A Wrinkle in Time Film Review

Capture

I…shouldn’t be so disappointed.  I raised my expectations WAY too high.  I mean, after an awesome trailer like this, can you really blame me?  We’ve been waiting for A Wrinkle in Time film adaptation for years, and after that kind of buildup, it’s hard not to have raised expectations.  But in my excitement, I forgot two really crucial things:

  1. A Wrinkle in Time is an incredibly hard film to adapt to film.  I thought in the advent of CGI we might be able to pull it off, but still, structurally and visually, it’s still damned hard to translate onto screen.
  2. The spiritual themes in A Wrinkle in Time were inevitably going to be diluted in a mainstream film adaptation and I shouldn’t be so crushed about it.

Let me start off by saying that the film wasn’t bad.  It was a nice little film.  It had all the charm of a Disney afternoon cartoon show.  I give it a solid B-.  But my disappointment is still very prevalent.  I’ve been mulling on the film all weekend, trying to figure out why this bums me out so much, and I think I’ve narrowed it down.

Let’s start off by talking about what I loved about the film:

  • The acting.  The casting for every single character were phenomenal choices.  I was especially impressed by Mindy Kaling, who I’d never seen in a serious role before, and Deric McCabe, the little guy who played Charles Wallace.  McCabe scared the shit out of me when Charles Wallace became under the influence of IT.  Storm Reid was a PERFECT Meg.
  • Tessering.  The way they filmed how we “tesser” was really interesting and it was a very cool special effect.
  • There was a very cool scene that tied into “A Wind in the Door”, the sequel to “A Wrinkle in Time”, where Mrs. Which explains about the darkness that has its grip on the world.  We see scenes of Meg’s bully in her room, see that she’s probably anorexic and has severe body image issues (a nice mirroring to Meg, who also has issues with how she looks), we see scenes of Mr. Jenkins, Meg’s principal, and the racism he endures at the school–which is really cool when you consider Mr. Jenkins’ arc in “A Wind in the Door”!
  • The design and costumes.  I love Mrs. Whatsit’s dress made out of sheets!
  • There’s an added bit, probably to explain why Charles Wallace is Filipino and the rest of the family isn’t about how he’s adopted.  This adds an interesting layer to Charles Wallace’s arc and his relationship with Mr. Murray.

Okay.  Now for the not so good parts.

  • The spiritual battle of good and evil in “A Wrinkle in Time” is the heart and soul of the book.  It is an overtly spiritual book with heavy Christian influences.  I understand (though I am disappointed) cutting the psalm that is sung on Uriel, I understand cutting the Scripture verses.  I do not understand completely cutting every hint of spirituality from the film.  Jesus is overtly mentioned in “A Wrinkle in Time”–as are Buddha and Mohommad.  “A Wrinkle in Time” was never safe for kids, it was never sanitized from L’Engle’s intense spirituality.  The film took nearly every challenging notion of spirituality and neutered it, in the hopes that their version won’t offend anyone.  It made me intensely tired.
  • There is a scene in the trailer where Meg and her mother explain to Calvin what a tesseract is.  Comes straight from the book.  They use a little ant toy and a string.  This scene was cut.  Why was this scene cut?  It makes me wonder what else was cut…
  • No Aunt Beast.  This was incredibly upsetting to me.  Aunt Beast had the briefest of cameos for about two seconds, which is terribly frustrating to me, because it seems like they had a REALLY COOL DESIGN for her!
  • Camazotz.  That amazingly cool scene in the trailer where you see the children bouncing the ball in eerie, syncopated rhythm?  And the mothers with perfectly coiffed hair in 50’s dresses stepping in perfect unison onto the porch?  Which also comes straight from the book?  The scene lasts about twenty seconds and then melts away into a completely different scene that…does not come from the book…and is…stupid.  I hate to be the person who harps on “IT’S NOT LIKE THE BOOK!”, but if you’re replacing the really good parts of a book with scenery chewing, then yeah, I’m going to criticize it.
  • There were way too many freaking pop songs in this film.  The only one I really liked was “Flower of the Universe” by Sade.  It was also the only one that came remotely close to matching the tone of the scene.
  • Mrs. Whatsit’s form on Uriel was…odd.  She looked like a very pretty romaine lettuce leaf.  It was a very strange choice of design that I don’t understand the reasoning for.  They have an amazing design for Aunt Beast that we only get a glimpse of, but they think the romaine lettuce leaf design was a hit?
  • There was an ultimately pointless scene where Calvin and Meg are running from the Black Thing (I think it’s the Black Thing…) and it turns into a tornado and Meg uses SCIENCE to get the tornado to toss them over the fence.  It lasted forever and I don’t understand why that stayed in the film but Aunt Beast was utterly skipped over.
  • One of the most iconic lines in the book is not in the film.  The moment where Meg is staring down IT, who tells her, “…that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.”  Meg has an epiphany, and shouts out, “No! Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”  It is…staggering that this line isn’t in the film.  Especially considering the brave and wonderful choice of casting Meg Murry as a biracial girl.  It astounded me at what a lost opportunity this was.

