Why I Probably Won’t See The DUFF

This was originally posted over on my new Tumblr Rachel Watches Things. It’s a project I started when I made a kind of late New Year’s Resolution that I won’t pay money to see any movies centered around straight white men in 2015. There’s a post that outlines my options each week that usually goes up on Wednesday and then reviews of what I see and other thoughts related to movies and representation. It’s going to be more focused than this blog has ever dreamed of being, but I thought this particular post had a bit of crossover appeal. Enjoy!


So The DUFF comes out this weekend and on the surface it kind of seems like something I would enjoy. I’ve enjoyed Mae Whitman in the things I’ve seen her in (which isn’t all that much, honestly) and high school rom coms are a genre that I usually enjoy. I mean, 10 Things I Hate About You is still one of my absolute favorites, and I loved things like Drive Me Crazy and Never Been Kissed, even though they were completely ridiculous. I’ve actually never seen American Pie or any of the sequels because raunchy comedy isn’t my jam, but The DUFF seems more like a 2015 She’s All That than anything else.

From what I’ve gathered, the basic premise is that Bianca finds out the she’s been labeled the “duff” among her friends – the Designated Ugly Fat Friend – and enlists the help of the hot-but-terrible-guy to change things. Cue makeover montage, high school shenanigans, hot-but-terrible-guy turning out to not be so terrible, everyone learning lessons, etc.

[minor spoiler – although really, don’t we all know where this is going?]

Based on the previews and the summaries I’ve read, it seems like the movie is at least attempting to send a positive message. According to Wikipedia, Bianca wins by “reminding everyone that no matter what people look or act like, we are all someone’s DUFF… and that’s totally fine.” And that’s cool, I guess? Although it still seems to be asserting that there is, in fact, a hierarchical order to things and it’s more important to remember that there are people both above and below you than it is to, oh I don’t know, dismantle the whole system?

[end of spoiler]

Aside from the fact that I’m not sure I like the message it’s sending (although since I haven’t seen it, I can’t say for sure), and the fact that Mae Whitman is neither ugly nor fat, I’m not sure I want to see this movie. It just hits a little to close to home for me.

Story time!

10 years ago I worked at a movie theater. I got 4 free tickets a day, so I often brought groups of friends with me to the movies. One night three of my friends and I went to something, and the next day I was working with the guy who had taken our tickets. He told me that he thought it was interesting that groups of girls always had one friend who was less attractive. He had noticed this phenomenon again when I came in with my friends – they were all really hot. Implying that I, of course, was the less attractive friend.

He tried to engage me in conversation about this ~*super interesting*~ sociological phenomenon and because 18-year-old me was much less sure of herself and also keenly aware that all of her friends were more “conventionally beautiful” than her, I let him keep talking instead of punching him in the face.

And I’d love to say that I shrugged it off because who cares what he thought, but clearly I didn’t. Even ten years later, I still remember how I felt during that conversation and how it painfully confirmed what I already knew – that I was not thin enough or pretty enough or sweet enough or funny enough or enough of whatever thing it was that boys were looking for.

It seems silly to not go see a movie just because of a dumb comment someone made so long ago. But it’s taken a lot of work to be happy and content with who I am and going to see something that could dredge up all the insecurities of 18-year-old me just isn’t worth it. If you see it and it turns out to be awesome and empowering and uplifting, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll go find something else to watch.

Why You Should See Selma

As is pretty much always the case, there were plenty of buzzworthy movies in 2014. As someone who loves movies and keeps up with reviews and awards and such, this time of year is full of things of interest to me. While I rarely have had the time or inclination to see all of the films that are likely to be nominated for the major awards, I have usually paid enough attention to the buzz to know basically what the big films are about.

With the Golden Globes tomorrow night and the Oscars around the corner, awards season is in full swing and most of the movies generating most of the buzz look very, very familiar: white male coming-of-age, white male genius, white male misunderstood genius, white male antihero, white male historical figure, etc., etc., etc., and other variations thereof. The box office hits paint a slightly different picture, but there are still overwhelmingly white male superheroes and white male action stars and an entire cast of fairy tale characters that are somehow exclusively white.

This is nothing new, or really at all surprising. And I thoroughly enjoyed plenty of those movies – many of them rightly deserve the acclaim and success they have achieved.

