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The Truman Show. Wow. Just…Wow.

Honestly, I know The Truman Show was meant to mix comedy with drama (it’s Jim Carrey. Need I say more?) but damn, thinking about the discussions today around surveillance and privacy, it felt more like a psychological horror film than a touching drama, more like reading 1984 by George Orwell (and we all know how horrifying that book was). But a truly brilliant psychological horror film that forces you to sit back and think.

I watched it a long time ago in middle school English class, but it never really stuck with me, except for that one scene where they show Truman Burbank as a fetus. As a 12 year old that scared the hell out of me for some weird reason and that image never left my memory. I know you’re like, Grow up, it’s a damn fetus. They ain’t supposed to look cute. But some scenes in movies stick with you; I’m sure you all feel the same about IT, Deadpool or Aliens, neither which I have the courage to watch. One minute you’re watching the film, thinking it’ll be just a bunch of cheesy effects; the next day, you scream everytime you see a red balloon. Thanks a lot, Pennywise.

But I decided to revisit it, especially since I don’t even remember if our English class even made it through the film (I’m pretty sure that the bell rang before we could finish, and I think we had to move on to another unit in the curriculum anyway, so we didn’t have time to finish). So fast forward to this year, 2020, about a decade after seeing it as a naive sixth grader, and bam! my view of the movie has totally changed. Why? Because the conversations around surveillance and privacy have gotten more disturbing and real by the minute. The Truman Show is about a man named Truman Burbank who finds out that his whole life has been a literal TV show (back then I wouldn’t have gotten the significance of Truman’s last name, but after visiting Hollywood, it’s telling that Truman’s last name is that of a city where a lot of media and entertainment companies happen to be, such as Warner Bros., Disney and Nickelodeon). Out of six or so unwanted pregnancies, he was chosen to be the star of this show, and so from his childhood to his adulthood, all the people in his life (friends, parents, girlfriend, coworkers, etc.) are all actors in his television show. Or rather, not his show, per say, but the show that a manipulative man named Christof created with Truman as the main star of his own show. So Truman is walking around life as an adult at the beginning, thinking his life is real: his wife is supposed to be really married to him, his friend is supposed to be someone he can trust with his secrets, and his coworkers are supposed to be everyday people he encounters at his regular 9-5 job.

However, no one is. They are all actors on The Truman Show. And they are watching his every move to ensure he stays on the script that Christof has written for him. Not only that, but billions of people watch Truman brush his teeth, go to work everyday, kiss his wife, and go to sleep. Looking at the poster now for the film (it came out in 1998) it sent chills down my spine to see all these people looking up at this screen and watching what this regular-ass person enjoy his private time to sleep at night. Of course, towards the middle of the film, Truman finds out that everyone around him is fake, after he becomes suspicious that the radio personality is tracking his every move, that people are watching him and know everything about his personal life, and the little opening of the studio where he briefly glimpses a table of pastries and coffee and a bunch of extras and TV production personnel milling about. Not to mention the messed-up fact that Sylvia, the girl he likes, isn’t supposed to talk to him, not because of his looks or her homework, but because she is one of the extras in the film and Kristof wrote it so that Truman would end up with a woman named Meryl instead of Sylvia. She is the only one who tells Truman the truth (e.g. that his life is a TV production) and speaks out against Christof’s psychological abuse of Truman.

Although the ending of the film is optimistic (Truman resists Christof’s effects of controlling his destiny in the climatic scene towards the end where Truman escapes the Hollywood set on which he has lives his whole life and sails out to see, with Christof trying to reign him back in by sending thunderstorms and crashing waves that would deter Truman’s progress in sailing) I still could not help feeling unsettled after the film. I wish I could have just laughed it off, but why would I? Sure it stars Jim Carrey, aka The Grinch and Bruce Almighty, roles that are meant to be light-hearted and silly (not to mention his parody of Vanilla Ice on In Living Color. Hi-LARIOUS). But the movie’s supposed to make you sit there for a while and think about a lot of questions: what is reality? what are the psychological effects of reality TV shows on not just audiences, but on the people who star in these shows? what is the impact of media on how we see reality?

To be honest, this film scared me because even though it’s fiction, I think it has a pretty important place in discussions about privacy and surveillance. Truman couldn’t live his life without people watching his every move. He couldn’t go to sleep at night without some random guy he’s never met watching him sleep from his bathtub. He can’t hug his own dad (also an actor in the show) without random people in the crowded bar oohing and aahing during this tender private moment. He can’t even go out to sea on his own without Christof tracking his every move. And forget about him living those unborn months chilling out in his mom’s belly without the prying eyes of viewers: people have been watching that, too. When I thought of this movie, I thought about all of the issues we have today concerning surveillance capitalism and privacy: third parties collect our information, our moves are being tracked constantly, and for a while we had hackers that can see what your room looks on Zoom (I guess with Zoom’s new policies, that’s changing).

I understand we don’t really have a choice right now to opt out due to the current situation with COVID-19 and how to do contact tracing to flatten the curve and get people to stay home if they’ve been near someone with COVID-19. That’s what we’ve got to do. However, you give up a lot of your right to privacy because these apps ask for a lot of your personal data so they can track how the virus spreads and preventing people who have it from going outside and giving it to others. I’m sure we can address the privacy issue in a constructive way and that technology companies can do their part (or are already doing their part) in keeping people’s information safe, and I’m sure these apps are all doing great things to flatten the curve, but until then I’ve been hearing about a lot of issues with regard to the lack of confidentiality given to people’s information when they’re being tracked for COVID-19.

Update as of 5/14/20: I stopped writing this for a while because I was burnt out from ranting so much negative energy in this post and reflected on how I could end this post on a positive note. Everyone is already stressed out about the current pandemic, so I don’t want to end on a downer. Because like I said, overall I really loved The Truman Show and I’m glad I watched it. But I was talking with some friends about the movie and one of them said that from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective, in a way we are the directors of our own movie, so that gave me a more optimistic idea about the film. Truman in the end actually does triumph over Christof’s control of his destiny and begins the journey of living his own life. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says that

“Buddhism teaches that the individual writes and performs the script for his or her own life. Neither chance nor a divine being writes the script for us. We write it, and we are the actors who play it.”

Daisaku Ikeda

To end on a positive note, I want to leave you with this video from an SGI-USA segment called The Buddha Beat (it’s where the quote from President Ikeda comes from). Honestly it helped me see The Truman Show from a more uplifting perspective than the one I previously held.

“It’s Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Down on Friday”- The Movie Friday (CW: weed)

Everytime I think about the title of the film Friday, I confuse it with Friday the 13th, a movie that, unlike the comedy I saw last night, is a scary flick that I just will never have the stomach to stomach, regardless of its status as a classic film that people should watch. I will always be a chicken when it comes to scary movies. Except for Get Out, I could stomach that.

Part of me put the partial lyrics to the song “Friday” (please don’t sue me, Rebecca Black) because I actually do enjoy that song and feel fortunate to have had my music teacher in high school play a remix of the song with “Thank God It’s Friday Night” by NSYNC. Another part wanted to have a less monotonous title such as “Movie Review: Friday,” the format which I stuck with for most of the movie reviews on my blog up until now. Another part of me is just like, Friday. I am so late to the game when it comes to when I watched this film; I mean, like many kids in the ’90s, I heard about it and saw it while browsing the shelves of our neighborhood Blockbuster (R.I.P.) But of course I was too young to see it. Then I watched a Saturday Night Live sketch for the iSleep Pro. In the sketch Kenan Thompson, a black businessman, is having a hard time falling asleep to white noise machines but is able to sleep using his iSleep Pro, which plays him bits from Tyler Perry sitcoms, domestic arguments, an old lady complaining about foot problems and bits from the film Friday (see sketch below). I still didn’t see the movie after that, though, not because I didn’t want to but because I thought I didn’t have time.