I think my main frustration with the film is the lost potential of it.  The film had all the ingredients it needed to be truly spectacular.  The acting was stellar, the designs (save Mrs. Whatsit’s true form) were interesting and unique, the emotionally charged moments were glorious.  I can tell Ava Duvernay put a lot of effort and heart into this.  But the film feels unfinished, as though there was executive meddling or maybe the screenplay was more of a rough draft.  The film as a whole, was unremarkable.  It was so underwhelming.

I guess I’ll have to keep waiting for my definitive Wrinkle in Time adaptation.  Too bad Miyazaki is retired.  I know he could capture its magic.

 

Advertisements

A Magic Book – Review of Rachel Held Evans’ “Inspired”

image

From 2015, when I met my favorite theology writer–she said she liked my sweater and I’m still not over it.

What can I say about this book?

I received an ARC, due to the special promotion for early preorder customers. I was one of the first 500 to provide proof of purchase. I received my copy on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day–and how appropriate!

The timing of this remarkable book is impeccable. Not long before, I stared rereading Scripture again, to try and infuse daily Scripture into my morning routine. Like I did in high school, I read one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New.

The first chapter of the Old Testament I read was from Numbers–the Israelites utterly annihilating the Midianites and being scolded for keeping the virgin women alive.  “Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:14-18

So that’s nice.

One of the reasons I always read a chapter of the OT and the NT, is because the NT is less of a giant bummer.  (And less Eleazer begat Simon who begat Melchior, etc.)  The second bit I read was from Romans–a chapter I recognized as the verses that spurred Megan Phelps-Roper to leave Christianity.  “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called,not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Romans 9:19-24

I’ll be honest.  I kind of hate this verse.  I hate any verse that tries to make me feel bad about arguing with God.  “Who are you to argue with God? Who is the clay to argue with the potter?”  Well, maybe God shouldn’t have made the clay with a conscience, with passion, with intellect, with critical thinking, with a temper if He didn’t want arguments to happen!

And then there’s that lovely “some people were created to be vessels of destruction”.  Yuck yuck yuck.  And here I was feeling so good about Lent.

Not great places to start out with Scripture.

I love Rachel Held Evans.  I discovered her in…I think 2012 or so, but I couldn’t tell you the first blogpost I ever read from her or when it was that I started following her blog religiously.  (Lol).

RHE and I have a lot in common.  We were both weird Evangelical kids that loved the Bible and were overly concerned about the state of our neighbors’ souls.  This is what happens when you put the fear of Hell in a hyper-empathetic nine-year-old’s heart, she will promptly go around to everyone she has had even the slightest interactions with and ask if they know the good news of Jesus Christ.  I was really annoying at Girl Scouts.

I got to meet RHE in 2015, when she came to speak in St. Louis.  It took about half a Guinness before I could talk to her (I clam up when meeting my heroes) but after I had a nice buzz going, she was incredibly wonderful to talk to.  She asked me how my family took my faith shift and I admitted that the faith shift was fine…it was the politics that got me ostracized.

Which should tell us a lot about the state of the church right now.

One of the most memorable parts of that conversation, for me, was when I asked her something that I’d been feeling guilty about.  I asked her if she ever missed it.  If she ever missed the Evangelical culture, with all its rules and regulations, its legalism, its doctrine, its absolute certainty that they were right and everyone else was wrong.

