Another Sundance Film Festival has come and gone – but not without leaving an indelible mark on the future of diversity and inclusion in film.
From features to documentaries, many movies we watched included female directors and people of color both in front of and behind the camera, not to mention the LGBTQ and deaf communities.
While films like “CODA,” “Passing” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and documentaries like “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” and “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” might already be on film lovers’ radar, the festival offered plenty more stories that represented diverse communities.
Here’s a look at the movies still sticking with us that audiences may not have heard about yet.
‘Son of Monarchs’
Who thought a movie about the color of monarch butterfly wings could be so poignant? This film, which won the festival’s 2021 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, features a Mexican scientist grappling with latent trauma following the death of his parents in a flood during his childhood.
The spellbinding story is somewhat based on director Alexis Gambis’ life. Though he is French and Venezuelan, he was a scientist in New York during his 20s, he explained in a Q&A after the film’s premiere. People used to tell him that he didn’t look like a scientist, to which he replied, “What does a scientist look like?” We’re glad “Son of Monarchs” exists to show one doesn’t have to look like a light-skinned man in a lab coat.
‘Ma Belle, My Beauty’
A movie about queer polyamory that takes place in France immediately piqued our interest. And the alluring performances and setting kept us on the edge of our seat (and longing to hop on a plane for French bread, cheese and wine). Bertie’s (Idella Johnson) world is turned upside down by the return of her former lover Lane (Hannah Pepper), leaving both characters to confront their pasts and futures with or without the other.
The film, which won an audience award, reminds us of the power of independence, self-worth and how we get in the way of our own happiness. Johnson shines with an incredible singing voice – yes, that was her singing – and the commitment to a character giving verbal consent before a sex scene should be the standard going forward.
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‘My Name Is Pauli Murray’
Festival-goers may not have known Pauli Murray before Sundance, but they certainly will after watching this revealing documentary. Lawyer, Black activist, feminist, poet, priest – there really was nothing Murray couldn’t accomplish. She also acted as a role model for the LGBTQ community, as she was queer and non-binary.
Her work even sparked key civil rights decisions. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote “Pauli Murray” on the front cover of her first women’s rights brief before the Supreme Court to give credit for the idea she’d be arguing. Murray had, in 1965, written a law journal article positing that the 14th Amendment could be used to protect gender equality.
This “Romeo and Juliet” iteration features a Black and Latino cast and mixes Shakespeare’s text with modern text messages, not to mention Instagram DMs and FaceTiming. In a word: refreshing.
“It needed to be flipped on its head and it needed to just get a new life, and I think that we brought a new life to it with some new color, baby,” said Siddiq Saunderson, who plays Mercutio, during a live Q&A after the film’s premiere.
This documentary about a majority-Asian American high school in San Francisco and its students’ joy and pain during the college admissions process will drudge up unfortunate memories of viewers’ own high school experiences – and make adults grateful they’re not applying to college right now.
Seeing how the process affects these students is both harrowing and enlightening.
Dating before the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t great. And during the pandemic, it’s even worse. Watch the documentary “Searchers” for a look at the New York romance scene as people across ages, sexual orientations, races and genders swipe away on different dating apps.
Subjects’ commentary on their previous dating experience will make audiences chuckle, and likely consider whether they’re the villain in a bad date story themselves.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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