Oh, Keenan. We love a Keenan.

Then COVID-19 hit and everything shut down, even one of my most beloved hotspots: the movie theater, a golden palace of classic culture that can help anyone, whatever their identity, unwind and escape from the stresses of daily life. So I found myself reading a lot of books and renting a lot of movies online now that I can no longer go outside to rent a $1.99 Redbox movie. And I decided that I needed some more comedy in my life. Saturday Night Live nourished my funny bones, and it still couldn’t fulfill the unquenchable percent daily value of laughs my body needed everyday (percent daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet). So then I did the thing.

And I finally watched Friday.

For those who have yet to see it, Friday is about a young man named Craig (played famously by the rapper Ice Cube) who loses his job on his day off from work because he stole boxes. Not only that, but he has to deal with his family getting annoyed with him for not having a job and the goofy bike-riding kid in the neighborhood who knocks over his trash can on purpose. His friend, Smokey, played by Chris Tucker, comes by Craig’s place and has him smoke weed so he can unwind. At first, Craig chokes on it but then he gets that high from weed and seems to escape his problems. But like any movie plot, there has to be some larger problem going on. Smokey owes money to Deebo, the local drug dealer, who terrifies everyone and punches people’s lights out if they talk smack to his face. Craig and Smokey spend their day trying to get the money to Deebo so Smokey can pay him back, and a whole series of other events happen throughout the day.

This isn’t the first comedy I’ve seen where the main topic is weed. In all my time watching Broad City, I can’t remember a single episode where the characters Abbi and Ilana, or some other character on the show, wasn’t doing cannabis. In fact, there is a four minute montage of clips with Abbi and Ilana smoking weed, passing around a bong among a group of students, and all sorts of other things with weed that would take forever to write about in this post. Although I think it’s pretty awesome that a show like Broad City existed (in my heart, it exists in spirit because the reruns never cease to tickle my funny bone) because most stoner comedies tend to center around male characters, which is the case with Friday. As funny as it was to watch Ice Cube and Chris Tucker do silly things under the influence of weed, watching the ways the women were depicted in the film, especially during the current #MeToo era, was a different experience. When the women try to interact with Craig and Smokey, or really any of the male characters in the film, they are either depicted as objects of sexual desire, nagging annoyances, sassy and jealous, needy or unattractive. Someone else might have a different opinion on this, and maybe they might see these women as strong characters. But honestly, after watching movies like Hidden Figures that depict black women as having agency in their circumstances, I beg to differ.

The history of black manhood is quite complicated, and honestly I took those Black Studies courses four years ago, so I can’t give a dissertation in this blog about black masculinity and hip-hop, but I can give you this article that explains it in a page. The article talks about how society’s perceptions of black men have shaped black manhood, and explains that these perceptions have their roots in slavery. The slave trade reduced Black men and women to commodities for sale, and this commodification split up the work by gender so that Black men, not Black women, were given arduous physical tasks because white people saw them as having “brute strength” instead of intellectual strength (12 Years a Slave depicts this kind of commodification and dehumanization in harrowing detail). Later on, black men continued to be excluded from employment opportunities and social activities that white men had access to, and so rap served as a medium for Black men to narrate their lived experiences as men who are denied access to opportunities because of the color of their skin. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of stereotypes about black men being hypersexual, sexist and aggressive.

And it’s probably why we have movies like Moonlight, TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, characters like Raymond Holt and Terry Jeffords in Brooklyn 99 and artists like Frank Ocean to show that black masculinity, contrary to popular belief, comes in all different expressions and just because it may not be what mass media has historically valued doesn’t mean it’s not a valid expression of being a black man. We also needed these kinds of different expressions of black masculinity because black masculinity is very much tied to sexual identity, and in Friday although he doesn’t use homophobic slurs explicitly, Smokey jokes that he’s not for that “gay shit” when Craig is high on weed and comes closer so he can see Smokey’s face better (Smokey’s face is blurry when Craig is high) and when they are lying in the truck to escape the drive-by shooting that just passed them, Craig tries to hold Smokey’s hand (or was it the other way around, I can’t remember) and Smokey pushes him away, probably because he’d think it would make him less of a man if he did so. In Moonlight

After seeing how the women are depicted in Friday, it got me wondering: are there any stoner films where two black women are the central characters? Abbi and Ilana in Broad City are women, but they’re white. I haven’t heard of any buddy stoner films with women of color, but then I just read, after doing a Google search (praise the World Wide Web) I found a piece titled “Where are the women of color in stoner films” by Isha Aran, and it explains that the reason there are few stoner movies that depict women of color is largely because stoner movies are one of many culture underground movements that have historically undermined issues of race and gender even though they try to be “alternative” or go against the mainstream. In reality, they’re just reinforcing mainstream racial and gender norms, the idea that whiteness is the default has allowed filmmakers to avoid making the consumption of weed a political issue, because (apparently) let’s face it, no one wants to think about race when they watch a movie about people blowing circles while smoking a two foot bong (and the hallucinations that follow). Also, black people are more likely than white people to face punishment for cannabis use, and four times more likely to go to prison for it. Even though there are plenty of black women who support marijuana legalization, they know that they’ll face more scrutiny than their white peers will, so it’s no wonder that there’s a lack of racial diversity in the discussion around drug policy reform. Aran concludes, to paraphrase her, by saying that if Hollywood loosens up and lets more women of color star in these stoner films, then society will change its ideas and open its mind to say “Hey, there’s women of color, not just the guys from Pineapple Express, who smoke weed. That’s pretty cool.” Indeed, it would be pretty dope (no pun intended).

Paterson.

Honestly I tried to take notes during this film, but this film reminds me of A Ghost Story in the sense that you miss a lot of important details if you take notes during the film. When I just put my pencil down and quit taking notes on every detail like I do for a lot of movies, I was able to appreciate the silences and the dialogues so much more, and just as I did at the end of A Ghost Story I found myself in a river of tears, wiping away snot from my face and sniffling these melodramatic sobs. If you haven’t seen A Ghost Story, it’s a film about how a young woman (Rooney Mara) must grapple with the death of her husband (Casey Affleck) after he passes away in a car accident, and how her husband, as a ghost, grapples with how his death has impacted his wife. The film doesn’t have a ton of actiony stimuli so for me I really liked this film since I don’t like films with tons of blood or frenetic action (unless it’s a chosen few Marvel and DC films. Or Get Out). It did require me to sit and reflect rather than write too much during the film about the plot because the film’s power relies in its silences and these silences force us to grapple with our own memories of loved ones we might have lost.

To be honest, I’ve been wanting to see this film for a really long time, ever since it came out. But I didn’t know if I’d like it. Then I saw Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 96 percent rating, and then I knew I would be missing out if I hadn’t seen it. Although if you’ve seen Adam Driver’s other films (The Rise of Skywalker, While We’re Young, Frances Ha, What If, BlacKkKlansman, The Last Jedi) this is a very different role than I was used to seeing him in. His roles usually involve lots of dialogue; this role he didn’t say much, and spoke mostly through his facial expressions and eyes.