Her response was, “Oh my Gosh, yes! Every single day!”  Which was an intense relief.

I miss it.  I miss the feeling that I had all the answers.  I actually went to an Evangelical church this past Ash Wednesday, one I attended for a brief period of time (before the turbulent church politics made me uncomfortable and I realized that coming home angry from a sermon was not normal), because my new church didn’t have an early service.  I sat there and felt guilty for how much I missed it, how much I missed the community, and that wonderfully addicting certainty.  

It was easier.  It’s easier than arguing with people about why they should accept and affirm my LGBTQA friends.  It’s easier to stick with an Evangelical community and shun everyone else.  It’s easier to think I had all the answers, rather than believe that maybe God wants me to grapple with things a little bit.

I was taught one way to relate to God and one way to interpret God’s word.  So it’s very hard to learn to love the Bible a new way–a way that my upbringing taught me was straying from Christianity.

So thank God for this book. Thank God for a book that assured me that truth didn’t have to be literal. Thank God for a book that captured the magic of Scripture and encouraged me to wrestle with the things that trouble me. Thank God for a book that doesn’t explain away the genocide, that doesn’t hand wave some of the more dick-ish things Paul had to say. Thank God for a book that actually helped me reconcile with Paul and appreciate him.

Thank God for this book. RHE’s research is meticulous, she takes care to include theology from people who are not white straight men, and she even gets a little creative–with everything from short stories to screenplays to poetry. In that sense, she encourages me to be a little creative with my faith too.

I know mine is only the ARC and this book may go through some changes by June. But the post-Evangelical–the Exvangelicals, we might say–are in for a treat, especially if they’re like me. Someone who misses the environment but not the suffocation of Evangelicalism. Someone who badly wants to love the Bible and God again, but doesn’t know how to anymore.

The Graduate

Image may contain: 1 person, hat and close-up

So, I graduated.

My undergrad, specifically.  I now have a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis.  I started college (not WUSTL) in the fall of 2008 and I finished in the fall of 2017.

It should’ve taken 4.  It took 9.

It took me a really long time to be excited about my graduation.  I think it was only when I was literally in line for the registration the day of, bedecked in my cap and gown, when I finally started to look forward to it.  For months, I’ve asked myself why I wasn’t excited about this.  My friends were excited for it.  My friends were proud of me.  Everyone said I should be proud.  Everyone STILL says I should be proud.

A friend of mine congratulated me over the weekend and my immediate response was to tell her that I was graduating from night school, as if that was less of an accomplishment.  I received dirty looks from my roommate for this.

Why am I not proud of this?  I know logically I should be.  I didn’t give up.  My roommate gave me a little pin to commemorate this:  Nevertheless, she persisted.  That resonated and actually brought me to tears.  I persisted.  If God gave me one thing, it was stubbornness, and I stubbornly refused to stop until someone gave me the degree I rightfully worked for.

Why can’t I summon pride for this?  Is it because of insecurity, this absurd feeling that I should be at the level of my peers?  I should be in a Master’s degree program by now.  I should have FINISHED a Master’s degree program by now, and be looking at the PhD program.  What timeline am I working under?  There is not a deadline for collegiate accomplishments.  My high school guidance counselor got his PhD in his 50’s.  My mother got her undergraduate in her late 40’s.  Why have I set myself this standard?  Why can’t I accept that my route was a little tricky, through no fault of my own?

I had to drop out.  I had to leave my university, get a job, pay off a debt (that was not my fault), and basically start all over.

I did everything I possibly could to remain academically active.  I couldn’t enroll officially at WUSTL until my outstanding balance of $6,000 was paid to BSU–but I could still take classes.  And I did.  I submitted papers to two conferences, I got to present.  I did that while working full-time.  And when I finally paid off the hold, when BSU finally released my transcripts, I enrolled officially at WUSTL.

There’s something about working full-time that puts academics into perspective.  There were times when I was working two jobs while still maintaining a high grade point average.  I spent my entire time at WUSTL being terrified of slipping into another depressive bout, like I had at WWU and BSU.  And in all honestly, there were many times where I DID–but somehow, this time, thank God, it didn’t affect my schoolwork.  (It affected other areas of my life, but at least my GPA didn’t suffer this time.)

