Archive for the ‘Family’ Category


Skin Deep

August 23, 2011

Skin (2008) is the true life story of Sandra Laing, a black girl who was born to white Afrikaner parents in Apartheid era South Africa.  The film tells the story of Sandra’s struggle with identity largely during her adolescent and young adult years.  Raised with her older brother (whose skin is white) Sandra believes that she is white but is subject to the cruel punishment and belittlement of her school peers and teachers who see her as a kaffir.  Sandra’s confusion and her parents’ tireless attempts to prove that she is indeed white lands their unique case at the highest levels of the South African courts.  After testimony from genetics experts and observations of her ethnic features by “doctors” Sandra is legally classified as white and bounces off into the sunset with her blonde haired, blue eyed doll that she values so much.

Of course life is not happily ever after for the family as Sandra’s skin continues to divide her community.  Sandra is an oddity in her dating years.  A novelty for the Afrikaner whites and intriguing to the Swaziland natives Sandra must decide what side of the love fence feels most genuine to her peaking sexual identity.  Sandra’s decision also divides her family wherein her father, a staunch supporter of the Apartheid government, disowns her when Sandra becomes pregnant by a black man. Sandra’s mother, also a supporter of the government (albeit torn by the love for her daughter) too distances herself.  It is when Sandra rears her children that she legally reclassifies herself as black for fear of losing them.

This film is an ironic take on the story of the tragic mulatto.  Sandra is not of mixed race blood but as far as everyone else is concerned it is perception that matters.  There are some hard to watch scenes in the film where she uses bleaches and creams to lighten her features because of her confusion.  Sandra hates her black skin and yet she is not black.  But she is black.  But she isn’t black.  Get the picture?  This film will appeal to brown people who have ever developed a mental condition about being  “light-skinned” or white people who’ve developed a mental condition about their “olive” features.  Skin is not just skin here.  3 Siggies.



Feel Good Flick of the (Birth)Day

October 6, 2009
If it makes you feel good do it

If it makes you feel good do it

28 years ago today the stars aligned, the seas roared, and this cinephile made her entrance into the world.  Birthdays always put me in a festive mood and in celebration of this occasion I offer you one of my most fave go-to films for a quick pick-me-up: John Waters’ Hairspray.

Hairspray (I have an affinity towards the 2007 version but am a true 80s baby and therefore honor the original ) is the story of integration in 1962 Baltimore set to dance and high school high jinks.  Leading the way is the pluckily plump teenager Tracy Turnblad who, upon discovering that her Black friends are talented booty shakers and bee-boppers, shakes up race relations (pardon the pun)  in an attempt to integrate the popular “Corny Collins” dance show.  What follows are upbeat dance sequences that bemoan segregation and celebrate individuality.  Yes and yes!

The inner fat girl of childhood’s past and the dancing machine I’ve become (thanks, New Orleans!) love watching this film over and over.  Much like my favorite train-wreck-of-a-film, Showgirls, once I start watching I just cant stop!  So be well today and throw in a jazzy dance step or two just for good measure!  If it makes you feel good do it!

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‘America’ Takes on the Foster Care System

March 5, 2009


Someone to Love

Someone to Love

Last night Lifetime Television aired an encore presentation of its original movie, America, a story of a teenaged youth caught in the web of the foster care system.  Based on the book “America” by E.R. Frank and executive produced by Rosie O’Donnell, America gives a voice to the hundreds of thousand children who slip between the cracks of broken homes and find themselves in search of self, home, and family.

The story opens with an emotionally withdrawn America (Philip Johnson) arriving at a Michigan residential treatment facility where he meets and gradually develops a relationship with his psychiatrist, Dr. Maureen Brennan (O’Donnell).  Skeptical of his peers and other adults, America is  resistant to opening up about his past and participating in team-building activities with the other residents.  His  reasoning is portrayed  through a series a flashbacks  in which we come to see that America has been twice abandoned; first by his birth mother, a drug addict, and then by his original foster parents, who rejected him on the basis of his skin color.  

At the center of America’s crisis is his relationship with his favored foster mother, Mrs. Harper (Ruby Dee) and her brother, Reggie (Tim Rhoze).  Supportive and nurturing, Mrs. Harper shows America an unconditional love that he did not receive with his mother and offers to become his adoptive mother.  However, after a failed reunification attempt with his birth mother and a subsequent return to Mrs. Harper’s home, America becomes a victim of child molestation at the hands of Reggie.  His abuse lasts for 6 years eventually causing him to run away, self-medicate through alcohol (introduced to him by his abuser), and attempt suicide.  As America reveals the truth of his painful past in therapy and makes amends with Mrs. Harper he is able to let down his guard and begin to trust once more. 



America’s story is all too familiar to those who know the ins and outs of the foster care system in this country.  Though Mrs. Harper’s certainly do exist in great numbers they pale in comparison to the number of homes where neglect, substance dependency, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse abound.  Regrettably, in situations like these where the children have no voice emotions are oftentimes displayed through negative behaviors, coping mechanisms, and belief systems that make their navigation through the foster and residential care systems much more difficult.  What happens when once-trusted adults are no longer trustworthy?  Very few foster youth are adopted and become a part of a fragmented system that offers a temporary fix from family-to-family, social worker-to-social worker, until ultimately, the youth “ages-out” of the system and is left to care for self while jobless, homeless, and clueless.  There is more work to do.  

