Support for on being with Krista Tippett comes from the Fetzer Institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fatso's new study. What does spirituality mean to us? Reveals how spirituality informs our understanding of ourselves and each other and inspires us to take action for the common good. Explore these findings and more at spirituality study, Doug. So many of us have been getting through this pandemic by watching movies at home, by ourselves or with friends on Zoome, inventing new ways to grieve and to hope to keep ourselves laughing all through this simple act of watching stories unfold on our screens, movies have the power to help us get closer to ourselves, to unearth the many layers of our identities, to answer the question, Who am I?
That question is at the heart of the third and final season of our delightful On Being Studios' podcast. This movie changed me and we'll get a taste of that this hour.
I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. This movie Changed Me is hosted by our very own movie loving executive producer, Lily Percy, and she will be our guide. I think this has got to you walked by the Color Purple. And if you don't notice it. You saying it just won't be love, like I say, in the Bible. Yes, everything ought to be like a sang and danced and holler. Just trying to be loved. When Roger Ebert wrote his review in 1985 of The Color Purple, he started it by saying, there is a moment in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple when a woman named Sally smiles and smiles and smiles.
That was the moment when I knew this movie was going to be as good as it seemed was going to keep the promise it made by daring to tell silly story. It is not a story that would seem easily suited to the movies.
Ebert was so right when you read Alice Walker's book. It's hard to imagine that he could ever really thoughtfully and truly be portrayed by a movie. And yet that's what Spielberg did in bringing that story to life.
The story of Seeley, a black woman living in the early 1980s in the Jim Crow South, who lived her life fully and imperfectly in spite of the violence, hatred and racism that surrounded her.
The Color Purple, both the movie and the book has inspired poet Tanaz Smith's work, their books of poetry are powerful and speak of messy, complicated truths, the same way that the story in The Color Purple does.
And that's one of the things that Denise was really struck by when they watched the movie was the first time that they were watching a black woman from beginning to end, that they were seeing this black woman's life their whole life on screen. I want you to travel back in time with me for a second, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to think about the first time that you saw The Color Purple.
You know who you were with, how old you were, how it made you feel. And I'm going to look at the clock for 10 seconds and and I'll chime back in when the ten seconds are up. So tell me what memories came up for you. Oh, I just thought about that, about being in my mom's room where I watched so many movies when I was a kid. Luckily, my mom was a single mom, so we had like a one on one relationship.
And I was the only child she really didn't like kids' movies.
So I watched all her favorite movies with her stuff. I was probably a little bit too young for at an early age.
I didn't even know how old I was because it feels like I've been watching The Color Purple my whole life. That's one of my mom's favorite movies and it's my favorite movie.
And I actually just watched it with her again for this this weekend.
Oh, my God. Really? Yeah. So I thought I was like, oh, I was like, I have to watch The Color Purple for this interview. Do you want to watch it with me? She said, yeah, come over.
And so we just watch The Color Purple.
I remember in an interview you talked about how you had always, like you said, growing up with this movie, and you can't remember really a time where it wasn't around, but that the book really kind of brought this whole other layer to understanding the characters in the movie.
And when did you read the book?
Well, I was probably a teenager, probably 14, 15, I want to say. And I never thought to pick up the book because I knew the movie so well and the book was just tucked in and a little shelf we had downstairs that kind of was like for forgotten books in the house. You know, my mom was an avid reader and one day I picked it up and just thought I was going to see basically what I saw in the film.
And I was amazed at how different it was, how queer it was, how rich it was, the form of the letters that we that you lose in the movie a little bit.
And it was so interesting to see. I guess for me, I think that's the first time maybe Spielberg's hand was illuminated a little bit in the movie.
Yeah, because it feels like such a black classic to me. And it is, you know, I think it is a black film at the end of the day.
But I for black, I may be ugly, but thank God I'm here. I'm here. I don't get that I want to go back. Tell me a little bit about what Seele means to you and why you love her character so much.
I think Seele reminds me of so many women in my family who.