When I worked at a hotel on the weekends and weekday evenings, I would do homework in the back–write a page, do a load of laundry, fold a load of laundry, repeat.  On my 2016 trip to England, I finished my final paper for my “Critical Research Writing” class at Heathrow airport, while waiting for my flight.  At that same trip, I arranged an independent study with WUSTL’s bemused approval, where I got to peruse and research C.S. Lewis’ manuscripts and journals at the Oxford Bodleian Library–and write a 25 page paper that fall semester.  I worked my butt off to get good grades, to create special and challenging projects for myself, to make up for the time I lost.

But there are certain things I can never get back.  I was supposed to graduate from BSU in 2012.  My grandfather was supposed to see me graduate–graduate from the same school his wife did.  He passed away in 2014.  He never got to see me walk.  That hurts more than anything else.  My mother gave me his watch, so I could have that small part of him (and believe me, you can bet that I started bawling) with me as I finally crossed the threshold.

I didn’t get to walk with my best friend and roommate.  I was supposed to graduate with her.  It was something we were supposed to do together.

I hear some people say, “I don’t believe in regrets.”  I admire the sentiment, but it’s not something I can entirely get behind.  I regret everything.  I regret so many of my choices in life–choices that hurt people, opportunities I’ve missed, experiences I’ll never get back.  I know, deep down, someday I will be comfortable with who I am and the path it’s taken me to get there.  But I’m not there yet and I don’t see that horizon anytime soon.

I think it’s okay to admit that to myself.  I think it’s okay to grieve and mourn for what I’ve missed out on.  I’m beginning to balance that with being proud that I didn’t quit–that when the going got tough, I literally got going and figured out a way to complete my education, even though it took way longer than I wanted.  Maybe I won’t be able to escape the feeling that I’ve wasted my 20’s chasing after this stupid undergrad–but maybe I can balance that with the knowledge that I still got a lot done in my 20’s.

Now, you may be asking me…what next?

I have no freaking idea.  I have vague thoughts about applying for the PhD program at WUSTL (you don’t have to have your Master’s).  I have vague plans of taking the GRE at some point.  I have vague intentions of submitting more papers to conferences.

But the only firm and resolute goal is…to finish my book revisions.

So here we go.

No automatic alt text available.

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” – A Consideration

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

When I was younger, I devoured books.  My dad didn’t allow video games, we didn’t have cable so our cartoon options were limited, and while my childhood was not entirely pre-internet, the internet was definitely not our main source of entertainment.  So I mainly read.  I reread my favorite books on my shelf, I explored my teacher’s bookshelves, I read whatever my mom gave me.  I have really fond memories of having viola practice at 4PM and when school let out at 3:15PM, sneaking into our school library (which was closed), grabbing a stack of books, and reading in a small chair that was tucked out of sight.  I had intense concentration and a very high reading speed.

Nowadays, unfortunately, my reading speed and focus have decreased.  It takes me longer to finish books and my attention span is shorter too.  Instead of reading just one book, I have to switch between two.  I’m not entirely sure why this is, though I have my suspicions that social media, flicking through web pages, and how my cell phone provides instant gratification 24 hours a day–are factors.  Books do not provide instant gratification.  They insist you stop what you are doing and immerse yourself.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the positive aspects of the internet and social media.  But I am a little disheartened at how it’s affected my reading.  I hate how I can’t just sit down and finish a book anymore.  I hate how my attention drifts–want to check my Twitter, want to check my Instagram, yadda yadda yadda.  This didn’t happen when I was younger.  Even if I didn’t like the book, it got my full attention until I finished it.  (Sidenote, this is also why I’m giving up online streaming services and social media for Lent this year…so that will be fun.)

That being said, it’s been a long time since a book has captured my interest so devotedly, that I literally couldn’t look away.  “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman did this.

It’s hard to describe what this book is about.  All I can really say is that it is a perfect fairytale.  Now, when I say “fairytale”, I do not mean a Disney story.  Disney has co-opted fairytales, and I say this as an avid Disney fan.  Fairytales were never G-rated and they weren’t even for children, necessarily.  They were dark.  They existed in the shadows between adulthood and childhood.  They frightened you with wonder.  They were meant to send lightning and ice through your blood.

