10 Must-Watch Films About Identity & Survival

10 Must-Watch Films About Identity & Survival

"Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does." ― Ingmar Bergman

A film, in its most simple form, is a story. And stories are not only a powerful mode of witness, but most importantly they are a means of showing viewers everywhere that they are not alone. Some of our most intimate and personal self-discoveries are lying in the depths of a film. As a young person who is attempting to navigate this world, themes of identity are constantly taking up space in my own life. Who am I? Who am I becoming? What is in my way and how am I to respond to these obstacles? Identity is almost becoming synonymous with survival. How are we to fight for our sense of self each day? The 10 films I have listed below respond to various intersections of identity and survival. Through watching these pieces, I hope we can all look into our own lives as a means of self-reflection… I hope we can look into our own worlds and love each other a little more.

1. Saint Laurent (2014)

Director: Jalil Lespert

Available on Netflix: Yes

A 2014 French biopic co-written and directed by Jalil Lespert, this film invites us into the world of the fabulous designer, Yves Saint Laurent. The film focusses on the designer’s life between 1967 to 1976, which coincides with the height of his illustrious fashion career. But, do not be fooled. All that glitters is not gold. The story depicted is both glamorous and tragic all at once. Told in a non-linear sequence from the point of view of Saint Laurent’s life-partner, we, as viewers, are asked to consider all of the forces, good and bad, that contributed to Saint Laurent’s life. From his identity and struggle as a gay man, his tense and complicated relationship with a mother who rejected his sexuality, the burdens of being a successful artist, to volatile romantic relationships, the world of Saint Laurent is certainly dark and hopeless at times.

But, the cinematography will give you life for days! The colors are incredible. Also, each fashion collection serves as an extension of narrative content, as each seems to contribute to specific emotional moments in Saint Laurent’s life and career, blurring the lines between fashion, vulnerability, identity, and loneliness. A. O. Scott of The New York Times put it perfectly: by the end of the film “you’re not sure if you’ve witnessed a tragedy in the guise of a fashion show, or the reverse.”

2. Belle ( 2013)

Director: Amma Asante

A 2013 British period drama directed by Amma Asante, and written by Misan Sagay, this film was inspired by a 1979 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle beside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray(see painting below).

Little is known about the historical Belle, with the exception that she was born in the West Indies, she was the great-niece of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield(then Lord Chief Justice of England), and finally she was the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Mansfield’s nephew. This fictional film aims to unfold her story: In the movie, Belle is found living in poverty by her father and entrusted to the care of Mansfield and his wife. The family welcomes her with open arms, but much of the film is about Belle’s struggle to embrace and understand her Black heritage. She lives her life as a white woman, but is often confused and frustrated when she is not received or seen as white in white spaces. This very tension becomes the heart of the film, and asks us to consider the power of presentation, the dangers and freedoms that come with re-imaging ourselves, and the political consequences of loving ourselves.

3. Pariah (2011)

Director: Dee Rees

Available on Netflix: Yes

A 2011 American art drama written and directed by Dee Rees, Pariah tells the story of Alike, a Black teenager coming to terms with her identity as a lesbian. The film was premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and was awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award. But most importantly, this film is a celebration of sexuality, of gender, and of freedom. Though we see Alike struggle at being honest with herself, her family, and those around her, this film does offer us some light. It shows us that we can be the catalysts for our own freedom. Believe me when I say that this story will change your life, and you’ll be listening to the soundtrack for days on end!

4. Youtube Series: Strolling/Flaner/Wandelen

Director: Cecile Emeke

Cecile Emeke is a director, writer, & artist based in London, England. Born to Caribbean parents, she is very interested in the many stories of Blacks across the African diaspora. She is most known for her global online documentary series entitled "Strolling", "Flaner"(French for strolling), and "Wandelen", in which she interviews men and women of color throughout England, France, and the Netherlands. She focuses on themes of race, diaspora, identity, feminism, love, loneliness, and joy in the context of Black and brown bodies. The series is beyond amazing, and truly lets you into the daily lives of Black people around the world. Emeke’s series is a testament to the fact that the stories of Black people everywhere are not a monolith, and they need to be heard!

Emeke's work has been featured everywhere from the New York Times, The Washington Post, Ebony Magazine, Fader, Nylon, Dazed, Afropunk, Okay Africa to The Tribeca Film Festival.

5. Violette (2013)

Director: Martin Provost

Available on Netflix: Yes

A 2013 biographical film written and directed by Martin Provost, this film sheds light on the story of the French novelist, Violette Leduc. A contemporary of French writers like Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, and Albert Camus, the story unfolds Leduc’s relationships with many of these writers, as well as her own struggles as a writer and a human being. Born an illegitimate child, fictional Violette certainly is made to feel the brunt of a mother’s scorn and disappointment, and her future relationships with men and women continue to cause her much sorrow, as she feels she will never be loved. As her own writing grows in popularity and influence, Violette continues to discover that her art, her success, will not bring her the love that she searches for. Both devastating and lovely to watch, this film will have you laughing and crying all at once.

6. About Elly (2009)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

I literally have no words. Your heart will race throughout the duration of the film. You will think about family, and love, and loss, and breaking points. Just watch it. If I say anything I may just ruin the urgency of the story.

7. Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (2004)

Director: Zana Briski & Ross Kaufmann

Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids is a 2004 Indian-American documentary film about the children of prostitutes in Sonagachi, Kolkata's red light district. The widely acclaimed film, written and directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, won a string of accolades including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2004. Both heartbreaking and full of light, the film will open up, for viewers, new notions of survival and childhood.