Who found each other and who maybe found it hopefully in probably later? I think that's the thing about Seeley is that she her freedom comes late. And I've seen that with so many women in my family where they find themselves after living under and for these men for so long. Right. With these sort of multiplying and 811 kids running around them, I just flat out like see like my grandmother, you know, and people who carved out tenderness while living in these complicated homes, see was always just so beautiful to me.
I love I was just saying that to my mom. I was like, oh, it's like it's weird that they try to cast Seele as the ugly girl in this house because I love Whoopi Goldberg.
Basically, she's played by Bobby Goldberg and she's so beautiful.
And especially when she smiles, it lights up the whole screen. I don't understand it.
And I think I'm I'm always going to cheer for the person who who had to learn how to smile. And I'm going to cheer for her smile all the way through. And that's why I cry every time that film is so powerful.
Yeah. And I think the because Seelie maybe for me was the first type of story where I think you get to see a character all the way through. Yeah.
Where you get to love somebody his whole life. I think that's why and I think I love those type of stories. Right. Like even when I'm going to my grandparents and my uncles and stuff like that, the way they tell their stories, even though I wasn't there, I get to love their whole life a little bit. Yeah. And I love that.
I think that's what I love is I feel like the Color Purple for me, maybe capture stories, you know, stories that have existed in my family for centuries. And I get that glimpse into the lives of people.
I've loved that that I just wasn't there to get to imagine or take part in DC.
The reason I am in Africa is because one of the missionaries that was supposed to go with Karine and Samuel to help with the children and setting up the school certainly married a man. And I came in her place. I wrote a letter to you almost every day on this ship on my father's side of Africa coast. Something struck me in my soul like a large bauen. Then not just rated. That is the sort of blues note of the Color Purple, right, is that is that everything is kind of the good is tinged with the sad of it.
And the sad always finds its way to its jubilee or to some type of some type of joy, some type of release, some type of desire.
I think, like the characters are like kind of always or never in crisis.
You like this way in and out of it, right? Yeah. And we see the long narrative. Right. Like and of course then it makes the feelings messy and it makes the story complicated. It can never be clean as we want it to be. It's still a messy truth.
You know, Dennis, I feel like everything you just said encapsulates your writing, because when I read your your poetry, I feel like that's what you do. I mean, you tell the truth about sex, about longing, about intimacy, about pain, about racism. I mean, you just speak so many truths in the way that you talked about the blues as it's shown in the movie. I think that.
Does that resonate all with you? Because when I read your poetry, I feel the same way.
I think, you know, part of the prevailing, like thought in my poems is like everything can be is going to be true at once, you know, and just like my feelings all the time.
Exactly. You know, how are you is a very complicated question.
I mean, this is just like, you know, do you want to hear about the ways in which my life is blessed in my ways, my life is cast in the ways my life is working itself out.
And I think to invite that type of messiness to the poems, I think, you know, it's not an invention of mine. I think it's that's the work that I found most compelling when I find it other places.
And so and so I follow that that note that people like Alice Walker have laid out to embrace that high, low everything feeling of life and to let life, you know, exists best within that brilliant complication that lives somewhere between the joy and pain of a single experience, you know, are of a multitude of experiences right in life and to let that life then be transformed by the lives around it.
You know, that's what Seeley's doing the whole time. Every woman she meets, every person she encounters, transforms her life in so many ways. And I think that's also what I'm trying to do in poems a little bit, both as I think in the poems, too. I try to talk about that intimacy and like how we get through this together and amongst each other and also how I guess how I approach being a reader to write is that like I'm trying to read and be transformed by the writers that I'm reading right now.
Right. And that that also is a kind of like intimacy and love and community making to write to say that like, hey, like this, this is work I move through that has, like, refigured me and who I feel I can count on my own work in new ways to.
I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being today asking the question, who am I through movies we love? Guided by Lily Percy. You don't really need to know much about David Cronenberg's horror classic, The Fly to understand the premise, but here is what you do need to know.
Jeff Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, this genius scientist who is inventing teleportation.
But his plans go awry when a little fly ends up in one of the machines and that begins his slow and horrific transformation into a six foot fly.
