M for Movies: make-believe that matters

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“I became an artist,” Viola Davis proclaimed during her award acceptance speech at the 2017 Oscars, “and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” And though I never took a single drama class, her words resonated with me.

I forgot that I once wanted to be an artist myself- either a creative writer or musician. But the thought of choosing the arts as a “career” conjured up pictures of low wages and endless rejections, like what Emma Stone’s character experienced in La La Land. After all, only a select few of us become celebrities, while the rest get day jobs.

Davis’ speech reminds me why we celebrate our lives through movies. For an overlooked story like Hidden Figures to capture the maximum amount of attention, it helps to present it with beautiful people in detailed costumes, speaking snappy dialogue to the soundtrack of majestic music.

The movie is the ultimate storytelling medium, compiling the efforts of cinematographers, writers, musicians, actors, designers, animators, and dancers. Since it closely reflects real life, every artist involved has a responsibility to stay true to the message and the characters’ culture. When research is done with the right input, like with Moana, the movie changes the way we look at the world and our fellow human beings. Since acting requires a certain level of empathy, it’s not a coincidence that actors like Emma Watson can be the most influential people in the world, alongside politicians and world leaders.

For most of us, the movie has become a cornerstone of communication. Together with family, friends, and coworkers, we wait breathlessly for the next Star Wars trailer, read reviews of Zootopia by critics and bloggers, listen to the Inception soundtrack, and buy Pixar merchandise for our kids. Even though we have live streaming options, we still show up to the theaters en masse.

Hollywood is such a money-making machine, there are bound to be a few expensive rotten tomatoes (ahem, Batman vs Superman) among the masterpieces. Bad ideas are just evidence that artists are still perfecting their craft or learning to work together. Sometimes heavily criticized movies can redeem themselves in some way, as Suicide Squad did by earning an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling.

Movies are biographies, mined and elevated from our history, mundane lives, and fantasies. Whether you’re making or consuming movies, you’re making choices about which stories deserve to be consumed or (re)created.

To quote La La Land, “Here’s to the ones who dream.” Here’s to the artists who persuade us to indulge in the magic of their make-believe world, who show us why their story is educational, and not merely mindless entertainment.

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.

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