Although there is not a ton of dialogue in Paterson, that’s what makes it so powerful. Paterson, the main character (also the name of the city in which he resides) is a very introspective quiet person, and listens in on the conversations that people have on the bus he drives every day. He is also a good listener when other people are talking to him; his coworker, Donny, who always makes sure he is ready to get the bus going, opens up to him about his problems at home and Paterson, without making any kind of judgment beforehand, listens with the utmost attention to Donny. He also listens when his wife talks to him. He reminded me a lot of Richard Loving in the film Loving. Of course, the storyline for that film is different and took place during a different time, but Paterson and Richard are both introverted men who, even though they do kind things for people, wish to not be in the spotlight. Honestly, I found myself relating to Paterson a lot in that sense; I’m an introvert and tend to like listening and writing rather than talking a lot. Paterson is also polite; he always thanks his wife for dinner and for treating him to the movies. People have told me I say “Thank you” a lot (I even got pulled into a counselor’s office for being too polite to other people. I guess she thought I would become a pushover or something, which I did become, but have since learned to balance with assertiveness), so when Paterson thanked his wife for dinner in one scene and treated him to the movies to celebrate making money from her bake sale, I couldn’t help but feel like I found a kindred soul in Paterson.

I also found myself relating to Paterson because he loves writing. Although I do not write poetry as frequently as he does, I love writing in general and also have finished some poems for a poem book I plan to publish at some point. In the film Laura, Paterson’s wife, reminds him that he needs to make copies of his poems and publish them someday, but he never gets around to it. When his dog rips up his notebook when they are out and about, Paterson dismisses it, saying that they were just a bunch of words that didn’t mean much. However, his wife disagrees, and tells him she wishes he kept some of the poems. I’m the same way. After I read my poems for my poetry book I couldn’t help but cringe because I’m a tough critic on myself, and I even felt I couldn’t write poetry. But I don’t think many poets or writers or really any artist in general has ever felt that their work is the best from the get-go. In real life, Adam Driver has said that he is uncomfortable watching himself on screen and walked out on an interview with Terry Gross because they played a clip of him singing in his recent film Marriage Story. Maybe I would have walked out on an interview if people played a clip of me performing my music, maybe I wouldn’t have, but at any rate I could kind of relate to Adam and Paterson’s feelings towards their own work. People say it’s helpful as a musician to go back and listen to yourself play, and sometimes I have done that, but when I hear myself play I always sound either really out of tune or choppy or look bored, angry, constipated or a mixture of all three while I play, even though I’m trying to show my passion for the music. Maybe if I stop listening to my insecure ego so much I can listen to recordings of myself with less judgment, but then again even the most successful people who are awesome at what they do don’t enjoy looking at their work when they are finished, mostly because the process of making the finished product is draining and when you’re finished with the product you don’t even want to deal with it anymore. Some actors have said on the contrary, they enjoy the process of making the product; they just don’t watch it when finished. Maybe it’s just part of being an artist; few if any artists are totally satisfied with what they do. Then again, you don’t see me going back and reading these blog posts because frankly, they are long and boring to read, even to myself who wrote the darn pieces. Same with my music; I rarely go back and listen to recordings of myself because I know I can always be improving on my performance, and it just doesn’t sound like me when I go back and listen to it, more like my doppelganger or an impersonator of me. It probably comes from years of having cello instructors and orchestra teachers who pushed me to never settle and to always be improving; that in and of itself is a huge ego-buster, and I’m pretty grateful for that.

Also, I love this movie because it reminded me of a book I read called Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind: Conversations on the Path of Nonviolence by Stuart Rees, professor emeritus at the University of Sydney and former director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, and Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and humanist philosopher. In their dialogue, Mr. Ikeda and Dr. Rees discuss the importance of culture and education in creating a more peaceful society, and in particular, the power of poetry as a means to do so. Dr. Rees says to Mr. Ikeda that he constantly uses poetry in his lectures and talks about social justice issues because poetry isn’t just for students taking Western literature classes. Whether you’re a biochemistry major, a religion studies major, or undecided about your major, all students should be given exposure to poetry. Dr. Rees also uses poetry in his lectures because in many parts of the world, poets write about conflicts and use their work to spark a dialogue about how to resolve these conflicts and foster peaceful communities. According to author and Civil Rights activist Vincent Harding, with whom Mr. Ikeda has spoken in a book called America Will Be!:

the arts should be at the heart of an education that helps us to become more human. Poetry, especially, gives us some creative ways to think about the story of our lives. This is because poets are constantly trying to reach into the depths of our reality…Poetry can remind us that we have the capacity to create–the capacity of telling and understanding our stories.

Quoted from page 125 of Peace, Justice, and the Poetic Mind. Original source: Harding and Ikeda, America Will Be!, p. 209

In the film, Paterson’s poems seem simple and unremarkable, but looking at it from a Buddhist perspective, his poetry served as a way to communicate his life story, his lived experience. Even if the sights he observed and the people he listened to seemed like everyday things, there is this precious beauty in the way that Paterson takes the ordinary and finds some way to create value from these everyday things. He also makes it a habit of writing every day, and that reminds me of President Ikeda, who wrote his serialized novel The New Human Revolution every day even if he was tired, so that he could leave a record of his travels around the world and his dialogues with world leaders and his mentor, Josei Toda. He has also published The Sun of Youth, a series of poems he wrote calling for young people to stand up against injustice and awaken to the inherent potential, or Buddhahood, in their own lives as well as help others to awaken to their inner Buddhahood, too. The poems are all incredibly beautiful, and they all champion everyday people like you and me. And people like Paterson who live ordinary lives as human beings. There is one poignant scene toward the end when Paterson is sitting on the bench with a man he just met who traveled to Paterson and is flying back to Japan the next day. They have a short but deep dialogue about their shared love for William Carlos Williams and Frank O’Hara, both American poets. Even though Paterson tells the man he is not a poet, the man gives him a blank poetry notebook, implying that because of their shared connection through poetry, that Paterson has another chance to write poetry after his dog ripped up his old poetry notebook. It was this dialogue where Paterson and the gentleman saw each others’ Buddha nature, or humanity, and this interaction was a sign from the universe that Paterson needs to, hopefully, listen to his wife, write those poems and then publish them so that people can be moved by his poetry.

I remember studying poetry in high school and college English classes (and a course in Afro-American Studies) but there was a lot of analysis and dissection of the poems required for classwork and homework that I lost my love of poetry for a while. This movie reminded me that one can appreciate poetry even in a non-classroom setting. Paterson works a full-time job, but he still makes time to write. I think the key to his creating this habit is that he lives in the moment when he writes and isn’t so caught up in the perfection of the poem or how it might sound to other people. There’s this idea that one has to quit their day job in order to follow their passion so they can make “the best art”, but this film served as a beautiful and down-to-earth reminder that you don’t have to, and really shouldn’t, quit your day job in order to make art. I think a lot of films and media tend to perpetuate this idea, like the film La La Land. Mia thinks she needs to quit her day job in order to make more time for her acting career, but in reality she works hard at staging a play and no one attends it, so she has to move back home because she’s broke and cannot pay her bills without a job. I, too, once thought I needed to quit my various day jobs in order to be a full-time musician, but turns out a lot of artists, such as Paterson, have some sort of day job because, like, #people out here gotta pay bills and eat. Paterson’s poems are actually quite beautiful because they are inspired by his everyday experiences: him waking up next to his wife, him riding through the city every day, him sitting outside in nature. He just takes the everyday and runs with it in his writing. Also, he reads other writers, so that helps with his creative process.