Those weird hairs that were growing out of your back, I took them to a lab, had them analyzed. Yeah, that's a strange thing to do. Not as strange as the results at the lab had trouble identifying. I finally came to the conclusion that they were definitely not human or not human.
Seth. In fact, very likely insect hairs. For Tony Bennett, who works with Interfaith Youth Core, the Fly is an interpretation of the Icarus story, of the reality of what happens when someone flies too close to the sun and when you let your ego convince you that you know more than everyone else.
You know, I just don't think I've ever given me a chance to be me, but of course, interestingly, the exact same moment that I achieved what will probably prove to be my life's work. That's the moment when I started being the real me, finally. So listen, and not to wax messianic, but it may be true that the synchronicity of those two events might blur the resultant individual effect of either individually, but it is nevertheless also certainly true.
I will say now, however, subjectively, that human teleportation, molecular decimation, breakdown and re formation is inherently parching. It makes a man a king. From the moment I walked out of the pod, I felt like a million bucks. You know, I think I'm going to have a can only after all, waita I mean, what an accomplishment. But what have I really done? All I've done is say to the world, let's go.
Move. Catch me if you can. Waiter Jesus Christ.
As we're talking, there is a really great piece in the website, Film School Rejects, and it's one of their columnists, Brian Salsbury, he described Jeff Goldblum's character, Seth Brundle, as a character whose greatest flaw at the onset of the film is a relentless desire to advance the boundaries of knowledge. He proceeds with his teleportation experiment with the express intention of bettering humankind. But in the process, however, he is graphically robbed of every aspect of his own humanity.
Hmm. And that's so well-written and so astute as to what happens to him.
So, yeah, it really is. And so there's this balance, I think, in social change work by this fervor. And I certainly felt this more when I was in my my late teens, early 20s and just coming to activism of like wanting to change the world and being a little bit on fire about. Yeah.
And also being the calm. Not that you could do it, having the confidence you could do it, maybe the ego to think you could do it. It's actually a good thing to want to do something better.
Yes, it is. But the the dangers of not paying attention to those you're in relationship with while you're doing that has the potential of robbing you of something very valuable.
Can you give me an example of those early days when you felt that way, when you came into that your activism and felt I'm going to change the world and realizing it wasn't so simple?
Yeah, I mean, I think after college I was living in DC and I was part of a broader social group that included Catholic workers and other anti-war activists.
And there was this just fervent conviction that the system was through and through RODDEN and we needed a sense of like Christian anarchism was the solution and we could do this. And if you weren't down with this, you were just irrelevant, right?
There's actually, you know, a case to be made. But I think the way you make the case matters a lot. Yeah. And the way in those years that I was writing off, those who disagreed, I think was the problem. It wasn't so much. And this is still true the way now I think about civic life. It's not so much one's conviction as much as how one orients or relates to those of different conviction. This is constantly the balance in a diverse democracy, broadly speaking, but just in our personal lives, like holding true to what you think and what you believe and your conviction and holding space.
To meet others where they are and experience them without needing to evaluate or judge or predetermined.
Yeah, that was I did not do that well. Right. That that was like that was not part of the world I was in and it was not part of my posture toward my my work or what I thought it meant to be an activist.
So how did you come to learn that?
You know, assuming I have learned it to a degree, you know, I think maybe if what middle age has given me and for whatever type of reflection is is worth like the greater sensitivity to the the connective tissue of the whole and how we are held together.
Both inextricably and inexplicably protecting that has taken more of a priority for me than pushing my particular position or understanding of the truth, so I hope that's made me a little bit softer and more understanding and more easy to get along with and present to people.
Um, I feel like you've gotten to a place where you had, you know, Rundell not become a flight you may have gotten to in his version of himself. Yeah.
So that the way I read it, it's like this is the dystopic possibilities, you know, in this wildly dramatized sci fi gross way. So what the film does for me is push those questions and themes by framing them. And here's how it goes wildly wrong.
All right. You know, this could happen to all of us. You can hear the full episodes of all of the conversations in this hour in season three of On Being Studios' podcast, this movie changed me. Subscribe wherever podcasts are found and find for new episodes. They're right now. Coming up, the movies, Real Women Have Curves, Blocher's and Selena.
