Being a film reviewer, it’s thrilling to see Hollywood come out with more films by and about women, such as the Oscar-winning Roma, Leave No Trace, The Hate U Give, and Captain Marvel. I also come into contact with many amazing women storytellers in the film industry, those who seek to bring about change and truly a better world for all. So many recent and not-so-recent films present women characters that lead efforts to promote peace, end war, and pioneer nonviolence as a solution to conflict. That’s the purpose and reason for Women’s History Month. This year the theme is: Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.
Women’s History Month began in 1978 in Santa Rosa, California with the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women. It began as a week celebration and through the National Women’s Historical Alliance it received national recognition in 1980 and then extended to a whole month of creating and forming societal awareness about the strength and gift of women.
Storytelling can be the most effective way of making this awareness known. I remember reading about Harriet Tubman as a child and being amazed by her courage and resistance to oppression. And, then I learned about many women saints, such as Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Elizabeth Seton, and Saint Agnes, all of whom in their own ways and states of life were able to bring about social change. They are women about guts rather than glory. They influenced the societies in which they lived by their simplicity and silent strength, not through guns, war, and violence.
One of my favorite films is by Lebanese woman director Nadine Labaki called, Where Do We Go Now? (2011). It tells the story of a remote Lebanese village populated by Muslims and Christians, surrounded by land mines in a country torn apart by civil strife. The village priest and the village Iman try to keep the peace, but after a series of incidents happening with the church and the mosque, both groups begin to blame each other. When a tragedy occurs, the women of the village try desperately to keep the men from fighting, for both the Muslim and Christian women have already buried too many dead among their families. They conspire together ways to keep the men from knowing too much about the war going on in the country, thus inciting racial hatred, by sabotaging the village television, radio, and any other means of communication with the outside world. They figure the more they can keep the men at peace, the less burials they will have to endure. In a humorous way, the women come together in a impulsive attempt to create sweet pastries mixed with hashish to give to the men and so drug them into a happy stupor. In a brilliant story line, Labaki shares the ingeniousness of women to bring about peace in a violent world.
Though not a violent situation, the African-American women from the film Hidden Figures offer a sense of humanity in the midst of the country’s racial tensions. Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Jonelle Monae) are mathematicians employed by NASA in the early 1960s as human computers. These women, through their amazing brilliance, provide the calculations and support that actually allow John Glenn to orbit the earth. Without them, the space feats of NASA would not have happened. It only took 50 years for their involvement to be made known! These stories of strong women give us all encouragement and determination that each of us, in our seemingly small and insignificant ways, can truly make a difference.
CINEMA DIVINA GUIDES
For both of these films, and others, we have created Faith and Film Guides as a way for groups to view and engage with film in a theological way using the Scriptures. There are two ways to bring film into conversation with our faith. One format is called “Meeting Jesus at the Movies” and is a faith sharing discussion guide, leading a group to go deeper into the film’s theological meaning and view of the human person. The second way is called “Cinema Divina.” This takes the ancient practice of praying with Scripture, Lectio Divina, and connects it with cinema. This is a more meditative practice of how the film and the Scriptures speaks to us individually and what concrete response does it impel us to enact. We hope you look into these new downloadable guides and discover a new way of watching and experiencing movies, especially during this Women’s History Month!
A SACRED LOOK
If you love movies and you love God, then I have a book for you! Actually, I wrote a book called A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics. In it I reflect upon how we are all called to be everyday mystics but within our popular media culture. The artifacts of the media culture (film, music, television, YouTube) speak to the deepest needs and longings of humanity and so can be our starting point for a faith dialogue with the culture. It is about reflecting deeply upon what these artifacts communicate and how they can often be catalysts for change and profound questioning. Those who engage with the culture in this way are called cultural mystics. I propose that you, too, can be a mystic, one who sees God’s grace at work in the popular media culture and offers Christ as the answer to all of humanity’s longings! This Women’s History Month is a good chance to engage with some amazing films about and by women such as those mentioned, but also including: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, The Miracle Season, Bird Box, Wonder Woman, Mary Poppins Returns, and the soon to be released Unplanned, the true life story of planned parenthood director become pro-life advocate, Abbey Johnson.
by Sr Nancy Usselmann, FSP
Director of Pauline Center for Media Studies