I think because he has this appreciation for the every day and the written word he is able to appreciate the small moments, such as when he encounters a man rapping a spoken word while waiting for his clothes to finish washing and drying at the laundromat. When Paterson asks him if the laundromat is his laboratory for his poetry creation, the man tells him wherever inspiration strikes is where he is going to create the lyrics. This spoke to me because as I said earlier, the only time I was really encouraged to study poetry was in the classroom, but too often we don’t think of song lyrics as constituting poetry, but after watching this movie, I appreciate rap as a form of poetry now. In an old article I read about the evolution of rap (I think it was National Geographic’s 2005 issue on Africa) and it has its roots in Western African traditions. Griots in West African tradition play a variety of roles: storyteller, poet, historian musician, and they communicate narratives through their voices, and so this tradition has continued today in rap music.

Before watching the film I barely knew anything about Paterson other than when I read a Wikipedia article on it that was linked to the Wikipedia page on the film Paterson. The film helped me appreciate the city more, and while of course it wasn’t overtly a documentary about the city, Paterson drives past and discusses many sites with the people he encounters. He and Doc, the owner of the bar Paterson frequents, talk about famous people who lived in Paterson, such as the comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and rapper Fetty Wap. It says a lot that Paterson is able to take in his surroundings, and part of the reason I think he is able to do this is because he doesn’t have a phone in which he can bury his eyes and not make eye contact with anyone or anything. After Doc’s wife comes into the bar and yells at Doc for using the money she needed to get her hair done for his niece’s wedding, Doc pulls out his smartphone and starts looking at it. When Paterson asks if Doc is okay, Doc asks him point-blank why he doesn’t still have a cell phone. Paterson tells him he lives just fine without one, and when Doc asks if his wife also doesn’t have a cell phone, Paterson says that on the contrary, she has a phone, a tablet and other gadgets but she’s fine with him not using a cell phone. What I like about this film is that it weighs both the pros and the cons of Paterson choosing not to have a cell phone. The con is that when his bus breaks down towards the middle of the film, he doesn’t have a cell phone to call the transit authorities right away to get a new bus (but one of the passengers, a young girl, lets him use her phone to call the transit authorities after he says he doesn’t have a phone). Doc and Laura (Paterson’s wife) tell him that the bus could have exploded and why he should have gotten a cell phone so he could communicate that the bus broke down without making anyone wait on him. Also, if he had his own cell phone he could have called or texted Laura to tell her about the bus breaking down and that he would probably be coming home late.

However, the pro is that Paterson is one of the few people who doesn’t sit and look down at his phone during a conversation, which many people do nowadays because the people who designed our phones meant for them to be a distraction in our daily lives. Like Paterson, I didn’t have a cell phone for a long time, and by the time I got my flip phone everyone else was using smartphones. In middle school I didn’t have a cell phone so I always called using the landline school phone that sat on my English teacher’s desk. Even when I used my flip phone it didn’t have the tools or apps that my smartphone has: now I can sit for hours on that thing and not look up at anyone or anything, which is why I try not to look at it all the time even during this time when we can’t go outside and technology is the only thing we can use to stay connected with one another. It’s why I got a little sappy and teary-eyed during the film because while I appreciate the use of technology during this time, I miss being able to have physical face-to-face conversations with others just as Paterson did in the movie. I did notice one moment where Paterson gave the guy at the laundromat an elbow bump to say his farewells; that was telling because the CDC encouraged us to give each other elbow bumps instead of hugging or shaking hands with people.

But bottom line is, it might be hard for Paterson to live without a cell phone nowadays because technology is the only way we can communicate to our friends without going outside, or even if we are going outside, it’s hard to communicate nowadays without a smartphone because there’s so much rapid information and it’s hard to keep up with it if one doesn’t have a phone, especially since now tech companies are doing coronavirus tracing through cell phones to track the virus. But even that has its downsides, namely because these companies are collecting all your information even though it may help slow the spread of coronavirus, and if you don’t want your personal info collected, then you’re toast. Also, there are still places in the U.S. with limited access to Internet and I don’t want to assume that everyone has a texting plan or even has a smartphone. Yes, most people do, but I am sure out of all the people on the planet, there are still folks without a cell phone or internet. Then again, the little girl wouldn’t have been able to give Paterson her cell phone to use because if she did, they wouldn’t be observing social distancing rules. In that case, he’d probably be in trouble and the new bus wouldn’t have come in time.

This film also really made me think about why it’s so important to express appreciation for bus drivers, delivery staff, hotel staff and other people who work in blue-collar jobs. There are still a lot of people who cannot afford to work from home because their jobs do not allow them to do that, and for those of us who get to stay at home, knowing this is all the more important. Recently Jason Hargrove, a bus driver in Detroit, died from complications of Covid-19, but before his death he released a video on Facebook talking about how dangerous it is for transit employees like him to be driving people during this time because people on the buses cough and sneeze without covering their mouths and thus expose the drivers to the coronavirus. He’s not alone: many bus drivers have contracted Covid-19, and the numbers only keep growing as people on buses and other modes of transportation refuse to take social distancing rules seriously and assume their cough or sneeze won’t get drivers sick. I know Paterson probably didn’t want thanks for what he did because he seemed to like his job, but I’m sure a lot of folks today would express appreciation for transit employees like him because their job is so risky now with the spread of COVID-19.

Overall, I really loved this film. Like I said, it brought tears to my eyes by the end (also because the music was incredibly sweet) and still has me thinking about the importance of poetry and appreciation of the everyday.

Paterson. 2016. Rated R for some language.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Oh. My. Gosh

Cheesy blog post title, but it’s a legitimate reaction! It was THAT.GOOD. I promised one of my friends I would watch it so we could have a philosophical discussion about it (Star Wars has a lot of philosophical themes in it). But I put it off, watching other movies and doing other things. So I finally took the time to rent it online, and I was in for a surprise. Is it just me or did my heart keep pounding every time Adam Driver (Ben Solo/ Kylo Ren) or Oscar Isaac (Poe) showed up on screen? I swear I literally could not stop looking, they are both HEARTTHROBS. Of course, Adam Driver plays an evil person, but I have seen him in other movies (funny enough, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac both were in Inside Llewyn Davis, one of my favorite films) and seriously, my romantic feelings for him have never died. Also, John Boyega is everything in this movie. 🙂

Of course, I would be remiss if I were to spend the entire blog post gushing over these heartthrobs. Because let’s face it, these men would not be anywhere without K.A.W. (Kick Ass Women) like Princess Leia and Rey to save their skins when they got in trouble. Honestly, I didn’t care much about Star Wars a few years ago, but after I started watching them, I have a deeper appreciation for Carrie Fisher and the powerful legacy she left as Leia. The film is also very much in line with my Buddhist beliefs, because Rey and Leia have this mentor-disciple relationship, which in Buddhism means that the mentor trains the disciple to carry on the legacy of kosen-rufu, or world peace, and even surpass the mentor in their efforts. President Ikeda was a disciple of Josei Toda in the early days of the Soka Gakkai, and Mr. Toda wanted Mr. Ikeda to continue his mission to foster a better world through peace, culture and dialogue. Even though Mr. Ikeda doubted his capabilities along the way, Mr. Toda encouraged him to not give up and trained him along the way. Mr. Toda saw Mr. Ikeda’s sincere and tireless efforts to propagate Nichiren Buddhism and help Mr. Toda with his failing business even when his other coworkers lost faith in Mr. Toda.