I'm Krista Tippett on Being continues in a moment.
I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today, a taste of the new and delightful third season of our NPR Studios podcast. This movie changed me. Hosted by Lily Percy.
The movie Selena tells the story of the iconic the Hanno music singer played by Jennifer Lopez, but it also tells the story of Celina's father, Abraham, played by Edward James Olmos and the struggles he faced as a Mexican-American living and working as a musician in the segregated United States. His experiences influenced the way that he helps his daughter to shape her career.
Reacting to the music speak for itself that, listen, being Mexican-American is tough. Anglos jump all over you if you don't speak English perfectly, Mexicans jump all over you. If you don't speak Spanish perfectly, we've got to be twice as perfect as anybody else. Why are you laughing?
What's so funny? Nothing.
I'm serious and our family has been here for centuries and yet they treat us as if we just swam across the Rio Grande. I mean, we got to know about John Wayne and federal funding. We got to know about Frank Sinatra and Augustin Ladha. We got to know about Oprah and Christina. Anglophones is too bland. And yet when we go to Mexico, we get the runs. Now, that to me is bunch of Japanese Americans, Italian Americans, German Americans.
Their homeland is on the other side of the ocean. Ours is right next door right over there. And we got to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are and we got to prove the Americans are American. We have we got to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than Americans, both at the same time. It's exhausting. And nobody knows how tough it is to be a Mexican-American.
Qasar Ronno is a writer and he's also Mexican-American from Texas. Just like Selena, she grew up never dreaming that being a writer was a possibility for him. He was working class and for him, seeing Selena hold all of these identities, singer, fashion designer, businesswoman, it meant that he could be more than just what he knew in his own family and community, that he could dream really big. So, you know, talking about that scene in the car between Selena and her brother and her dad, you know, in your book movies and other things, you tell this really wonderful story that I feel like illustrates so many of the things that they're talking about in that scene.
It's a story of you working at. Is it? Yeah. Is that how you say it? Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
I love to read a part of it, if you don't mind, just because it's it's so well-written and I'd love to hear you talk about it.
So. All right. Go nuts.
You were talking about working in this pizza place and you know, you were there with a couple of the guys who are also Mexican-American and also Mexican immigrants. Right. So, like it was a different scenario than when you had been in. Yeah. And then you say, I remember telling them that I was in school just as a general piece of chitchat one day and I remember them making fun of me hand to God for like a week straight about it.
They'd say things about how I wasn't a real Mexican because I'd gone to college and they say things about how I thought I was white, because I'd gone to college just a bunch of dumb shit like that. And I mean, I wish I could tell you that I was smart enough at the time to be able to explain to them how backward it was for them to think that only white people went to college and the heat from the pizza ovens bonded us in unexpected and very meaningful ways.
Had they both ended up enrolling at the school where I was enrolled, then we all graduated together and advanced our family names. But that's not how that particular situation played out.
Tell me a little bit about that experience and how you connected to Selena.
OK, it was the scene we're talking about is the thing about you're having to to balance basically two identities.
As you mentioned, this was like I you know, my second or third year in college or something like that, just trying to make a little my low minimum wage money so I could spend it on whatever.
And I met those guys. We were all working, like making the pizzas, throwing them in the oven together. So a couple of Mexican dudes and I thought we were going to be buddies. You know, I was living and this was in Huntsville, Texas. The school up there didn't have like a very big Mexican population. I was excited that I was like, oh, I remember these faces like this feels a little bit like San Antonio. And then we started they started laying into me about BNA being a college boy.
And I remember having that exact that exact same conversation before I even left for college. My friends, people I had grown up with were like, oh, you're like abandoning the neighborhood or whatever. Like you should be walking down the street, not going to college, this whole thing. So, yeah, that that just always sort of stuck with me. And then I, you know, as you mentioned it, it didn't work out great for me.
I ended up being like the worst of the group because what ended up happening was one of the guys there, his last name was very similar to my name, and they mixed up our paychecks one day like the payroll did.
