Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Here are five things worth paying attention to this week. These are designed to expose you to a perspective you may not normally come across in your daily lives.
1. Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us by Timothy McMahan King. This excellent book explores the complexity of addiction from many angles. King writes out of his own experience of addiction to opioids but delves much deeper into what the current opioid crisis says about us and our culture, our history, our politics, our economy, our materialism. King’s reflection on his own addiction provides a valuable resource for each of us to examine our addictions and need for grace, which King says is “an everywhere and always-present miracle that we can choose to participate in even amid pain.”
2. Tough Gynes: Violent Women in Film as Honorary Men by Stan Goff. This book offers insights into our patriarchal culture and offers challenges to all of us, particularly men. Goff looks at nine films—including Star Wars, Alien, Silence of the Lambs and G.I. Jane—to illustrate the practice of treating equality as women becoming like men. He writes: “The violent masculinity that has underwritten the male exercise of power and which as become essential to male identity can remain intact, so long as we allow a few women…to be accepted as honorary men.” In many films, this means taking up a weapon and killing others. As a Christian and a combat veteran, Goff has incisive critiques of violence in film.
3. The Peanut Butter Falcon, directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. I just saw this feel-good movie, and while it follows some familiar tropes, it won me over. It also is more original in its casting of a man with Down Syndrome (Zack Gottsagen) in a leading role. The story tells of Zac (the name of Gottsagen’s character) running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler. He meets up with an outlaw who becomes his coach and ally. The setting in the Outer Banks of North Carolina adds to the film’s uniqueness. It emphasizes an important lesson: Treat people as unique individuals, not as a category.
4. The Last Black Man in San Francisco, directed by Joe Talbot. I was able to see this outstanding film back in June at an art cinema. If you get a chance, it’s worth seeing. It follows two best friends, Jimmie and Mont. Jimmie wants to reclaim the house he insists his grandfather built in a neighborhood in San Francisco that’s been taken over by wealthier white people. Mont, meanwhile, is taking notes for a play he is writing. The film does so many things well, both in its script and its wonderful cinematography. It offers commentary on gentrification, home ownership, toxic masculinity and navigating friendship between African-American men. The opening scene of a young African-American girl walking to school in her dress and meeting men in hazmat suits is startling and combines current reality with an apocalyptic sense of doom. And Mont’s play toward the end is a powerful statement on racist attitudes.
5. David Makes Man, created by Tarell Alvin McCraney. This drama series is showing on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and worth catching, if you can. McCraney, who cowrote the screenplay for Moonlight, sets the coming-of-age story in South Florida, where the teenage David must navigate two worlds—the projects where he lives with his mother and younger brother and the magnet school for academically gifted kids that he attends. His struggles to succeed at school in order to get out of poverty while surviving in his neighborhood with integrity are harrowing.
Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite.
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