Similarly, even though Leia knew Rey was the granddaughter of the evil Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious) she trained Rey because she saw her heart and spirit, the character of a true Jedi. When Rey is frustrated and tries to discard her lightsaber, Luke Skywalker appears as a memory and tells her she is better than that, telling her that she needs to confront her fear or herself and her heritage because the destiny of a Jedi is to confront fear. This ties in well to the concepts of “changing karma into mission” and overcoming “fundamental darkness”. Karma from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective is the accumulation of causes we have made in past lifetimes and in this present lifetime (through thoughts, words and deeds) that manifest themselves as effects at certain times and in certain conditions. We cannot fathom our karma from past lifetimes because it’s deep and hard to reverse what we did in the past. We may not know why we are have a certain personality trait or why we work with certain people at our jobs or why we are born in the families we are born in. This karma continues on to our next lifetimes. It may seem like fate, that we are doomed to our karma and must suffer through it. But when we change karma into mission (in the Lotus Sutra teaching on which Nichiren Buddhism is founded, this is called “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma”) we come to understand that certain events in our lives happen for a reason, namely so we could encourage other people who are suffering. President Ikeda says, in An Introduction to Buddhism, that bodhisattvas (a Sanskrit word for beings who strive to attain Buddhahood, or enlightenment, by helping others achieve this enlightenment as well) gained rewards for their next lifetimes because of the good causes they made in the past, but these bodhisattvas chose instead to give up these rewards and be born in an age where human beings suffer so that they can teach people about the Lotus Sutra and help them overcome the suffering they endure due to negative causes they might have made in their past lives. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and help others do the same, we come to realize that we go through hardships so that we can lead richer and more profound lives and show our friends, family, coworkers and others that if we can overcome our suffering, then they can, too. We can experience joy even when suffering the worst karma and this can give other people who are going through problems hope that they can also become happy even when in painful circumstances.

We don’t know what causes Rey made in her past lifetime for Emperor Palpatine to have been her grandfather, or why her parents got killed, or why her life is the way it is. But even though she has this karma to grapple with, Luke reminds her that she has this mission as a Jedi so she can not only save the world, but also so she can help inspire other people. In a way Luke helps Rey awaken to her Buddhahood to win against Palpatine, because he himself had to awaken to his own Buddhahood in the fight against evil (Buddhahood is the compassion, wisdom and courage that is innate within each individual. Everyone is a Buddha and reveals this Buddhahood through their actions in daily life). She awakens to her mission to save the world from suffering at the crucial moment when Emperor Palpatine forces her to kill him so that she can take the throne, his disciples cheering her on to do it. But because Kylo Ren (who by this point has awakened to his identity as Ben Solo, Han Solo’s son) can read her mind, she sees him in his mind and his expression tells her, without him saying anything, that they can both overcome this evil, so instead of using her lightsaber to kill Palpatine, she passes it on to Ben so he can fight the bad guys, and she pulls out a spare lightsaber to fight Palpatine. When the Emperor knocks her and Ben down, Rey hears the voices of all the past leaders of the Jedi (Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, among many others) telling her to not fear Palpatine because the Force of all the Jedi leaders lies within her and all of the causes that these Jedi leaders made in the past to fight constant evil has led to this one battle, this one chance for Rey to prove to herself and others that she is a true Jedi. To me, the Force is a symbol for Buddhahood because like Buddhahood, the Force lies within each individual and it has tremendous potential. According to George Lucas

the act of living generates a force field, an energy. That energy surrounds us; when we die, that energy joins with all the other energy. There is a giant mass of energy in the universe that has a good side and a bad side. We are part of the Force because we generate the power that makes the Force live. When we die, we become part of that Force, so we never really die; we continue as part of the Force.

George Lucas during a production meeting for The Empire Strikes Back. Quoted on “The Force” article in Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Force#Concept_and_development

When people pass away, death does not take away their Buddhahood; instead, their Buddhahood transmigrates to their next lifetime. Buddhahood isn’t a realm separate from that of society, even though many Buddhist sutras before the Lotus Sutra was taught believe this; it is one of the ten states of life we can experience at any given moment. Just as Rey was in both a hellish environment and in a life state of Hell when fighting against Palpatine, she was in the world, or life state, of Buddhahood when she heard the voices of the Jedi leaders and won the fight against Palpatine, because she realized her potential to overcome her inner battle with herself. Fundamental darkness means that we cannot see our own Buddhahood, or our own life’s potential to overcome our problems and become happy, and so when this ignorance of our life’s worth clouds our perception of our environment, it’s hard to see the Buddhahood in other people and that their lives have worth, too. The devil king of the sixth heaven causes this fundamental darkness to make it hard to see our inner potential and functions to obstruct our Buddhist practice and sap the wisdom, life force, courage and compassion we need to become truly happy in life. Emperor Palpatine is a manifestation of the devil king of the sixth heaven because he does everything in his power to sap Rey of her life force and prevent her from beating him and the other evil people in his empire. He tells her she is worthless and that she has no potential to beat him. The devil king does not lie outside of us, but is a manifestation of the fundamental darkness in all of us. In a similar scene, we see Kylo Ren overcome his fundamental darkness and regain his identity as Ben Solo, when a memory of his father Han approaches him during his battle with Rey, and he tells Kylo that his identity as Kylo Ren is dead to him and that he will always see him as his son, Ben Solo, who has the potential to fight his inner evil rather than succumb to it. This scene shows how even evil people like Kylo Ren have the state of Buddhahood within them, and can awaken to this Buddhahood within their lives with the help of people who tell them they have potential to awaken to the courage, wisdom and compassion within them. Only when Ben awakens to his Buddhahood is he able to see Rey’s Buddhahood, too, and help her fight against the evil forces that want to destroy society.

This scene is also a metaphor for the concept of “casting off the transient and revealing the true”, which happens when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of our Buddhist practice, lived at a time in Japan when people believed various Buddhist teachings and the problem with these teachings were that they didn’t teach the number one truth expounded in the Buddhist teaching of the Lotus Sutra: that everyone can attain enlightenment just as they are, and that Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment in his past lifetimes rather than just in his present life in India. When he spoke out against these teachings and propagated the Lotus Sutra, the authorities persecuted him, even attempting to execute him on a beach at Tatsunokuchi (on the outskirts of Kamakura in Japan). Just as the executioner was about to behead him, a comet flashed through the sky, and the soldiers, frightened by the light, abandoned Nichiren and failed to go through with his beheading. At that moment, Nichiren saw that, in triumphing over what is called the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, he was more than just an ordinary unenlightened person with all this karma he had to deal with from past lifetimes. While keeping his form as an ordinary human being, he awakened to his original true identity as a Buddha with unlimited wisdom and courage. This revelation manifested itself in his daily behavior towards others and so he inscribed the mandala that we chant to, called the Gohonzon, so that everyone could awaken to the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in their own lives just as he did. Ren casts off his transient status as an evil Supreme Leader and awakens to his identity as Ben Solo, a Buddha that, without changing his form as an ordinary human being, can triumph over both the darkness in his mind and the darkness in society.