And he was working full time. And I was doing, you know, part time college hours, ten hours, five hours a week or whatever. And I got his check and I was like four hundred eighty something dollars, 500 bucks or whatever.
And I was just like I just kept it just cash to check it out of my name on it. And I quit the job and I left and like that was it.
And I can remember thinking like I wonder if they thought this was like a cool Mexican thing to do, if they, if they like.
Did they approve of that or. It was all backwards. It was all turned around. Yeah. It was all really dumb. But like that's just the sort of the sort of stuff that happens in your brain. Yeah.
How did you come to make peace with that, though, the idea that you could be educated and still be Mexican and still be true to your your family, your community?
You know, I think that's the very first time anybody has ever asked me that question. And I don't know that I have a very good answer for it, because that's still. Very much a thing that's the thing that I think about a lot, that's a that's like a myth that is still out there. I do a lot of speaking engagements at different schools. And like that's always the primary point we're trying to get across to these kids is like being Mexican doesn't mean not being able to do certain things.
It does it doesn't mean anything except that you're Mexican. So it's still something I think a lot about.
I live in a neighborhood now. There's like our little cul de sac. There's not another Mexican family in there. It's like that part of town. There's not a lot of Mexicans on that side of town. Like, you feel it in certain spaces and certain rooms.
So I don't know how to, like, deprogram my own brain, let alone somebody else's from feeling that way.
Yeah, I relate to that a lot. I think when you are different from either the the community that you come from or even just have different jobs than your family members and different experiences, it's so hard to reconcile your desire for something different. Right. From what they experienced. Yeah.
Because you get you have enough conversations with with like your people. My dad, for example, works as he drives a bus for the city he works. He's been there for thirty three years, going on thirty four years. He's getting up every morning at like three something right into work and then driving the bus for ten hours and then going home. My mom worked at a corner store for twenty nine years, just like at a stop and go or whatever my my uncle does.
Landscape and irrigation like these are hard working jobs and I sit down at a table with them and they're talking about work and I'm like, oh, I sat in my office and like played on the Internet for six hours and I went and I went to go watch a movie and like, that's what my job looks like.
And it looks so much different than theirs. And there's always like I don't know if I'm putting this sort of tension in there myself or or what, but yeah, when you're in a space where where people are not doing the same sort of thing that you're doing, it does sort of tint the relationships a bit.
Yeah. It makes it so complicated because it can be seen as rejection. Right. Of of of them and of who they are and what they do unintentionally. Yeah.
They can be feeling that way. I can be feeling that we can all just sort of we can all be feeling a certain kind of way and not being able to explain it. Exactly. We know that it's there. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being today asking the question, who am I through movies we love? Guided by Lily Percy. Blocher's is a sex comedy, but it's a sex comedy directed by a woman Canon, so it has depth and layers that you don't normally expect from this movie genre.
It's one of the most intimate, vulnerable and aspirational movies about sexuality and gender that I've ever seen. And it's also really funny. The movie tells the story of three teenage girls who want to lose their virginity on their prom night.
But it's also about their parents mourning the loss of their kids, watching them grow up and learning to let them go.
Because Blocher's is a comedy, you wouldn't expect to watch it and have a profoundly personal and revelatory experience. But that's exactly what happened to Emily Vandergriff. She's a writer and the critic at large for Fox. And when she saw Blocher's for the first time, she realized that the movie was showing her something that she couldn't have ever even imagined a life for herself as a trans woman. People people say. So I'd love for you to just close your eyes for for a couple of seconds and just I'm going to take you back in time to the first time that you saw that movie.
OK, so just close your eyes and think about how old you were. This is only two years ago.
So hopefully this is not a difficult exercise, how old you were, where you were and how it made you feel. And then I'll just chime in when those 10 seconds are up. So tell me what memories came for you. Well, first of all, as I am a lady, I will say I was in my 30s when I saw this film, you and I are the same age, so I'm right there with you.
I went and saw this movie at a press screening and I think it was March of 2013. I came out in late March of twenty eighteen and it was because of a barrage of different things from different quarters that hit me like exactly the same time. And the first one of those things was cannons, twenty, eighteen film blockers. Like I was expecting to enjoy it because I had heard from people that it was quite funny and quite good.