8.Tsotsi (2005)

Director: Gavin Hood

Available on Netflix: Yes

A 2005 film directed by Gavin Hood and produced by Peter Fudakowski, it is an adaptation of the novel Tsotsi, by Athol Fugardand. Set in an Alexandra slum, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film tells the story of Tsotsi, a young street thug who steals a car only to discover a baby in the back seat. The film highlights South Africa’s violent and complicated history with race, class, and colonialism, and as we see Tsotsi struggle to hide and care for a child who is not his, we begin to ask ourselves what kinds of transformations are waiting to be realized within our own lives and the world around us?

9. Everything Must Go (2010)

Director: Dan Rush

A 2010 American comedy-drama film directed by Dan Rush and starring Will Ferrell, this film is inspired by Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?" A great majority of the narrative takes place on the protagonist, Nick Halsey’s, small front-yard. Nick has been suffering from alcoholism for a long time, and has just been fired from his job of 16 years because of a drinking incident. His wife has had enough so she leaves him, changes the locks on the doors of their home, and blocks him from their joint checking account. Nick, at his wit’s end, survives for weeks on his lawn, and begins to develop deep relationships with a young neighborhood boy who tries to help him, as well as an unhappy neighbor who is pregnant and dealing with a disengaged husband. For weeks, Nick has to face himself and those around him with honest and frightening clarity. Some may call this a mid-life crisis, and others, a reawakening.

10. Raise The Red Lantern (1991)

Director: Zhang Yimou

Adapted from Su Tong’s 1990 novel, Wives and Concubines, this film tells the story of a young woman, Songlian, who becomes one of the concubines of a wealthy man during the Warlord Era in 1920s-China. Songlian, whose father has recently died and left the family bankrupt, marries into the wealthy Chen family, becoming the third concubine or, as she is referred to, the Fourth Mistress. This is a story about what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. As Songlian navigates her new “home”, and forms relationships with the other women-mistresses, she discovers themes of self-worth, she discovers what her body means in this world, and she learns that life as she knew it will never be the same. She must create a new-self if she is to survive in this strange and lonely place.

Cover Image Credit: www.blackenterprise.com

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To the guy that shot my brother...


To the guy that shot my brother,

On January 9, 2019 my families entire life changed with one phone call. The phone call that my little brother had been shot in the face, no other details. We didn't need any other details. The woman on the phone who called us in full panic told us where he was so we went, as soon as possible. I don't think it helped that not even 10 min prior I talked to Zach on the phone.. kind of irritated with him, and the ONE TIME I didn't say 'I love you' as we hung up. Could've been the last time we ever spoke.. I remember pulling up to the hospital thinking 'this can't be real' 'it's not our Zach' 'this is just a dream Sarah, WAKE UP' I'd close my eyes really tight just to open them, I was still in the hospital emergency parking lot. I could still hear the ambulance sirens coming. It was all real.

The day our life's changed was definitely a test of faith. A test of how strong we were, as a family. I sat in that waiting room ready to see the damage that has been done to my sweet baby brother. Because at that point we had no idea how lucky he got. That glimpse of seeing Zach will haunt me forever. How helpless I felt in that exact moment frequently wakes me up from these horrific dreams I've been having ever since that day. That is a moment burned into my me and families brain forever.

You always hear about these things in the movies or on the news, a house being shot up, someone shooting another innocent person, not to care if they died on your watch. But we found ourselves on the news.. We have been confined to the hospital since that day. Running on barely any sleep, taking shifts of sleep so we don't make ourselves sick taking care of Zach. Watching him suffer. Undergoing surgeries, to repair the damage you did.

Before I proceed let me tell you a little something about the man you shot.

Zachary Keith Wright. A blonde hair blue eyed boy. Who could potentially be the most annoying human on the planet (possibly coming from his sister). A man who loves his God first, loves his family second. Perfect by no means, but almost perfect to me. A 19 year old who was to graduate high school this month. After graduation he was prepping to leave for Marine boot camp in the summer.. being in the military has been Zach's dream since he could talk. Literally. Running around, playing war with underwear on our heads, and finger guns. Some would say we looked like natural born assassins.. growing up he has been a country boy. Let me tell ya country to the core. He loves this country like he loves his family. He believes in helping people, taking charge in what's right, and never leaving a brother behind. He's lived by that his whole life. Until now....

The day you shot him. The day not only did you change my brothers life, you changed his families life too. The day you almost ripped my brother out of this world... for what? A misunderstanding? Because you've let something take ahold of your life that you can't let go you're willing to kill someone innocent over? Luckily for him, his guardian angels were protecting him in your time of cowardice. There were 3 times that day he should've died, the time you shot him, the time you tried to shoot him again as he stared you directly in the face, (even tho he couldn't talk I know you could read his eyes, and he still intimidated you. That's why you tried to pull the trigger again) and the time he was running out of the house. But he lived. A man who was shot in the face, didn't lay there helpless, didn't scream in agony. That MAN walked to the neighbors to get help. Why? Because he's a MAN, and because he's on this earth for a reason.

It's gonna sound a little strange not only to you, but the audience who is reading this. I must say thank you. Even in this situation, this was the best outcome we could get. He gets to live. He will make a full recovery. He will graduate. And he will go off into the Marines. You united my family together. Closer than ever. Thank you. You tested our faith and brought us closer to our God. Thank you. Because of your moment of weakness, you showed us what prayer could do. Heal anything. Thank you. This was a bump in the road, and a helluva way to kick off our year of 2019. But here we are.. all laying in the hospital. I'm looking around as mom is sleeping in her recliner chair exhasted but still here, Zach his awake playing his xbox all hooked up to machines, fighting to heal and get better. And of course I'm writing this letter to you.

See you in trial,

From the girl whose brother you shot.

'Fight the good fight' - 1 Tim 6:12 🤟🏼💙

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