But today I saw Selma.

I have attempted about 5 times to write the next sentence of this post, but have been unable to. I do not have the words to describe how I felt watching this movie or how I felt after this movie ended. I think I have a pretty wide vocabulary (I am an English teacher), but I have failed to come up with the adjectives necessary to adequately describe the experience. The best I can do is this: when the movie ended, the thought ringing most loudly through my head was “More. I want more like this.”

In most conversations I have had where Selma has come up, it has been described as “the movie about MLK.” But there is a reason the movie is called Selma and not King. Dr. King is in it and is a central figure, but the story is not about him. It is about a community. It is about a place and time. It is about a movement. It is about what happens not just when “a man stands up and says enough is enough,” but about when an entire group of people does. It is about the forces that limit progress and cast doubt and challenge people’s faith. It is about the difficulty of bringing a group of individuals together to work towards a common goal, and about what can be achieved when those individuals persevere through those difficulties and find a way to bring about change.

Selma puts Dr. King in context in a way that I have never seen before. The movie humanizes him, and it is so striking because it reveals how often he has been deified in previous narratives, particularly narratives crafted by white storytellers, whether that be in popular media or in high school textbooks. By taking Dr. King off the pedestal he is so often placed on and showing him as one among many, it not only makes for a more compelling story, but also elevates all the others around him who were so important to the work of the Civil Rights Movement. I knew the name Ralph Abernathy because he was with Dr. King when he was assassinated in Memphis. But I didn’t know the name Jimmie Lee Jackson or Bayard Rustin or James Orange or Andrew Young or Amelia Boynton or Diane Nash or James Bevel or John Lewis. This movie made me want to take a course on every single one of them.

The movie also made me want to learn more about the SCLC and SNCC and other organizations that are left out of the conversation on the Civil Rights Movement, who worked long and hard at grassroots efforts to build momentum for those larger pieces of legislation that we tend to focus on.

Speaking of legislation, I know there has been criticism of the way President Johnson is depicted in the movie, saying it paints him as more antagonistic than he actually was towards the movement. And maybe that criticism is valid; it’s not something I’m an expert on, so I don’t know. But the criticism reminds me of a post that’s been circulating Tumblr over the past couple of months that talks about the length of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The post points out that we forget how long the Civil Rights Movement took and asserts that it might be because we hate to think that the United States resisted changing. We want to believe that most white people just didn’t know how bad it was, and that when they found out, they immediately worked to fix it.

History paints a different story – one of apathy and indifference, if not outright obstruction, to the movement. And if the makers of Selma chose to use President Johnson as the representative of that reality for the sake of the narrative, I’m ok with that. Honestly, it’s about time. How many historical figures of color have been misrepresented by popular media for the sake of drama? And how many white figures have been polished up and shown in their best light in order to advance a particular narrative? This is a common necessity in storytelling, and as someone with a basic knowledge of American history and a pretty good understanding of how our government functions, the portrayal of President Johnson was not beyond the bounds of belief.

But I don’t want discussions of that one aspect to distract from the bigger picture. Selma is a triumph of filmmaking. The film is exquisite and unflinching and compelling at every moment, as well as extraordinarily prescient considering it was written before Ferguson and the other events of late 2014. Many of the speeches and conversations would not seem wildly anachronistic if they were to occur today. It is beautifully designed and beautifully costumed and beautifully filmed and beautifully acted (as big of a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as I am, and as much as I enjoyed his portrayal of Alan Turing, if David Oyelowo does not win all the awards, it will be a travesty. Director Ava DuVernay also deserves all the awards).

Selma is without a doubt worth your time and the price of admission.

To My Friends Who Are Struggling

There are a number of people close to me going through difficult things right now. This is for them.

To My Friends Who Are Struggling:

It has been my experience that the stories that seem the silliest on the surface hold the most truth. In Lord of the Rings, a story filled with walking trees and wizards and small men with hairy feet, Gandalf tells Frodo that in difficult times “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In The Little Prince, the fox tells the little prince that it is worth the weeping to be tamed. In The Princess Bride, Westley says that “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

You don’t need me to tell you that life is pain; you are feeling it now. And you don’t need me to tell you that it will all be worth it in the end, because, well, that’s just not a very helpful statement when you’re in the midst of the darkness.