And my wife was there with me and you know, we laughed a lot because it's so messed up.
Who are you to get involved in our daughter's sex life. Honey. I know honey. Me. Did your dad try to stop you when you lost your virginity? It's totally different in a different it's a double standard.
Oh, when a guy loses his virginity, it's no big deal. It's celebrated. But if a girl does it, some sort of big loss of innocence. Yes.
Come on, you guys. At the same damn thing. Oh, Marcy, stop talking. Just give us the address. Just give us the address.
Honestly, Lisa, I can't believe you're on their side side. This is not some philosophical debate. We're trying to stop our daughters from some kind of sex pact that they've planned and not thought through all the way. That is such bullshit. How do you expect society to treat women as if they're equal when their own parents?
Well, I don't know about that. I'll deal with society tomorrow. Right now I'm thinking about my daughter.
I mean, I don't know if this is a stretch at all, but, you know, as you were talking, I thought one of my favorite characters in the movie is Hunter, the dad played by Ike Barenholtz. Sure. You know, who's the father of Sam, you know, who's a lesbian in the movie. And, you know, I can picture Hunter likes to say that that Sam's character was trans. I could picture Hunter saying the exact same things that he says about her as a lesbian, that he's just on the surface.
He's so obnoxious and ridiculous and like this like caricature of a womanizer.
But then throughout the movie, you realize he is the most not only perceptive one out of the three parents, but the most vulnerable and kind to her. You know, even though he's his daughter isn't publicly out as a lesbian like he's always known and really wants to protect her.
Right. To decide when other people know and and and her right to have that experience in a beautiful way.
And it's it's one of the most tender things about the movie. I've made lots of mistakes, but the big mistake is that I let what happened between your mom and I get in the way of our relationship.
Sorry. And I hope that we can start over and. Build up our relationship again because. You're my only kid. I'm your own dad. Dad. Can I tell you something now? Yes, yes, yes, yes, anything. I'm a lesbian. What does your mom think? She doesn't know. You told me before you told your mom. Yeah, let's pick, you know, Frank.
I'm just curious, like what the character of Sam watching that and even watching his interaction with her as her dad meant for you.
I. So I have a relationship with my father anymore. I. I don't want to say it's over forever, you know, it could change, he could change, but he has refused to. Acknowledge me. As I am. And I feel as far as bars go, call me Emily, use she her pronouns is about as low as you can get. Yeah. Everybody else in my life who's not my mother or my father does that. The people who don't I blog on Twitter like.
I can't even think about that, it's not that it's like foreign to me, I can imagine a girl who's single dad said, you're trans cool, we're going to figure that out.
I have I have written that girl into some of my work named. I can't imagine it for myself, it feels like a like something too hot to touch. I. Had recently sort of been exploring the idea of telling a story about myself, if I had, you know, gone through the right puberty, if I was still trans, but I had started taking pills and I just like I couldn't do it. I couldn't look at it. It was too painful.
But it was also too unbelievable. The women I know who transition in adulthood are women who have. Intense trauma often around parental relationships because their parents often stand in the way of them. I can't look at that idea.
I the idea you just presented, I can't look at it even when I write it. You know, I, I, I desperately, desperately wish it was just the norm. There's such a pathology, there's such an idea of like I honestly, I'm thinking about this in terms of the Leslie Mann character, you have these ideas about what your child is going to be. You have these ideas about what your child is going to do. You have these fantasies of the person your child is going to become.
One of my best friends has a five year old daughter, and she's watching as her daughter very quickly becomes a different person from the one that she thought she had. And like she's cool with that. She's a great mom.
She's like she's like a rolling with it. But what a what a hard thing to give up on. What a hard thing to give up on this idea you had of, you know, who your child might have been. I don't. I don't think it's wrong to mourn that, I don't think it's wrong to grieve that. I think it is wrong to get stuck there. I think it is wrong to insist that your version of reality is their version of reality.
And I think that's where that's where these relationships break down. So in conclusion, I wish that my dad had been a good parent. Bolts from the movie Blocher's.