This is what “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” did.  It scared me.  It made me cry for my childhood, for all the monsters that I wasn’t rescued from.  It warmed my heart, as though my mom were comforting me, giving me a snickerdoodle and a glass of milk and telling me a story to chase the nightmares away.  Such a short, extraordinary little novel.

When you read this book, there are two parts of you reading it.  As I read the book, it wasn’t just me, at 27 years old, worried about bills and groceries and other such boring tasks, reading this book.  The little 10-year-old girl with tangled brown hair, seated in a dark school library with a pile of books next to her, was reading with me.  I felt so intensely aware of her, this little child I’d done my best to ignore and suppress.

So we read together.  I was painfully aware of the awful truth of some of the words Gaiman wrote–like when the monster that called itself Ursula Monkton disguised herself as a little worm inside the main character’s foot.  She later transforms into a beautiful woman and tells the little boy, “I’ve been inside you…If you tell anybody anything, they won’t believe you. And, because I’ve been inside you, I’ll know. And I can make it so you never say anything I don’t want you to say to anybody, not ever again.”  Or: “You made my daddy hurt me!” The main character, at seven years old, screams at the monster who has intruded his life.  The monster replies, “I NEVER MADE ANY OF THEM DO ANYTHING.”

The child more easily accepted that the Hempstock’s fence needed repainting and had a full moon glowing at all times of night.  While I constantly wondered about how a pond could hold an ocean, the child nodded as though it were obvious, in the same way that she knew there were unicorns roaming the cornfields by her grandfather’s house and that there was a Bad Thing in the old dog kennel of the woods.

I thought Lettie’s sacrifice was beautiful and poignant.  The child rebelled and screamed and demanded Mr. Gaiman BRING HER BACK THIS INSTANT.  She pouted when things weren’t entirely resolved by the end, while I acknowledged that that was how life was–unresolved.

And I think that’s what this book is really and truly about.  A fairytale, that forces you to connect with that child inside you, whether you’re prepared for it or not.  The fact is, you’re never prepared for childhood or adulthood, in the same way I was never prepared for this book.

Why This Christian Watches Game of Thrones

Another day, another Evangelical blog that decries Christians enjoying something secular.  I recently stumbled upon this blogpost (on TGC, naturally) which questioned why Christians enjoy Game of Thrones.  The writer Kevin DeYoung admitted he had never watched the show and knows next to nothing about the plot.  Still, he denounced the graphic sex depected in Game of Thrones, and ends preachily remarking that he didn’t expect “strangers to the light” to be bothered by the darkness.  But conservative Christians should be bothered by the blatant indecency and immorality.

Hm.

DeYoung’s blogpost isn’t a particularly long post, but I still found myself rolling my eyes at least four times.  I’m not even going to get into how irritating it is for people to judge something they have never seen, that would take too long.

I’m also going to resist the underhanded assumption that Christians should only consume media with a giant Evangelical trademark on the cover.  As long as the story has someone vomit out I-believe-Jesus-Christ-is-the-Son-of-God-and-He-died-for-my-sins-and-through-His-death-and-resurrection-I-am-saved, that makes it a good story, right?  After all, “God’s Not Dead” was the absolute pinnacle of good writing and storytelling.

I want to talk about two things.  The first is something that Christianity taught me, which is finding the light in the darkness, rather than shutting your eyes at a Google search on the off-chance that a bad thought flutters through your head.  (DeYoung makes sure we know he didn’t actually look at any images, he JUST READ HEADLINES, OKAY.)  It’s this idea that the world is full of a lot of “immoral” and “indecent” things–but we can still see God in them.  I can enjoy Christian themes in Game of Thrones, like redemption, family, communion, love…I mean we literally have a savior character that dies and rises again, guys.  The imagery is pretty blatant.  Honestly, one of my favorite things to do is to talk about seeing Jesus in surprising places.  I could do a whole Christian symbolism series on the first season of “Once Upon A Time”.  (Don’t get me started on ranting about the show past season 3, though.)  I could talk about the clash of worldviews in “The Walking Dead”.  And oh, I could tell you SO MUCH about the spiritual themes and imagery in “Sense8”.  (I am literally writing a 15 page paper on this very subject.)