I don’t know why you are having to go through this. I don’t know why my life is easy right now and yours is extraordinarily difficult.  I mean, I know the “right” answers – the cliches, the verses, the platitudes. I’ve read The Problem of Pain and can tell you all the intellectual reasons why bad things happen to good people in a world created by a loving God. I could tell you those things, but I won’t.

Instead, I will tell you this.

I admire your strength. I admire the way you get up every morning and go to work and talk to people and exist in the world even when all you want to do is crawl back under the covers. I admire the way you are fighting against bitterness and hopelessness. I admire the way you do what needs to be done each day while also carrying a burden that not everyone can see.

I admire your weakness. I admire the way you allow yourself to cry and grieve. I admire the way you admit your own faults. I admire the way you are not trying to carry this burden on your own. I admire the way you recognize that you cannot do this on your own and ask for help.

Let me also tell you this.

I am in your corner. I’ve got your back. I am your girl. You are not a burden or an imposition or a Debbie Downer or anything like that. Whatever you need, whenever you need it – it’s yours.

I cannot make your difficult circumstances disappear. But I can walk with you through them, the way you have walked with me through so many things. I can distract you when you need distracting. I can bring you tissues when you need to cry. I can shut up when you just need everyone to shut up.

You are not alone.

I love you.

Why I Am Thankful For My Depression

Depression sucks. Since I was diagnosed over 10 years ago (which, by the way, what!? 10 years!?), my depression has been a source of pain and confusion in my life. It has harmed my relationships, impeded my professional life, and at times caused me to doubt my salvation. At its mildest, it will knock me off kilter for a couple of days. At its worst, it will make getting out of bed feel like climbing Mount Everest.

Even with all of that, I found myself in my classroom yesterday thanking God for my depression.

Yesterday I had one of those classes that reminds me why I teach. My job is hard, and no one in their right mind teaches for the money. We do it for the lightbulb moments, for the chance to share the things we love with others. And more and more, I do it because teenagers are human beings with rich internal lives, and it’s important to me that they have an adult who recognizes that fact.

My biggest goal for my students is that they will be people who have empathy. I approach everything we read as an opportunity to put ourselves in someone else’s place, to look at things from a different perspective. I ask them to relate not only to characters who are similar to them, but to characters who are vastly different. And we often find that the characters who seem to be lightyears away from us are actually more like us than we think.

This week my 10th graders began reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It is a difficult book that has a lot of tough scenes and confronts a lot of difficult issues, but is also a favorite among my students. In just the fifth chapter, a character commits suicide in a particularly devastating way. Because I know it is a hard chapter to read, I always give my students a warning before they read it that it could be emotional for them and the first thing we do the next day is spend time journalling our thoughts so that they have a place to process what they’re feeling.

Yesterday in one class, that journalling led to open weeping from a number of students. This is my third year teaching these particular students, and they know that my classroom is a safe place for this kind of thing (which is quite honestly probably the achievement I am most proud of in my life – no joke). We talked about how we saw reflections of ourselves in the character that committed suicide and in that character’s family members and even in the character who is a bit of a villain at this point in the story. We talked about how life is hard and how we wish that we could step outside and see ourselves as characters in a book and know that the story was going somewhere. We talked about how that character was in a situation where she could not ask for help, and how grateful we are that we can ask for help. We talked about how asking for help is strength, not weakness.

We didn’t write a paragraph about how Hosseini’s use of third person limited point of view affects the reader like we were supposed to. We cried and talked and wrestled with our feelings, and then we watched a video of ducks sliding down a waterslide to cheer ourselves up before heading off into the rest of the day.

A lot of people would probably consider me to be too “soft” on my students. They may think that I spend too much time talking about fluff and not enough time on analytical skills or grammar rules. They may think that I am too open about my personal life and that I shouldn’t bring up my own struggles with depression in the classroom. Well, I have never once regretted being open with my students about that. If my oversharing can give me the opportunity to speak into the lives of students who are hurting, I will accept any negative consequences that come with it.

I looked at my students crying together and comforting each other and wrestling with these difficult things and I was filled with both joy and heartache. Joy at seeing the way they love each other and for the opportunity to love them myself; heartache that they even have to feel this pain in the first place.