The movie also is a metaphor for the concept of unity in Nichiren Buddhism and in the Soka Gakkai International. Members of the Soka Gakkai International work together through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Buddhism together, sharing Buddhism with their friends and family, and making efforts at their workplaces, schools and homes, and each of these actions work in harmony with one another to foster a more just and peaceful society because through these actions, each member in the SGI can become happy and help others achieve that happiness. If there is any discord within the organization, it disrupts the unity of the SGI. It is hard to continue practicing this Buddhism without the encouragement of others, let alone the encouragement of Daisaku Ikeda and Nichiren Daishonin, so that is why we have an organization so that each person has that network of support they need to continue in their practice. Likewise, one of the movie’s key themes is the importance of unity in the face of evil. When Poe and the rest of the Resistance are in the air fighting the Final Order fleet, Poe doubts the team’s capability to win, but Lando brings reinforcements to help combat the First Order. Earlier Poe told the Resistance that good people will fight if they lead them, and indeed they did. This scene showed that sticking together is important when fighting against evil forces. This scene also illustrated the concept of “many in body, one in mind” in Nichiren Buddhism; “many in body, one in mind” means that individuals have different personality traits, different physical characteristics and different social identities, but when they come together to spread the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism through dialogue, culture and education in their communities, they can achieve a more peaceful society. In The Rise of Skywalker, individuals in the Resistance come in many shapes, sizes, and genders, and also speak various languages, but they work as a team to fulfill their desire to bring justice and peace to the galaxy. Had Rey, Poe or Finn tried to do everything by themselves, they would not have worked out their disagreements or even reached the goal of galaxy peace because their egos would have gotten in the way. When the Resistance sticks together they achieve so much, and when Rey’s heart is united with her mentors and her teammates in the Resistance, she defeats Palpatine. Rey lost her parents when she was young, so she feels like there is no one she can turn to, but she can always count on her friends to support her in tough times. Likewise, she has their back when times are hard, especially during the final fight scene.

Throughout the movie I kept thinking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the similarities between them. Lord Voldemort and Emperor Palpatine both look creepy, and the scene where Rey’s lightsaber is pushing back against Emperor Palpatine’s lightning reminded me of the scene in Deathly Hallows when the power from Harry’s wand is pushing back against the power from Lord Voldemort’s wand. Harry and Rey also have similar stories; both their parents got killed by bad guys (Voldemort and Palpatine respectively), but they have a great group of friends to lean on. Also, when the army of wizards gather on the Hogwarts ground to point their wands to the sky and vanquish the sign of Lord Voldemort in the sky reminded me of all the backup Lando summoned to help Poe and the Resistance fight the First Order.

I know this review was SUPER long, but I was so enthralled by the film and its connections to my religious philosophy. Star Wars is very much connected to religion in its themes, so this was a chance for me to bring my own faith perspective to it. Also, kudos to John Williams for all the profound and beautiful scores he brought to Star Wars for so many years. The score was brilliant, as always, and I wish I was one of those orchestra musicians who were playing on the score for this movie because it was TIGHT! 🙂

My Thoughts on The Squid and the Whale

I just finished watching The Squid and the Whale, a 2005 film written and directed by Noah Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson. I really liked Noah Baumbach’s other films Frances Ha and While We’re Young because I really like independent films and these films are independent films. I also really like Wes Anderson’s movies. The only ones I’ve seen by him so far are Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel (The Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou is sitting on my bookshelf, calling my name. Now that I have this time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic I can watch more movies and thus, write more reviews. I haven’t written any reviews for a month, let alone anything at all on this blog, because I was overwhelmed with everything going on in this time in society, and while it’s a lousy excuse for me to not write, I was just trying to figure out how to deal with it all. I forgot until now, when I already feel a beautiful kind of catharsis just by typing these words freely, how awesome writing makes me feel. Even if my writing isn’t worthy of The Atlantic or Rolling Stone (due to my incoherent rambling stream of consciousness), it’s my voice and I have this platform (e.g. blogging) through which I can express my frustrations and all the feelings that come with being a human being during a time of uncertainty.

Anyway. So yes, I finished watching The Squid and the Whale, and I must say it was a really good movie. It came out when I was younger but of course I was too young to see it (it’s rated R for a lot of swearing), but I know it got good reviews, so I decided to watch it since it was a good price to rent online and I was in the mood for a movie. Not going to the theaters is of course just part of what we have to do now in order to survive COVID-19, but like many people, I love a good matinee with popcorn and a Sprite every now and then. I should have used the AMC card my friend gave me three years ago, darn. Hopefully in the distant future, as we still need to social distance to not only keep ourselves well, but most importantly keep the ushers, ticket folks and other people working at the movies healthy, too.

Honestly, watching The Squid and the Whale during this COVID-19 pandemic was really interesting. It may seem like, “It’s just a movie, why bring COVID-19 into this?” But the theme of communication and language in the film is so important, especially how the novel coronavirus and mandated social distancing have forced us to depend on the Internet to work and interact with one another (of course, people still love a good old-fashioned phone call now and then, and we also have tools like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and WebX to see each other even when we may not be in the same room with one another). The film takes place in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1986,a time when the only modes of communication were writing letters, calling on the landline and talking face to face. Bernard and Joan Berkman, played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney respectively, are separating after Bernard finds Joan is having an affair with Ivan,Frank’s tennis instructor. This leaves their kids, Walt and Frank, to figure out how to cope with the divorce on their own. Frank, who is younger than Walt, doesn’t have Snapchat, SMS or Instagram to entertain himself and escape from the issue of his parents’ separation, so he drinks his parent’s alcohol and masturbates in private at school. Side note, Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Walt Berkman, is pretty dang cute. I found myself almost blushing through the film because he is so attractive. But again, I find myself digressing.

So yes, Frank doesn’t have all the apps that many of us use everyday (because of course none of these were invented until later), and Walt is figuring out his relationship with Sophie, a girl with whom he bonds over Franz Kafka one day during class. He is also figuring out how to deal with his attraction to Lili, one of his dad’s students (it took me a moment to recognize that Lili is Anna Paquin, and I remembered that this film was made fifteen years ago, so quite a bit of time passed between this film and True Blood). It’s complicated because Lili is also attracted to Bernard. Moreover, Walt, like Frank, is dealing with his parents’ separation. His relationship with Sophie gets worse as he takes his frustration out on her.

I’ve lately been thinking about the topic of communication as it relates to my personal experiences, and this film really made me think about the ways in which people communicated back then and how we communicate now, especially when it comes to the topic of divorce and separation. I personally don’t have expertise in this subject, but I have been reading a lot of reports lately about how the stay at home orders right now are impacting couples who want to file for divorce. Right now, lawyers are backlogged with requests to file divorce, but filing divorce petitions is expensive, and the process of finalizing a divorce is now being done over videoconferencing because the courthouses are closed unless there is an emergency. According to a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek by Sheridan Prasso, in China there have been a lot of domestic violence cases and divorce filings after the government mandated lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19, even though the government expected couples to bond more and have kids since they would be stuck at home. The lockdowns made it hard for the women in these marriages to seek help since they would have had to go see someone in person to file the divorce, and

police were so busy enforcing quarantines that they were sometimes unable to respond to emergency calls from battery victims, women experiencing violence were not able to leave, and courts that normally issue orders of protection were closed.