Fact is, I don’t enjoy the graphic sex in Game of Thrones.  I’ve talked a lot about how the rape scenes are gratuitous and unnecessary–as is a lot of the violence.  But DeYoung isn’t offering thoughtful criticism of this (you would have to…you know…actually WATCH the show to do that…), he’s just pulling out a Jesus stick and questioning his fellow Christians’ faith because they enjoy an HBO show about dragons.  If your criticism is only centered on “the Bible says it’s bad and look how much better I am than other peasant Christians that dare to enjoy a high fantasy show”, that’s not criticism.  That’s self-righteousness.

The second thing I want to bring up is how insanely hypocritical it is for DeYoung to be so bothered by a fictional story on television that he feels the need to write a blogpost about it, but remains relatively silent on Trump.

I spent a little time scrolling through his blogposts.  I saw the occasional transphobic and hateful words towards the LGBTQA that I usually see on TGC.  I didn’t see quite as much vehement condemnations towards our Dear Leader, however.  Why?  Why is it acceptable to talk about how transgender people and LGBTQA cannot be Christians, but only vaguely mention once that Trump’s “locker room talk” was wrong–and quickly followup with how evil Hillary Clinton is too?

So much outrage on how immoral it is to watch Game of Thrones because it has nudity and gratuitous sex, but no outrage towards Trump leering at an Irish reporter?  No outrage towards blatantly objectifying President Macron’s wife?  When he suggested that he would date his daughter if they weren’t related?  Or suggested that Khzir Khan’s wife “wasn’t allowed to speak”?  Suggesting Megyn Kelly was angry because she was menstruating?  The list goes on.  Fact is, Trump has committed more lewdness and vulgarity towards people–especially women–than Game of Thrones has in seven seasons.  But apparently criticizing Trump’s behavior is not as important as condemning the show with elves and dragons in it.

I am possibly being unfair to DeYoung.  He claims that he keeps up with politics and has strong political opinions–there may have been another medium where he has condemned Trump.

But I am sick to death of this Evangelical tendency of playing holier-than-thou when it comes to television and books while simultaneously claiming that Trump was appointed by God to lead the country.

It is bullshit.  And I hope Dracarys burns it to the ground.

May Love

Hello summer!  Here’s what I’ve been up to this month.

What I’ve Been Reading:

Rising Strong by Brene Brown.  I first learned of Brene Brown when I watched a TED talk about the strength of vulnerability.  The talk deeply moved me, so I was eager to pick up her book.  I’m enjoying “Rising Strong”, but a part of me wonders if should have started with her first two books.  This book is all about the process of getting back up again, which is pretty inspiring.  But there are things about the book that I’m not sure how to reconcile with myself.  For instance, Brene asks an important question: Do you believe that people, in general, are trying their best?  I like the idea of this question, which asks us to consider another person’s perspective and engenders kindness.  But on the other hand, I’m not sure how to utilize this question towards someone who’s hurt me.  Or someone who has abused me.  Do we think that narcissists are trying their best?  It feels like an excuse for an abuser.  But maybe I need to read along more.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.  I’ve heard about this book, which gives me mixed feelings, because I am a self-described Disney freak and I LOVE the Disney princesses.  Turns out, this book is more critiquing the Disney BRAND of “Disney Princess” rather than the princesses themselves.  And that is something that is really interesting to study.  It’s also a little eerie how this type of branding and marketing infected other kinds of toys and dolls.