The students that I get to interact with every day are the most amazing people I have ever met in my life. They work so much harder than I ever did as a student and complain about it much less. They look at the world around them and see the challenges that they are going to face and rather than becoming cynical and giving up, they are trying to think of ways to make it better. And it kills me that this world and our culture and other adults in their lives make them feel like they are not good enough, like they are ridiculous, like they do not have the right to feel the things that they feel.

If I can do nothing else, I want my students to leave my classroom knowing without a doubt that every single person on the face of this planet is a valuable human being, no matter what. Race, religion, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, education – none of that has any bearing on a human being’s intrinsic value. If I can teach them that, I honestly don’t care if they can correctly use a semicolon.

Why I Am Sad

It seems a bit silly, really. It’s not like I knew Robin Williams. I wouldn’t even have really labelled myself a fan; not the way I consider myself of a fan of other actors and entertainers. And yet he was such a part of my landscape growing up and I find myself unexpectedly saddened by his passing tonight.

I don’t know how many times my sister and I watched Hook. I think I actually gave it to her on DVD for Christmas or something just a couple of years ago. That movie taught me that growing up didn’t have to mean abandoning fun.

Aladdin, like the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast before it and the Lion King after it, was one of my favorites. It’s still fun to watch because as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more and more of the Genie’s references and impressions so it always feels like there’s something new.

There are three movies I will always associate with my time in youth group – Braveheart, Shawshank Redemption, and Dead Poets Society. We were shown so many clips from those three, but I still love Dead Poets Society just as much now as I did then. As unrealistic as any movie about teachers is, I still hope to be at least a little bit like Mr. Keating.

What can I even say about Good Will Hunting? Just thinking about the scene where Sean tells Will over and over and over that it’s not his fault can make me tear up.

There’s another Robin Williams movie that few people seem to talk about (probably for good reason) but that has always stuck in my mind: Patch Adams. I remember feeling blindsided by the less-than-happy ending. As far as I can remember, that movie was my first experience with seeing a character I loved die unexpectedly. I’m sure if I watched it now I would see it coming, but in the moment I remember feeling gutted.

When I think about Robin Williams, it is not the hilarity that I remember (although he was certainly hilarious). Rather, I remember the poignancy. When you look at his body of work, there is so often a layer of sadness or tragedy threaded through the jokes and laughter. He knew the world was not a happy place and so he sought to brighten it a little for the rest of us.

Today I stood in front of my students and told them that I teach English because I believe that reading and writing are important. And while reading and writing are necessary skills for college success and employment opportunities, they are important for something much bigger. Stories matter. When we read (or watch) other people’s stories, we walk a mile in their shoes. When we write our stories, we amplify our own voices. Stories have power and I want my students to have the ability to both understand them and create them.

Robin Williams will not get to tell the rest of his story. I have seen so many comments online wondering how someone so full of joy and life could have suffered from depression. I have also already seen comments online saying he should have fought harder against his addictions, fought harder against his depression, faced up to his weaknesses and “moved on”. It breaks my heart because that is not how depression works. And I fear that his story will be twisted into something it was not.

Robin Williams was a storyteller. He taught us to laugh at ourselves. He taught us to never stop having fun. He taught us to seize the day. He taught us to FEEL – pain, delight, sorrow, joy, heartbreak, love, etc. His work may seem silly or frivolous or superfluous; it may seem unimportant in light of all the tragedy that surrounds us every day. But it’s not.

Telling stories is never unimportant. And I will miss his stories.

Why I Want Birthday Presents

I have a really awesome classroom library. Back when I worked at Kingsbury, I had a Donors Choose project funded which provided me with about $400 worth of books. Since then I have built up my collection to the point where I had to buy another 6-foot bookshelf for my classroom to hold them all. Some of these books have been donated (thanks Mom!), but a lot of them are just because I have a serious inability to walk into a bookstore and not buy something.

Last year when I started living on my own, that was one of the extra splurges that had to go. I still had plenty of books though, so it wasn’t really a problem. By the end of the year, though, a lot of books had wandered off my shelves and not come back. This happens, of course, but since I wasn’t replenishing throughout the year as much, I now have a lot of gaps.

I also really want to increase the amount of diversity I have on my shelves. Most of what I have came from me wandering around bookstores picking up things that looked interesting to me. But there’s a lot of great stuff out there that either isn’t on the shelf at my bookstore or that doesn’t necessarily catch my eye at first glance. I want to purposeful about making sure my students have a wide variety books that feature characters who look like them.

