island where we meet Hank (Paul Dano), who has succumb to desperation and is walking through a final ritual before making an attempt to die by suicide (bear with me). He hums a song that represents comfort to him — a song that will become the main theme of every track in the score — and after a long final blink, Hank sets his sights back to the beach where he sees a body wash ashore. This unexpected, and seemingly impossible hope of a rescue, or simply the existence of a fellow human, lures Hank to the scene. Upon inspection, Hank finds the lifeless body of Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Although Manny is dead, his body possesses astounding powers and, to a degree, can reanimate. Essentially, these abilities begin to save Hank on a number of levels.

This surreal odyssey is a bit of an untraditional love story that centers not on romance, but on a love of self-discovery and learning how to share vulnerabilities. This story tackles a beautiful truth: that intimate interpersonal (and even intrapersonal) connection will lead us back to a sense of home. This plays out visually as the world seems to grow around Hank and Manny in correlation to how they dive deeper into empathy and learning to share their lives. The desert island becomes a dense forest, which provides an abundance of repurposed refuse, and eventually gives way to a return to civilization.

It is a story of forgiveness and learning how to unapologetically accept yourself. The film teaches us to cherish the mundane — simply because there are others on the same journey and that nothing is too broken, empty, useless, or old to serve a purpose. It is a movie that demystifies love by giving us a roadmap. Start simple. Be imaginative. Try. Be vulnerable. And regardless of the outcome, you never have to go through life alone.

Noteworthy quote: “But maybe everyone’s a little bit ugly….maybe all it’ll take is one person to just be okay with that.”

See: “Films That Show Us the Importance of Healing”

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