Oh, you know, one of the things that I love about watching movies over and over again when they're good is I always feel like the more I watch them, the more I learn and grow and I kind of grow together alongside the movie. I'm just curious for you, because of the fact that you saw this before you came out as a trans woman publicly and and presumably you've watched it since, like how you've grown together, how you and Blocher's have continued to grow together.
I think I've only seen this movie one time since, you know, I saw it on cable at some point. I saw part of it. I didn't see all of I saw part of it on cable and. I realized I was like, this is still a very charming movie, it didn't hit me with the same weight because I was out, you know, I was out, I was already on hormones.
I was like, this is fun. This is a fun movie. And like, that was kind of all it was. And I think the movies that changes the TV shows that changes the the things we consume that make us the people we are, we often leave them behind. Blocher's was immensely important to me when I saw it that night in March twenty eighteen and almost started crying at this sex comedy everybody else was laughing at because I saw so desperately the life I should have led.
But now I'm leading that life. I don't need to be reminded that it could have existed because I'm there.
I do my. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being today asking the question, who am I through movies we love?
Guided by Lily Percy Real Women Have Curves tells the story of Anna, played by America Ferrera in her first starring role, and Anna's mother, Carmen, played by Luppi on the Vados. Anna is Mexican-American and living in an immigrant household while also navigating a very American high school experience.
The relationship between Anna and her mother is a tense one. We see them fight. We see them struggle. But all throughout we also see this raging love that is at the center of that relationship. And that's one of the reasons it's so hard to watch the two of them on screen. You know, that they want to communicate with each other.
You know that they want the best for each other, but they are missing each other completely normal, that you are becoming a scar.
This one. This one is you. It's a big scar. Look at all of you. This is who we are, the real women. There's a one size. Going back to me, time to let her go by my mom.
You also don't them in the relationship between Anna and Carmen is one that writer and activist Virgie Tovar is very familiar with. By watching them together on screen, Virgie came to fully understand the generational grief that the women in her family held and passed down and how it shaped the complexity of their lives. I'm just curious, when you think about the trajectory of your life and kind of alongside this movie, how the two of you, how you and real women have curves have grown together, what you've continued to learn as you've gotten older?
I'm kind of talking about relationship to to mothers. Like one of the things that I really keep in mind is that I'm like the gender expression, the gender, the understanding of gender I have are time bound and place bound to like. She looks at my expression of gender and she feels the same judgment that I might feel about hers. She feels like I'm confused and out of touch. I feel like she is confused and out of touch.
My grandmother taught me the saying, which is like the devil doesn't know because he's the devil. He knows because he's old. And it's like kind of a Mexican saying, I heard that one. Yeah.
Yeah. And so she has wisdom even with like, you know, the stuff that is so new that came out of, like women's the women's rights movement, like women's liberation, second wave feminism. Right. She she doesn't know that world. Right. But like she understands systems in a way that I that are only really intellectual for me at this point, because those systems she grew up with, they're the same systems I inherited.
And so she live with that boot overtly on her throat. Yeah. And for me, I had to read books to understand even see that boot.
Yeah. Yeah. But but anyway, like, I mean in terms of the trajectory and growing like, I mean I think that you know, I do feel like Anna could have been you or me.
Like I, I just I think I see the complexity of all of it. Were you kind of like full steam ahead and you're like, jump in. She's at Columbia, she's doing her thing. And then you have this kind of rude awakening that as much as you don't relate to maybe where you grew up, you have similar points of tension with the people who are now in your in your social circle and in your in your professional circle, whatever.
And then I think what's hard is, is you've got a there's a lot of things that are hard about like growing up in that trajectory. And like one of the hardest things is how much freedom there is. Like you could pick and choose. Like it's like you've got these two worlds. They're both robust. They both have upsides and they both have downsides. And you kind of you get the freedom to be like, I choose this from here and I choose this from here.
And then, you know, I think, like part of the maturity process is really carving out your own femininity, your own meaning, making. And and I think one of the hardest things for me has been passing out. And I could see Anna on this trajectory to where she comes to a point where she, like, forgives her mother.
