Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision

What I liked best about his film was the personal development we saw as the artist Maya transitioned from a 20 year old Yale graduate to a confident self-assured artist and humanitarian.  Maya said that her parents expected her to do something in life that she felt was important and not to be driven by monetary gain.  To me, this signified that they wanted her to fulfill her divine destiny.  My father once told me, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.  I think we should all find out what our unique gifts are and begin putting them to use right away.  Maya was very focused on highlighting people and not politics.  She strayed from using military icons in her pieces and had a unique view that defense should be used, but in a way that preserves the Earth.

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Ai Wei Wei – Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei is an inspirational Chinese artist and activist.  He challenges China’s strict censorship and expresses himself using social media to organize people, which is a very powerful influence to have.  Chinese authorities have shut down his social media sites, destroyed his art studio, held him in secret and even beat him so severely he required surgery to recover.

Ai had drawn attention to himself after researching and posting the names of student victims of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008.   His art exhibits themselves challenge and expose the corruption of the Chinese government but he is relentless to make his voice heard despite the many consequences he suffers.  He did an exhibit with backpacks representing the number of students lives lost in the earthquake.  It was profound to see how many there were.

One of my favorite things Ai said is, “I guess to be great, you have to be vulnerable”.  Ai didn’t feel great and he certainly didn’t live a great life, one we may associate with the privileges or luxuries of wealth and celebrity status.   But that is not what he was living for.  He was all about fighting the oppression of people in China, and exposing the government.  And that is exactly what he spends his life doing.  Perhaps he doesn’t yet feel great but he sure did start something great that is bigger than himself.

“If there is no free speech, every life has been lived in vain”. -Ai WeiWei

100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice

This week I attended the Ca American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival right here on our campus.  I attended the very first show on the very first night.  The festival opened with a film titled, 100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice.  It was a true story about a remarkable woman named, Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet warrior from Montana.  Cobell studied accounting in college, opened a credit union for Native Americans enabling them to take out home loans, and served as treasurer of her tribe.  As treasurer, she discovered that money was unaccounted for by the government.  The government had erected oil pumps on the native peoples land and promised to manage their trust accounts.  What ended up happening was the mismanagement of the money earned.  The native people were not receiving their fair share.  What they did get was little to nothing.  Cobell decided this was worth the fight.  She filed the largest lawsuit against the US government – and won!  After she spent 30 years defending 300,00 Native Americans, she was successful in getting monies allocated back to the Native Americans whose mineral rich land had been exploited.  The sad part in this movie is that Cobell passed away before the checks were issued, so she never saw her share.  However, I do recall her saying in the movie that what keeps her going strong in fighting is remembering all the people who she is fighting for, especially the elderly that pass away before she can get their monies due to them.  Sadly, she was one of those people.  The bright side is that all her efforts did pay off and she will be remembered as a legend in Native American history.

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The Saphires

In this film, two sisters and a cousin form a singing group named, The Saphires, and travel to Vietnam to entertain our troops on deployment.  They were eager to go for the experience and the $30.00 a week in earnings.

The most memorable part of this movie to me was the character Kay, who is the cousin.  Kay is very lighted skinned in comparison to her cousins and at a very young age she had been taken from the family and put into a government institution (school) where she was white washed with the promise of a life filled with better opportunities.  I had not known of this practice prior to watching this film and it is alarming to learn that families were torn apart in such a tragic manner.  What was even more surprising to one is that, in a scene where we revisit a childhood memory of the girls, Kay returns home for a visit and is remarkably rude and self-righteous.  She feels superior to her cousins and looks down upon them.  Unfortunately, the white washing was successful.  I would have liked to have seen Kay return with a heart that yearned to reunite with her loved ones.  I was surprised at her coldness towards her relatives.  She didn’t seem to miss them at all.