Amber Brown is Not A Crayon by Paula Danziger.  I used to love the Amber Brown books.  I was introduced to them in the second grade, and they still hold up!  (I’m rereading a bunch of children’s books that I liked when I was little)  I think what most impresses me about the Amber Brown series is the subject matter.  Amber Brown deals with a lot of things–her best friend moving out, her parents’ divorce, her mom’s new boyfriend–these are pretty weighty subjects for a second grader.  At any rate, I was inspired by Amber Brown.  It was nice reading about a messy little girl in her messy little life.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.  There were a few books I remember being read to me in my third grade class.  One was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”–which surprise, surprise, I did NOT like!  (I didn’t get into Narnia until high school!)  “Trumpet of the Swan” was another one of them, and unlike LWW, I loved this book.  It was a fun reread for sure.  E.B. White is just so good at scenery and description and this book is rather progressive for something written in the 1970’s.  Nothing compares to Louis the swan’s dad swan-diving into a music store and stealing a trumpet for his son.  Even just thinking about that scene makes me laugh!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  All of the books by Gaiman that I’ve read were meant for adults–but I’ve always been curious about how he handles children’s literature.  I read “Coraline” for the first time and it was incredibly creepy.  But I don’t think it was particularly creepy for children–I actually think it’s scarier for adults.  Maybe because a lot of the danger and threats are more present and frightening to adults, whereas children just sort of take it for granted that there are creepy little doors that lead to other dimensions in their house.

The Small Rain by Madeleine L’Engle.  I love Madeleine L’Engle.  Every book I’ve read by her has moved me in a profound way.  I’m not very far into this book, but I love the lush pacing.  This book is taking its time and I really enjoy how it honors and tributes the arts.  You just see L’Engle’s palpable love for music and theater in every page.  I also get the sense that L’Engle is sort of “working out” some of the trauma she endured as a child.  I respect and relate to that.

The BFG by Roald Dahl.  Oh my gosh, the BFG!  In the fourth grade, I had a bad habit of swiping books and this was one of the books I swiped.  I clearly remember reading it on a plane while on my way to visit my Aunt Kit in Georgia.  I felt pretty vindicated for stealing a book in the same manner that the BFG stole Sophie.  Roald Dahl is always a delight to return to.

What I’ve Been Watching:

American Gods.  I’ve been pretty psyched about this amazing Neil Gaiman book becoming a television series for a while now.  And with it being headed by Bryan Fuller, I could not be more thrilled.  (It’s also a comfort that Gaiman is keeping an eye on it and offering input–he apparently threatened to walk in front of a bus when the writers tried to insert an unnecessary and out of character sex scene with Shadow)  First off, LOOK WHO THEY CAST AS SHADOW MOON!  Ricky Whittle is DELIGHTFUL as Shadow Moon.  Honestly, all of the casting is stellar and the changes they are making is really fascinating.  Highly recommend.

Anne with an E.  I was pretty apathetic about a Netflix reboot series for Anne of Green Gables–after all, what could possibly compare with the Megan Follows miniseries?  But after Sarah Bessey’s glowing review, I had to give it a shot.  And I was NOT disappointed.  First of all, how cute is their choice for Gilbert Blythe?!  How darling is this gawky skinny little Anne?  Secondly, I really love the darkness that’s added to this version.  I like the reminders that the early twentieth century was not a particularly pleasant time to live in.  I like how the characters deal with different issues–family planning, contraception, child abuse, rape, pedophilia, PTSD–the series isn’t afraid to go there, while still keeping the whimsy and beauty of Green Gables.  There are just some really great moments in this series–like the way the framed how creepy the teacher was, grooming Prissy.  Or the stranger approaching children on the train, claiming to be a friend of the family, and inviting them to go along with him.  Or how Anne disappearing into her imagination is both charming and sweet, but also a really desperate and frightening way to escape the trauma she’s endured.  Highly recommend.

The Keepers.  I have mixed feelings on real crime miniseries, like the one Netflix did on Steve Avery, “The Making of a Murderer”.  On the one hand, it’s concerning that we’re seeing these horrible events for entertainment.  On the other hand, gathering all the information and letting the court of public opinion draw their own conclusions (instead of a corrupt legal system) could be a really vital way for some people to find justice.  I dunno, I don’t have a good answer.  But if you are going to watch one, I recommend “The Keepers”.  This is no salacious treatment of a crime, but a very reflective and thoughtful series on the corruption in the Baltimore Catholic church and a really heartbreaking loss.  The way they handle it is very respectful and there are several episodes detailing what sexual abuse victims have to deal with.  But they don’t lose focus on Sister Cathy’s murder either.

That’s all for May!