And and honestly, it's her leaving that gives her the space to be gracious. And so I think, like, similarly, as we mature and we grow, it's really difficult to look back, especially when you have a like when you get your sense of Latini that from your family and your family is toxic and it's abusive, it's really difficult to go back and you have to go back to like the ground zero. Right. Like the shambles. And you've got to go through every mean, I think of like the images coming to mind.
It's like it's like that house that has fallen apart after an earthquake. And you've got to go through and you've got to, like, get rid of the stuff like the asbestos. Got to put that over there. Yeah. Like wood chunks of rubble over there. And then this picture that, like, means a lot to me.
I'm keeping that. And the more asbestos brick, I don't know, whatever your house is to put that in a box, going to go away, putting that in the trash, and then that moment where you're like, oh, that diary that like I wrote when I was a kid and like, oh, that meal, that dish that like I remember. And I think what's hard is like it's never not going to be painful. Yeah. And I think, like, that is truly the source of tension for people of color who are like really walking between worlds and have one foot in one world, because pretty much if we're that person, it's because our family hurt us.
Most likely it's not just that, like the allure of white culture was just so, like, irresistible. We couldn't like it's like normally like we're going there because we feel like really hurt by where we came from and like and and a lot of us dealt with that through achieving our fucking asses off. Yeah. And that landed us in white world. And so like our journey is really that like, you know, one of the things that I grew up with all the time that my family taught me was like, life is hard, life is hard, life is hard.
And I was like, no, it's not. You're making it hard and like a. All of them have to do with the choices that you've made and and like that resentment and that rage, and then at 38, you know, kind of like just coming into the realization that, like, I made totally different decisions than they did. And I am I am left with the reality that, like, life is hard, like there is no escaping.
And I think when you really talk about the difference with Mexican culture and white culture, and I think that really what Carmen was saying was like, life is not fair. Life is brutal. Don't even go out there because that the world is a terrifying place to stay here and to the known quantity, because the world is scarier than you can even imagine. And Anna is like nothing could be worse than being here with you, which I can relate, girl.
I can relate to that. And then you go out into the world, but then you land in that awareness that Carmen has. And then what do you do with that knowledge? Are you going to pass it on and create a toxic relationship with the people who you love with your potential children or not?
Yeah, that's so true. You know, I was reflecting on just how important this movie was when it came out and how it continues to be so important. It's the first movie of its kind that was directed by, you know, a white Colombian woman. Yeah. A Latin American cast. You know, various countries represented. I mean, America Ferrera is Honduran, you know, launched her career.
I'm I think I underplay the impact that this movie had on me watching it at the age that I watched it. And even today, the impact that it has on me. And I'm just I'm really curious to know what your answer to this would be, which is what do you think thirty eight year old Anna would be up to? Like, what do you think she is doing?
GIRL 38 year old Anna has been through therapy. She read self-help books. She's married to a white man but has feelings about it like she knows he's like she she's like accepted that like. All right, this is like I mean, I think she came to the moment where her ancestors were like, this is not a battle you're going to win, girl, and it's OK.
And and she's like, all right, I'm just going to let myself have this. I'm going to stop trying to I'm going to stop dedicated my life to, like, decolonizing everything. And I'm going to dedicate it to, like, the three things I actually feel like I can decolonize.
And she is like, I don't know why is she a bad entrepreneur? Probably she's definitely like a disruptor. Whatever she's doing.
I feel like if I met Anna, Anna would be a friend. Anna would be somebody who like if she were in a room, I would spot her. And we probably remember if we lived she lived in San Francisco, we'd be members of the same like arts and letters, women's organization or whatever.
I love it. I think we've given. But these are those are the director. Plenty of fodder for a sequel. I'm just saying you wrote the script right there. Yeah, why not?
We wrote the script. The last Vergès Tovar interviewed by Willie Percy, you also heard from Dienes Smith, Tony Bhanot, Shay Serrano and Emily Van Der Werf. Listen to the full episodes with them and others at this movie changed me.
Wherever podcasts are found, the full third and final season, which is now unfolding, also includes conversations about the movies, Lady Bird, The Way We Were and love and basketball.
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