Feng Yuan, co-founder of Equality, Beijing NGO focused on gender-based violence. Source: “China Divorce Spike is a Warning to the Rest of Locked-Down World” by Sheridan Prasso

I’m not saying the characters in the film were in any way privileged for going outside or meeting each other face to face to work out conflict (or in Walt’s case, running out of Mount Sinai Hospital to visit an old relic of his childhood at the Museum of Natural History). That’s how people had to communicate during the day: you couldn’t text someone an apology, you couldn’t tweet something snarky, you couldn’t send a middle-finger emoji to your mom if she said something you didn’t like. You had to call the phone or talk to them in person, so it was hard watching Walt insult Sophie on the street corner and ridicule her for wanting to have sex too soon. Nowadays, if he had a smartphone he probably would have found her on Tinder and if she seemed too much for him, he could just ghost her and ignore her text messages and calls. He wouldn’t have to talk out his frustration with her, and it’s not like they walked away feeling good about their relationship (they break up), but they talked about it. Face to face, tears and awkward silences galore, something that you can’t communicate in a text message or group chat. The movie would have been totally different if the characters used the methods of communication we use today. Many couples use texting to communicate, and while texting is good for communicating short non-intrusive messages when people are busy at work or dropping off kids at school, the way we communicate our words matters, and texting omits 93 percent of the cues for effective communication. I don’t care if you pepper your message with eggplant emojis, cute smiley icons or digital middle fingers. It doesn’t convey everything you are thinking, and so your partner may be keeping something from you and hiding that thing in the text message without honestly talking about it. I honestly cannot envision Joan and Bernard communicating through text. The in person conversations between them, Walt and Frank were already filled with pain, tears and anger; why complicate it through texting? Imagine if Walt talked out his memory of his mother and him sharing this beautiful bond before the divorce, through text with his therapist. At first, Walt doesn’t open up, but since he doesn’t have a phone to peer down at during his therapy session, he has to look the therapist in the eye and be honest with both him and himself. Soon, Walt finds himself recalling a particularly beautiful moment when his mother and him go to the Natural History Museum and see a diorama of a squid and a whale and what that diorama meant for him as a child. It’s hard to be honest in person sometimes, especially when you’re going through what Walt is, but it frees you to a certain extent because you don’t feel you have to bottle up your pain all the time when you talk it out with someone in person or on the phone.

Also, the movie would be just be boring if communication was like that. Through movies, we develop a sense of empathy for the characters and what they are going through when we see their tears, their silent steely expressions. None of that comes through in a text message. I’m not totally against texting, but this has been on my mind for quite some time so what better way to address it than a long blog post rant? I wonder how this movie would have been if it took place during the current lockdown situation…. also, what if Walt lived during YouTube and put his cover of Pink Floyd’s song (which he told people he wrote himself. That lie didn’t last long after the principal found out) on there. Maybe he would have gotten a copyright ID notice. Just a thought.

My Thoughts on After You, The Sequel to Me Before You

So first before I write this review: if you haven’t read Me Before You (the book before After You), then make sure you read it before reading my take on it. Because like any review about a series book (like let’s say, Harry Potter) if you don’t know what’s going on with the characters’ backstories, then it’s going to be hard to catch up. Also, who likes spoilers? I don’t know many people who care for them, unless they just are absolutely certain they will not read the book or watch the movie. So I’ll leave some spaces here before you scroll any further…

Ready? Okay, let’s do this thing. So the book After You carries off after Will Traynor’s assisted suicide (Dignitas) and Louisa is trying her hardest to cope, but ends up falling from her apartment building. Her family tells her to come back home, so she does and gets a job at an airport working at a coffeeshop/bar. Her boss, Richard, is a pain to work with, constantly micromanaging her and forcing her to wear an outfit she doesn’t like. On top of that, she is trying to stay away from people who think of her as the girl who encouraged Will’s suicide. And big surprise: neither we the reader nor Louisa knows that Will had a daughter, but lo and behold Lily shows up at Louisa’s apartment one night because she found out Louisa knew Will. Louisa’s parents also send her to a grief support group, and while at first Louisa doesn’t want to be there, she meets Sam, who is a relative of one of the support group members. Louisa must make a lot of hard decisions in this book: should she accept her newfound relationship with Sam, or not go for it because Will wouldn’t have wanted it? Should she accept a new job offer in a different city or stay put at her day job? Should she let Lily stay at her apartment or risk hurting her feelings by kicking her out?

The book was great, although I am aware of the criticisms around it. There was a lot of backlash from disabled communities because Me Before You suggests that living as a disabled person is useless and disabled people should opt for ending their lives instead of living. I am honestly glad I read the criticisms because I was crying during Me Before You and After You, and I knew I was frustrated with the ending of Me Before You, but I simply couldn’t put my tongue on it. I thought at the end, Did Will just have to go through with suicide? Why couldn’t he and Louisa just grow old together? Why did the key to Louisa’s happiness have to be in another able-bodied person (Sam) in the sequel? Then I read reviews about the film by disability activists and was relieved to know my growing discomfort with the novel’s ending was valid.

Also, from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective, we believe everyone has a mission in life and that mission is give other people hope when we overcome our challenges. We also believe that there is a type of happiness called absolute happiness, where, even if you are going through the worst of times, when you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you awaken to your own inner potential (which we all have inside of us) to overcome any obstacle and achieve your goals, so even going through challenges is itself a joy. By the end, I kind of wished Will and Louisa were real so that I could tell them about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; I’m not saying it would have made Will’s problems go away, but it would have given him hope that he could keep going in life. I cannot speak for disabled people since I am able-bodied, but I know a lot of people who are physically disabled but they keep on living despite the challenges and discrimination they may face as disabled people. I am also aware that suicide is a touchy topic and that my views do not reflect other people’s perspectives. As much as I loved Me Before You and its sequel at first, I am trying to become more aware of the ways in which a lack of accurate representation of disabled people does more harm than good.

Book Review: The Power

It took me a while to finish this book because 1. I was reading five other books at the same time as reading this one and 2. the violence was pretty graphic. Not in a bad way, it was just hard to stomach for many of the scenes.

But just to give a brief summary of this novel. It is told in the third person narrative, but each chapter switches back and forth between different characters in the novel. It is about a power that all women and girls–not men and boys–possess, and Naomi Alderman, the author of the novel, illustrates the effects–whether good, bad, or in-between—of having this power on society and the girls and women themselves. A year ago I read a book called Vox by Christina Dalcher. That book takes place in a society where lab agents put trackers on all women and girls so that they don’t say more than 100 words per day. If they say any more than that, they get electric shocks. It gave me goosebumps because in reality, many girls and women have faced this silencing at work, in school, in the government, and elsewhere. The Power took that narrative and turned it on its head by having women and girls rule society and men as the oppressed group. The novel also shows how bad toxic masculinity can be because several men’s rights groups are trying to get back at the girls and women and kill them so they can take their power from them (I thought about meninism and how it wants to push back against feminism)

The power that the women and girls have in the book is a skein that each of them have on their hands. If they touch someone, even lightly, the other person will feel the power rise up from the girls’ palms. If the girl or woman presses their palm with great force, it can burn skin, send intense shock waves throughout the other person’s body, and cause other injuries Alderman shows that while on the surface having a society where women have this power sounds so empowering, this power must be used wisely and if it gets in the wrong hands it can wreak serious havoc (later in the book, one of the dudes tries to kill one of the girls and ends up getting the skein of power in his hand. He doesn’t stand a chance for the women who also have the power).

The end of the book gave me chills, but I think that was what the author intended because it shows you to never underestimate the strength of women and their power to unite. Overall, excellent read.

The Power. Naomi Alderman. 385 pp.