The Wonder of Women – The Strength of Passionate Idealism

Last weekend, I attended a protest.  We were protesting the confederate monument in Forest Park–or rather, counter-protesting a “rally to defend American history”.  Mainly because people cannot distinguish historicizing and memorializing–the difference between learning about a shameful part of our history in a museum or education facility and honoring that shameful part of history in a public park.  But that’s another rant for another day.

There was triumph to that day, as we managed to shut down the rally.  But there was also an intense weariness to it all.  I witnessed a neo-Nazi assault a black man, one of our protesters pull the neo-Nazi off of him, and that protester got arrested.  The neo-Nazi was not arrested until he tried it a second time.  I witnessed people passing out KKK literature.  One man joked about “shooting monkeys” and then tried to deny it.  All of this occurred under the guise of patriotism and loving your country.

There was one point where I attempted to talk to someone about why we wanted the monument torn down or moved.  Somehow, the conversation moved towards Syrian refugees and I told them that I believed in open borders–that we had a responsibility to help the widows and orphans.  That there were people in need and that we can and should help them, no matter the risk.

As I said all this, there was one man who laughed at every word I said.  Every time I talked about compassion, about the bravery of kindness, about how we should help everyone we could, he scoffed and laughed at me.  I suppose what I was saying wasn’t very “America first”.  But the more I talked, the more I became infuriated and disheartened by the absolute refusal to empathize with someone who wasn’t American or Christian.  I finally snapped and yelled,

WHY DON’T YOU CARE?!”

Fast forward to last night.  My baby brother and I went and saw Wonder Woman, which was nothing short of phenomenal.  I can’t laud it enough, and I’m generally apathetic towards superhero films.  I actually got emotional during the film at odd moments–like during the Amazon battle sequence near the start of the film.  There was something intensely amazing to see all these badass women fight in a non-sexualized way.  (I SAW HAIRY ARMPITS!!!)

But I think the most powerful moment for me happened later on.  Diana is in the trenches of WWI with Steve Trevor, he’s leading her towards where they need to go.  Diana stops short, speaks with a woman, who tearfully tells her that her village has been completely razed.  Furious, Diana demands the company stop so they can rescue the village.  Steve tells her that they can’t save everyone in the war, that they have to keep moving.  Beyond the trench is No Man’s Land, where no one can escape alive.  It’s horrible, but they have to keep moving.  The practical thing is to keep moving forward and to abandon the village.

But Diana refuses.  She takes off her cape, climbs out of the trench, and starts down the path of No Man’s Land, in full Wonder Woman regalia.  She is deflecting bullets, she has her sword and shield, she is unafraid and determined, staring in the face of people trying to kill her.  Steve realizes she is taking all of the fire, and charges forward with the rest of his company.

It was around this point I started crying.

Somewhere around the time Diana was arguing with Steve that they should help the villagers, despite the foolhardly risk of it all, I immediately connected it with my conversation at the protest.  Now obviously Steve Trevor has more respect for Diana than the man who scorned my idealism, but I felt this powerful kinship with Wonder Woman in that moment.  Here was a strong, powerful, amazing woman who was arguing that no person should be sacrificed.  That EVERYONE deserved to be saved.  From the poor villagers in the film to the Syrian refugees.  That love and compassion were worth the danger.  It was this intense beautiful display of idealism and sincerity that moved me.  There was no moment where Diana learns the hard gritty truth of the world, that belief in the goodness of humanity is weakness.

Rather, there is an entire subversion of that concept.  There is a moment where Diana loses her faith midway–but it is restored in this indescribable moment of clarity and love.  There’s a moment where she’s facing down the villain who tells her that humanity does not deserve her. She says to them, “It’s not about ‘deserve’. It’s about what we believe. And I believe in love.”

There is something intensely powerful and moving to me that love and optimism are showed as strengths rather than weaknesses.  There is something deeply beautiful that Wonder Woman–who has so often been an inspiration to women–her strength comes from this passionate idealism and love for people.  And it was a comfort that my belief that we should help others–from Syrian refugees, to minorities under an oppressive system, to everyone in need–is not a weakness.  It is not a weakness to believe that we are strong by helping others.  It is not stupid or naive to believe that love for others is worth the risk.

After all, Wonder Woman’s on our side.