Residing in the heart of my hometown in the Philippines and sandwiched between street vendors and stationery stores was Reel World, my father’s old VHS rental shop, a local counterpart to the American Blockbuster, but much more modest. I remember the satisfaction of hearing the click of a VHS tape rewinder signaling that a movie was ready. We looked forward to the weeks when Dad enjoyed new movies, easily seen by customers who walked in. In the shop there were brightly colored wall posters of a film by Robin Williams or Julia Roberts, one of Peak hour movies and, of course, Titanic.
My family’s devotion to movies lasted longer than Reel World’s three years. My brother is a film critic and animator today. In addition to my occasional film viewing, I enjoy engaging with film from a spiritual and philosophical perspective, locating themes beneath the overall plot. This, for me, was a source of pleasure and comfort. Since the pandemic, the film has offered short-lived but substantial escapes while surviving a tumultuous and ever-changing world.
There has been a surge of artists and storytellers – filmmakers included – creating and performing at the forefront of liberation work. Films, music, zines, poetry collections, anthologies, art galleries and other artistic expressions are emblems that reflect truths about us. This includes our colonial history and the current reality of racial inequality and injustice. In a lecture titled “The Artist’s Struggle for Integritysays James Baldwin, “Poets (by which I mean all artists) are ultimately the only people who know the truth about us. Not the soldiers. Statesmen do not.
At the same time, the artist can be the one who incites the desire for social change inherent in the community but most often repressed. As much as artists reflect who we are as a society, they are the ones who encourage us to imagine and co-create a better world. They shape us as much as they reflect us, which is why artists and storytellers have not only been among the most powerful agents of change since the dawn of time, but are also the most threatening to state power. . It makes sense why books exposing and challenging fascist regimes are burned, protest songs are prohibitedand that freedom of expression and of the press is threatened and censored when they question and criticize government leadership.
The film is also nuanced. The industry has a long history of arming the state to manipulate the public about militarism and the federal government, work directly with industry to romanticize their businesses while covering up human rights abuses, war crimes, etc. white counterparts. If you remember the movie posters I listed earlier in Reel World, you may have noticed the predominantly white casts of these films. The store rarely advertised Filipino films, even though it was based in the Philippines. American stories have eclipsed ours, and white actors and creators have always been hyper-visible in performance and production areas all over the world. Among these are also the underpinnings of oppression in Hollywood, profiting from minstrelsy, racism, homophobia, transphobia, grossophobia and ableism.
The film can be a beacon to identify who and where we are, while inspiring us to where we might go.
At the same time, we recognize that the world of cinema has given us Black Panther. This story changed the course of superhero genres with an African hero-king guided and defended by female warriors, set in an African utopia untouched by colonization. Cinema has also brought us the critical imagination of Bong Joon-ho, whose Parasite awakened us to the grotesque realities of capitalism. It showed the stark divide between rich and poor, regardless of physical proximity. For me, the most recent film that I find formative is Everything everywhere all at once. As a child of the diaspora, the film pushed me to foster compassion for my intergenerational relationships. But what was so powerful about Everything everywhere all at once was that it had a specificity: what might reconciliation and healing between intergenerational relationships look like in the experience of immigrants and, more specifically, of Asian families in the diaspora?
In my clinical work, a number of clients and I use films to make sense of their experiences. Films can provide the language to illuminate and validate a viewer’s most hidden emotions, questions, and desires, especially when words are not accessible or sufficient to express feelings. Often, traumatized people use art and storytelling to process and metabolize their experiences, as their pain is often unspeakable. Storytelling – in all its images, metaphors, movements and sounds – can be a reflection of self-understanding and a container for easing pain in times of crisis.
With this in mind, the film can be a beacon to identify who and where we are, while inspiring us to where we might go. Alternatively, film can also be a dangerous, misdirected flame that warps our conceptions and imaginations of our humanity and our socio-political conditions. But we can and should critique the literature and media content we absorb. Like any form of art and storytelling, we can allow films to relieve our nervous system while inspiring and encouraging us to move forward into a future with greater beauty, integrity and freedom.
is a psychotherapist, organizer and artist. Her work focuses on anti-colonial approaches and practices in the field of mental health. She also focuses on abolitionist organizing on a global scale. You can find most of his work on his official website, www.gabestorres.com, and on social media platforms, including Instagram.