My husband and I enjoy going to see movies on the ‘big screen’ and consider a darkened theater the perfect spot for a date night. After an especially long week, we may look forward to a romantic comedy to provide some relief from real life stressors. However, we’re also interested in films which challenge perceptions, provoke deep conversation, and maybe even move us to positive action. Two recent movies that provided the latter effect were “Detroit” and “Wind River.”
Without giving away the plot entirely, suffice it to say that “Detroit” is a remembrance of the riots that took place exactly 50 years ago when that city burned for five days, 43 people died, 1,189 people were injured, over 7,000 were arrested and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed. Much of the movie takes place in the Algiers Motel, where three black men were murdered by police officers. The officers responsible for the killings were later acquitted.
“Wind River” was of particular interest to me, as I had listened to an interview on NPR with the director, and also having grown up in Wyoming near the Indian reservation which served as the focal point for the movie. Again, without spilling the storyline, the plot centers on the mysterious disappearances, rapes and murders of young native American women. While the movie was not based on one particular true story, a final credit flashed on the screen to bring home the point: “The FBI does not have statistics on missing Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown.”
I continue to be haunted by the movies which remind me that people of color, and people from traditions and cultures very different than my own, experience struggle and suffering in ways that I will never be able to understand or appreciate. At a time when white nationalists cry out to “take back America,” I recognize that many of my ancestors were responsible in some way for taking away the land and culture of this country from the indigenous tribes that were here long before Columbus arrived.
Similarly, I have ancestors that owned slaves who built up this country through their labor, blood, sweat, tears, and even lives. Yet generations of African Americans have been systematically denied an equal participation in the life of this country and continue to experience a different kind of economic slavery, to name just one of many injustices.
I wrestle with my privilege every day and struggle to find a positive way to use that privilege to confront the social injustices all around me. I recognize that there are no easy answers, but I pray that I will work to engage with others who share a desire to name and own up to our own complicity in injustice. May we band together in our common commitment to live out Gandhi’s truth by “being the change we wish to see in the world.”