America brilliantly illustrates the dynamics between a therapist and client.   A social worker, I identified most with Rosie O’Donnell’s character who draws America in through a delicate push-pull balance of compassion and challenge.  She comes down to America’s level and is able to connect with him through his recreational interests while at the same time giving just enough tidbits of guidance to draw him closer to self-discovery.  I’ve found that some of my best work with clients came outside of the office where I had to use creativity and spontaneity to facilitate the soul-searching process.  Well done.   And though I found it difficult at times to focus the message rather than the artistic merits of the film (Johnson overacted a bit too much for my taste- but hey, it is a Lifetime movie), I give America 4 Siggy’s for its realistic portrayal of the experiences of foster youth and guided discovery in the therapeutic process.   

For another great big screen depiction of foster youth and the power of therapy be sure to check out Denzel Washington’s directorial debut in Antwone Fisher.



Sean Penn+Baby Voice= Milk Oscar Buzz?

December 6, 2008


Just give him the Oscar nom already.  I swear, no actor portrays a babyish innocence like Sean Penn.  As I sat through what was his whimsically passionate portrayal of  Harvey Milk in Milk I could not help but think that I’d seen this vulnerable, “goo-goo gaa-gaa” performance before in I Am Sam.  What a wuss!  I say this not at all in a demeaning sense but rather  in awe at how Penn effortlessly makes you believe that you aren’t watching him act for two hours- he just is.


Though I knew very little about the life of Harvey Milk (and even littler about George Moscone) I knew I was in store for a two-hour saga that would surely cause the tears to well up- and did they ever.  For the record I enjoyed Milk because of it’s political relevance. To be sure, it’s eerie at how the whole art- imitating-life-imitating-art phenomena rings true 30 years later in the era of Proposition 8.   Thus, I was quite intrigued at director Gus Van Sant’s chronicling of 1978’s Proposition 6- the initiative that sought to ban gays and lesbians from teaching in public school.  And then there was Anita Bryant.  You silly rabbit.


Not to be outdone the supporting cast too deserve their share of accolades.  James Franco’s acting chops have matured since his Spiderman days and he gives a sweet performance as Milk’s homie-lover-friend- to- the-end, Scott Smith.  Diego Luna also gives a powerful performance as Jack Lira, a lover with insecurities that are bone deep (almost painful to watch, really) and Emile Hirsch is solid as Cleve Jones, Milk’s friend and fellow defender of gay rights.  Josh Brolin rounds out the supporting cast as the troubled Dan White, San Franciso supervisor and assassin.


So why should you see this movie?  If not for Sean Penn then see it for the cinematography.  I still don’t know  which scenes were authentic news footage  and which were shot to look that way.  I don’t think I even want to know.  For 128 minutes I felt as if I were living in the Castro district rather than seeing the movie just a few short blocks away from it.  See the movie for it’s messages about tolerance, too.  Milk’s tagline reads “Never blend in”.  Who can argue with that?



November 21, 2008


Follow that Bird was the first bootleg movie that I ever owned.  Before hustlers got enough gall to take camcorders into movie theaters there was VCR recording from television. I didn’t know any better in 1985 but was I ever thankful for learning that little trick.  You’ll never find me purchasing a copy of Maximum Overdrive any time soon!

Follow that Bird is the story of Big Bird’s cross-country journey back to Sesame Street after a group of social workers determine that he would be more comfortable living with a family of birds.    Miss Finch, the placing worker and a bird herself,  paints a lavish picture of Big Bird flourishing in a home with a feathered mother, father, and siblings that can better appreciate him in all of his birdly glory.  Initially excited about the possibility of leading a new life-though to the dismay of his friends- Big Bird half-heartedly agrees that leaving is the best option and parts ways with Oscar, Cookie, Grover, and his human friends on Sesame Street for new adventures.

Lest I spoil the other plot twists that lie ahead Big Bird later discovers that all that glitters is not gold.  His new parents’ style of parenting is not even close to providing the love and attention that he received on Sesame Street and life in the house becomes unbearable.  As Big Bird escapes and makes his way back home his Sesame Street friends set out on their own journey to find him.

Awww…can’t you just feel the love?  Even as a four-year-old I could tell you that the moral of Bird is that people-or muppets for that matter- don’t have to be of the same species to be considered a family.  Cookie Monsters and Grouches can live together as quarreling cousins and humans can adopt Big Birds as sons or daughters.  Come to think of it, is Big Bird a boy or a girl?


The subtle and negative messages about “meddling social workers” notwithstanding, Follow that Bird is a winner because it redefines family.  Leave it to Sesame Street to teach messages about tolerance.  Though Miss Finch and her cohorts theorized that Big Bird would be better off with his (her?) own kind they find that the best home is the one where love is taught even if between species.  One can not help but liken this film to today’s political climate where same sex couples are prohibited from adopting.  There are thousands of children who are waiting for someone to simply validate their existence, much less love them, and who would ever want to deny that?  Big Bird didn’t care if s/he had a human mother figure and a Count for a brother.  The need for love and acceptance was all that mattered.  It really makes you think.  How would Big Bird vote?