Movie Review: In a World

I have been wanting to see this movie for the longest time, but never knew when I would get a chance to see it. I am really glad I watched it though, because it taught me to not give up on my dreams. The film, which is based on the late Don LaFontaine’s famous voice over for trailers “In a world…”, is about a voice over coach named Carol (played by Lake Bell, who also wrote, directed and produced this film) who lives with her voice actor dad Sam, and she is struggling to find gigs. The worst part: her dad kicks her out so that his girlfriend can move in with him. He also tells her the same thing he has been telling her for years: that the industry won’t hire her because she’s a woman. So she goes to her sister Dani’s place to live and is still struggling to find work. She also has to compete with an egotistical jerk named Gustav Warner, who is competing for Carol’s work. While she is working in the studio, she is given a prompt to read for a new movie, and she soon finds out that she got a couple of gigs. What she doesn’t know is that her dad and Gustav are also competing for them. She goes to a party that Gustav is throwing and ends up sleeping with Gustav because he manipulates her into thinking he likes her for her when he is just using her to advance his own agenda. Carol ends up proving to these two dudes that women are just as valuable to the industry as any man (the fact that Lake Bell produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film proves this even further).

This film reminded me a lot of this one episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in which Midge meets her idol Sophie Lennon, who puts on a running caricature of an overweight poor woman from Queens named Sophie. Midge actually believes that Sophie from Queens is real and Sophie invites her over to her house, but when she gets there she finds that Sophie, in reality, lives a completely different life from her character. Sophie in real life sucks on lemons, is haughty, lives in a mansion, and looks down on Midge. When Midge asks her for advice and tells Sophie of her dreams of being a famous comedian, Sophie laughs at her and says in seriousness that comedy won’t take her seriously unless she is a man (she used a coarser phrase but it doesn’t need repeating). When Sam says this to Carol, I thought of this scene. Midge of course proves Sophie wrong (and even reveals to her audience at the Gaslight that Sophie isn’t who people think she is and is just an arrogant fraud who thinks her poo doesn’t stink).

This movie, In a World, was also inspiring to watch as a female in the music industry. Even though the film is about voice over acting, music still has a long way to go in how it treats women and a lot of women in the industry, like Bebe Rexha, are taking initiative to support other women in the field since many of them, like her, have had to break down some kind of barrier to their success. When women support other women, as I have found out in my own industry, great things happen and we defy the stereotypes that women are always backstabbing each other and can’t support one another.

I also thought about the story of the dragon king’s daughter while watching this film. In The Lotus Sutra, which expounds the philosophy of Buddhism (and which is the foundation of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism), there is a story about an eight-year-old girl who is the daughter of a dragon king and she goes before an assembly of people who doubt she can attain enlightenment. But without having to change her form, she basically tells the assembly, “Watch me attain Buddhahood” and does so before their very eyes. This story is for everyone, but especially for girls and women because it shows that you can be yourself and still kick butt at what you do. Like the dragon king’s daughter, everyone has that courage, compassion and wisdom inside of them but it’s just a matter of bringing it out. Even though her dad thought she wouldn’t make it in the industry, Carol proved that she has a purpose for being in the field that she is in, and later we see that it’s to encourage other young women to pursue voice acting because they finally see a woman doing it and feel encouraged to go for the field. And I like Carol because she’s awkward and introverted like me, which doesn’t seem to most people like an attractive personality in a competitive extroverted business where you’re constantly around people who don’t seem genuine (probably not true about Hollywood since I’ve never worked in it, so I’m probably making a generalization). But she uses her strength to her advantage and realizes that she doesn’t have to become her egotistical dad or Gustav. While leading up to the big day of the voice over gig they’re all competing for, Gustav trains rigorously with his housekeeper, Sam trains with his girlfriend, and Carol is sitting at home with her friend in the studio Louis (who, unlike Gustav, is a sweet guy who respects Carol and also likes her for her), and chowing down on a hamburger. She is the only one who is relaxing before the gig. Even though she wasn’t going through intensive training before the gig, she still did a great job at it.

Overall, this film was great and I honestly wouldn’t mind watching it again. Also, like Booksmart, the film had a cool soundtrack with a lot of great hits from Ice Cube and Tears for Fears.

In a World. 2013. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

Book Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Gosh. Like Homegoing, I had a hard time putting this book down. Even though the book is set in 2007-2008, around the time that Lehman Bothers collapsed, it is still important to read in 2020, especially since, in the past few years, we have witnessed a president who has exhibited all manner of toxic anti-immigration sentiments. I devoured this book in about a week because it was so good.

Behold the Dreamers takes place in New York City in 2007. Jende and his wife Neni have a son and are expecting another child. They have left Cameroon for the United States and found employment, and they find themselves working for a white American couple named Clark and Cindy. Clark and Cindy are upper middle class people who live busy lives, but they have dark secrets, one being that the company Clark works for, Lehman Brothers, is doing shady stuff that could lead to the company going underwater. Another dark secret is that Cindy struggles with addiction and alcoholism. Even though Neni tries to help her and find out what is bothering Cindy, Cindy pushes her away and tells her to mind her business. But as the novel goes on, things get more stressful, and also Jende and Neni are struggling to stay in the U.S. because they don’t know if their request for asylum will get approved.

This was an important book to read because I didn’t know much about the Lehman Brothers collapse other than what I learned briefly in my history and social studies classes in high school. This novel taught me that Lehman Brothers didn’t just affect American citizens but also immigrants like Jende and Neni who not only have to deal with losing their jobs, but also losing their right to stay in the U.S. I never thought much of the American Dream but after reading books like Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, and after listening to my friends from countries outside of the U.S., like India and the Congo, talk about their struggles to obtain green cards and apply for permanent residency in the U.S., I have a different idea of what the American Dream is. When I read The Great Gatsby in high school, we talked about how the novel portrays the American Dream, but it was from the perspective of a well-to-do white American guy who never had to get a green card or even think about his citizenship. The American Dream isn’t accessible to many people and to get the American Dream requires a lot of emotional and financial sacrifice for many people who immigrate to the U.S. While I can’t relate to what immigrants go through, I can’t begin to imagine what a stressful process it is, but watching John Oliver break it down was fairly helpful.

Overall, a very important book to read for our time.

Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue. 2016. 382 pp.

Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

photo courtesy of me.

A friend recommended this book to me, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Yaa Gyasi’s writing really left an impact on me. It is a powerful novel about the importance of remembering our history. I honestly have no other words to describe it, and I cannot do justice by just putting a basic summary. I took a class in which we read literature from authors of the African Diaspora, but that was a few years ago. This book served as a reminder to me to not forget my history. I first started reading it on the cruise I went on and it spellbound me immediately. What I find unique about this book is that each story seems to stand on its own and it feels like you are reading several novels within a 300 page novel. The book covers so much history in just 300 or so pages that I was left feeling both exhausted and incredibly moved.

I do admit because I wasn’t super focused while reading, I sometimes got lost while reading the book and had to go back at some points and remember who the characters were, but there is a family tree at the beginning of the novel with the characters’ names. The family tree was helpful because each character has their own chapter, and the characters cross paths in each others’ stories, so it can be helpful in order to keep up with the characters. If you end up not taking an Africana Studies course at any point in your life, at the very least read this book because while it’s not going to just lay out all the bullet points and basic facts just like any standard textbook would, the lived experiences of these characters at these different points in history (the slave trade to Jim Crow-era segregation to the present) is enough to make you pause and reflect on the history of race and blackness and how it has shaped African-Americans’ individual lives. Overall, it is an incredibly powerful book that left me with goosebumps and honestly I hope they make it into a movie someday.

Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi. 320 pp.