Whale Rider

A poignant film about gender and tradition, Whale Rider focuses in on a Moari family in New Zealand.  Coming from a long line of chiefs, Koro is desperate to find a new leader for the Moari people as he is in his senior years.  Unfortunately, when his son’s wife gives birth to twins, she passes away as well as a male twin leaving only one surviving baby – a female named Paikea Apiriana.

Pai is raised by her grandparents as her father is traveling as an artist.  She yearns to fulfill her grandfather’s emptiness in his search for the next chief in the neighborhood boys.  Pai is continually cast out by Koro who sees only a girl, and not the potential within her.  Desperate to participate in Koro’s school for boys, Pai turns to her uncle for instruction in training to be a leader.  She is very bright and demonstrated a great deal of potential.  She is eager to win the affections and approval of her grandfather, but he continually dismisses her.  Anytime she inserts herself to be helpful, she is criticized.  Until one dark day when Koro finds a pod of beached whales on the shore. Pai believes they are her ancestors who came in response to her chants and cries.  She immediately recognizes that it was wrong of her to call them.  Her grandfather is unsuccessful at his attempts to push the whale with the tide back into the ocean.  Pai steps in to try her way.  She climbs on top of the whale and positions herself as a rider.  She speaks to the whale with hope and encouragement.  The whale responds and she rides it into the deep sea.

The meaning I took from this film is that sometimes to move forward, you have to divert from the past.  I very much value honoring cultural traditions, but when change comes and looks you in the face, there is no denying it.  I think that Koro was too set on doing things his way, the right way, the traditional way which worked for their ancestors.  But he just could’t force it to happen.  This was demonstrated in the analogy he made with the rope, saying that each strand represented an ancestor and together they were strong.  Then, twice in the film we see the a rope break, symbolizing old ways were no longer effective today.  Koro was blessed with a granddaughter, and in the end, finally valued her for who she was and not who she wasn’t.

Smoke Signals

Victor and Thomas are two teenage Native-America boys that are a unique set of friends.   Victor’s father, Arnold had rescued Thomas from a house fire when he was just a baby, making him a hero to Thomas.  Victor did not admire his father and only saw him as a violent drunk who abandoned him.  The two boys set out on a trip to Arizona to collect the ashes of Arnold.  During this trip Victor relives painful memories of his father through flashbacks while having to listen to Thomas tell stories of him with fondness.

Once in Arizona, the two boys meet and speak with  woman named Suzy who tells them that Arnold had been drunk when he set off fireworks that led to the fire that engulfed Thomas’s home and family.  Thomas begins to understand Victor’s anger towards his father and Victor also becomes more understanding of Thomas and his feelings for Arnold.  My favorite line in this movie, is the last line, “If we forgive our fathers, what do we have left.”  This was significant to me because I can identify with the lifelong toil of “why’s” associated with an absent parent.  I feel as if this pain and passion creates a desire to seek understanding of others with empathy and compassion.  We can be less forgiving of our parents as flawed humans because we rely on them and need them to be so much more.  We can live our entire lives seeking answers and finding the ability to forgive through understanding, but then, will we loose our fire for life?

Billy Elliot

Billy is a very driven eleven year old boy who not only knows what he wants to do in life, but also knows how to assert himself and stand up for himself.  Billy loves to dance and has begun spending his football allowance on ballet classes. I loved the soundtrack that played, “You won’t fool the children of the revolution”, foreshadowing that Billy would be a pioneer in how we see gender in dance, specifically ballet.

Billy’s dance teacher shared a story with him about a woman who was forced to be a swan and was only freed a few hours a night.  She could only be permanently freed by her true love, who unfortunately never rescues her.  Then later, when Billy is auditioning for ballet school, he is asked what it feels like when he is dancing.  He replies that he feels like a bird, or electricity, and he disappears.  At this point I saw Billy as the swan in transformation.  Then, at the end of the film, when Billy is performing in a professional ballet with his family in the audience, I see Billy as the freed swan, supported by the love of his family.  The most beautiful thing about watching Billy’s transformation in finding himself is that everyone around him transformed as well, his transformation didn’t stop with him.