When I was 11 years old, my older brother and I began taking karate lessons a few times a week. I would come home after class, tired and sweaty, put my uniform in the dirty clothes hamper, shower, and have a snack. Every time.
Every time, that is, except once. I walked through the front door, and my mom was doing something she rarely did: watching TV. I saw it was some old movie in color. My mom said, “You should watch this. I think you’ll like it.”
So I dropped my bag by the door and slid onto the couch in that weird way kids sometimes do, sideways, with my legs hanging over the arm of the couch. I stayed that way watching the movie, probably smelling pretty ripe, until my back started to cramp. So I adjusted, and continued watching. This movie was unlike anything I had ever seen before. There was an intensity and grace in the way people spoke to each other. It was visually beautiful, particularly the costumes and the lead actress. I felt magnetized to the screen in a way I never had before.
By the time the movie ended, it was late at night [at least for an 11-year-old]. I don’t much remember what I said to my mom other than that I liked it. She went to bed, I finally showered, and then sashayed around my bedroom, afghan draped over me like a large dress, pretending I was Scarlett O’Hara.
I had always had, and still do have, a deep love for The Wizard of Oz, but watching Gone With the Wind is where my love of film, and classic film specifically, was born [thanks, Mom!]. I continued watching classic movies as I grew up, successfully begging my mom for a subscription to Turner Classic Movies.
Then I went to college. I majored in history and, later, got a graduate degree in English. In both programs, I had a habit of turning to film when I was given free reign with essay topics. Much of what I studied in my programs were issues of gender, sexuality, and race and I was fascinated with how films simultaneously impact and are impacted by society’s understanding of these constructs. The school did not have film or media studies majors but I finally got a chance to take a class called “The Movies” during my last semester as an undergraduate. That class was taught by one of my favorite English professors, a liberal feminist who specializes in African American literature. In other words, in this class we talked about everything that interested me about movies.
In a different class with that same professor, I wrote a paper about the lesbianism in Fried Green Tomatoes and presented it at a national conference [I later wrote a shortened, simplified version of it for The Cinnessential]. Later, after my presentation, I got an email from someone who saw my talk and told me how much it meant to her as a gay woman growing up in the South. She told me that Fried Green Tomatoes had always been a movie close to her heart, and my presentation summed up everything she felt and loved about it. That is one of the proudest moments of my life, and it brought home to me how important movies are to people.
Writing for The Cinessential has given me an opportunity to continue my favorite part of college. It also gives me a space to do what annoys some people when I try to do it in person [some people, I have learned, just want to enjoy watching a movie and not think about it].
Movies are not just a mirror of society, of our hopes, fears, and darkest thoughts. Movies are also a force that helps us form thoughts about how things were, should be, and could be which naturally affects the way we think and behave. As much as I write about how movies are problematic [Gone With the Wind, for example, is definitely problematic and I will be writing about that], I also love to write about how movies can comfort people and give them hope; how they can educate people and change minds. I hope this is something I hope I can do, in some form or another, for the rest of my life.