What movies are about finding identity?
October 14, 2007 5:37 PM   Subscribe

My wife needs to find a good movie dealing with the theme of finding one's identity to use in an English 11 class (Juniors.)

She teaches in an urban high school. They just finished reading "The Color of Water, a Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother." She would like to extend the theme of "finding yourself" via exploring your past/ethnic heritage. "Roots" is obvious, but most students have seen that. She would also like to explore this from the perspective of other ethnic backgrounds. I have thought of "Joy Luck Club" or "Fiddler on the Roof." Other ideas?
posted by dgeiser13 to Education (23 answers total)
Most eleventh grade students have seen Roots, in this day and age? For some reason, I really doubt that. I made a Roots joke the other day, and a friend responded "Oh man! I love Dave Chappelle!"
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 5:50 PM on October 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Noooooo please don't use the Joy Luck Club to represent Chinese culture.

Please PLEASE use Ang Lee's Pushing Hands instead. A retired Tai Chi master moves from Taiwan to Westchester, NY to live with his son and his American wife.

Here's the imdb synopsis:
Master Chu, a retired Chinese Tai-Chi master, moves to Westchester, New York to live with his son Alex, his American daughter-in-law Martha, and their son Jeremy. However, Martha's second novel is suffering from severe writers' block brought on by Chu's presence in the house. Alex must struggle to keep his family together as he battles an inner conflict between cultural tradition and his modern American lifestyle.

And Master Chu is played by Sihung Lung! Cute old chinese man! Who doesn't like that?

I would suggest Eat Drink Man Woman too, but it has a short sex scene in it (no nudity though). But I'm sure 11th graders have seen much more graphic things.

Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away comes to mind too. In fact a lot of Miyazaki's work would do well for this purpose.
posted by spec80 at 5:55 PM on October 14, 2007

I recommend the film Ofelas (Pathfinder, as it's called here in the states). It's an excellent film overall, and I think it can be applied to what your wife is trying to teach.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 6:01 PM on October 14, 2007

How about The Color Purple?
posted by amyms at 6:06 PM on October 14, 2007

Citizen Kane may be a fit; Kane. Kane is searching for the happiness he knew as a poor child, which he lost as a wealthy adult. Not about ethnic roots, however.
posted by The Deej at 6:13 PM on October 14, 2007

Might be hard to find, but PBS did an adaptation of Esmeralda Santiago's Almost a Woman that would work.

posted by cmgonzalez at 6:18 PM on October 14, 2007

This is a good one: Daughter From Danang.
posted by tk at 6:22 PM on October 14, 2007

Seconding Eat Drink Man Woman. Ang Lee provides rich material with this subject matter.

You might also want to give Mira Nair a try (The Namesake fits what you need to the T.) East is East and Bend it Like Beckham are two other titles that come up in my mind. I have no idea why all the titles coming to mind are all Pakistani / Indian diaspora films.

If you feel ambitious and you think that job security is overrated, maybe My Beautiful Laundrette?
posted by Weebot at 6:26 PM on October 14, 2007

I think The Namesake (in either novel or film forms) would be an exceptional example to expose these kids to.
posted by anildash at 6:34 PM on October 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, thirding Eat Drink Man Woman. I have a deep affection for that film and it's dead on your theme. As much as I love Miyazaki, I don't see that working so well.

There's also East is East, about a pakistani family with a white mother living in England in the 70s, but for a comedy, it's got some pretty dark moments. It may not be entirely school appropriate. But you make the call.
posted by Naberius at 6:34 PM on October 14, 2007

What about Molly, a movie starring Elizabeth Shue as an autistic woman who undergoes an experimental treatment that brings her up to genius intelligence? Later in the movie, the treatment begins to fail and the main character has to resign herself to going back to the way she was. It's also got Aaron Eckhart as her brother, who starts out thinking that she is only good for living in an institution, but ends up vowing to take care of her himself.

This movie could bring up interesting debate on whether a cognitively disabled person can really be defined by their disability, as well as how our families help to shape our identities.
posted by gillyflower at 6:35 PM on October 14, 2007

Damn it Anildash!!
posted by Naberius at 6:35 PM on October 14, 2007

Oh, for God's sake. Sorry Anildash.

Damn it Weebot!
posted by Naberius at 6:35 PM on October 14, 2007

Another vote for Pushing Hands. Wonderful film!
posted by kimdog at 6:42 PM on October 14, 2007

Molly sounds like Charly, which is based on Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon [I'm not the only one who might smell a retcon].

I'm struggling with recommending Chameleon Street, if only due to the, ah, deliberate flexibility of the protagonist's identity. It is a brilliantly affecting film about identity and place, though, and the protagonist's African-American.

[It also has this great scene outlining every grammatical use of the word "fuck" in the english language....11th graders and their folks could handle a little swearing for educational purposes, right?]
posted by Minus215Cee at 7:26 PM on October 14, 2007

The Namesake seems like a perfect choice. Please, stay away from Citizen Kane. Ugh.
posted by emd3737 at 7:40 PM on October 14, 2007

Bend it Like Beckham
My Beautiful Laundrette
Empire of the Sun
Whale Rider
The Outsiders
Kids Return
posted by KokuRyu at 8:02 PM on October 14, 2007

I agree that most people that age probably haven't seen Roots. I'm a college senior taking an African American History class, and we just watched a part of Roots in class and one one else had seen it before.

I'd like to second Whale Rider. I really enjoyed it, and I could see 11th graders really liking it.

I also recently saw Old Man River, and that fits the bill, as well.
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:33 AM on October 15, 2007

The Razor's Edge
Back to the Future
posted by rhizome at 7:22 AM on October 15, 2007

Oh come on you guys! What about "Finding Forrester"?


Some movies I watched in that grade in English and in Psychology were:
The Outsiders
Lord of the Flies
Finding Forrester
The Dead Poets Society
Rain Man
A Beautiful Mind

I personally reccomend The Outsiders and The Dead Poets Society. I know that no one had seen The Outsiders and we really enjoyed it.
Also, I have never even heard of the movie Roots...
posted by ForeverDcember at 8:32 AM on October 15, 2007

Response by poster: dgeiser13 wife says:
Thanks for all the responses. Most of my students have seen Roots, contrary to what the non-teachers on the board say. I have decided to go with Almost a Woman and Daughter from Danang. I already reserved them at the library. PBS online had some great supplemental materials for classroom use, specifically about finding identity and cultural heritage.
posted by dgeiser13 at 4:53 PM on October 15, 2007

Glad you're using Daughter from Danang. Treats the subject realistically and without the rose-tinted glasses a lot of these films use.
posted by nax at 12:03 PM on October 16, 2007

I'll second 'Charly', and toss in 'Harry Potter and The Sorceror's Stone'.
posted by Fferret at 10:53 AM on October 17, 2007

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