Finally, I will be teaching my 10th graders for the third year in a row and I have some voracious readers in that class. Some of them have read pretty much every book on my shelf that is even remotely interesting to them. They are mainly the ones I am thinking of when I feel the need to restock.

So what does this have to do with birthday presents? Well, my birthday is coming up on August 9th and I’ve put together an Amazon wish list of books that I’d love to have in my classroom. I pulled this list from best seller lists, my own knowledge of what my kids like, and recommendation lists from the Diversity in YA website. If you feel so inclined, click on over and peruse the list. If you see something that strikes your fancy, buy me a birthday present!

It’s for the kids! Children are the future! Insert other inspirational cliche here! :)

 

Why I Love Social Media

On any given day, you can find multiple articles decrying the way the modern American uses technology and social media. It has made us narcissists. It has destroyed our conversation skills. It is turning people into zombies. It is causing people to be depressed because they are comparing their lives too much. It has ruined our attention spans. We have all this information at our fingertips, and we use it to post pictures of brunch and watch videos of cats. And on and on and on.

And sure, social media and technology may be factors that contribute to some of the ills in our society. But ultimately, they are tools. And tools are never inherently good or inherently evil. A hammer can be used to create or to destroy. It is up to people using the tools to use them well.

Since there was such a thing as “social media,” I have been a part of it. In high school, most of my friends were from church and not from school, so I spent afternoons on AOL instant messenger talking to them (and vastly improving my typing speed). Senior year of high school I created a livejournal which gave me a safe place to process my emotions and deal with my depression diagnosis. During my freshman year in college, Facebook was just getting started and I was one of the first people at UNT to join. It allowed me to keep in touch with friends who had gone to other schools in a time that was very lonely and very difficult for me.

Did I sometimes use AIM as a way to avoid homework? Sure. Did it make me less able to talk to my friends face-to-face? No. The conversation just continued from wherever it left off. Did I use Facebook to procrastinate in college? Absolutely. Did it destroy my ability to engage in my classes and complete my work? No.

Last night, a young woman posted what read as a suicide note on her Tumblr. People who follow her, but have never met her, reached out to their own followers to see if there was anyone who knew her in real life and could check in on her. Complete strangers from all over the world sent her encouraging messages and started following her blog. This morning, she posted that those messages and encouragements had literally saved her life. Simple words on a screen were enough to make her pause and rethink her decision. They gave her the strength to fight her depression for one more minute, one more hour, one more day.

I’m sure there are cynics out there who will say that she was just looking for attention. And you can believe that, if you want. But I know what it feels like to gain comfort from the kind words of strangers. For those of us who struggle with in-person social interactions, who keenly feel the weight of unspoken expectations that go along with those interactions, who feel like we don’t always quite fit in with the people around us in “real life”, social media can provide a safe place full of like-minded people. 

Social media has enabled me to keep in touch with friends in a way that would never have been possible before. It has exposed me to new ideas that I never would have considered. It has challenged me to learn and grow in difficult and surprising ways. It has introduced me to new types of media and new sources of entertainment that have enriched my life. It has allowed me to connect with more fantastic people than I ever could have imagined without it.

Social media is a tool. Use it to interact with people who encourage you, who challenge you, who teach you, who show you kindness, who speak truth to you, who give life. Use it to encourage others, to challenge others, to teach others, to show kindness to others, to speak truth to others, to give life.

And maybe occasionally to Instagram a picture of your pet or your lunch. Because, hey, who doesn’t love a cute cat picture every now and then? 

Why You Should Go See Belle

So, I just got home from seeing Belle, and Y’ALL. I am completely unable to put into words my feelings about this movie. It is beautiful and gut-wrenching and inspiring and important. It made me laugh and groan and cringe and cry and was just completely overwhelming. There is this one particular moment that just completely floored me and made me want to jump out of my seat and scream, “Yes! This! This is why media is important! This is why representation is important!”

In addition to being just a wonderfully moving story, Belle is also a movie I greatly want to see gain commercial success because it would defy the current Hollywood narrative. Hollywood studios and production companies continue to insist that the reason there are a disproportionate amount of movies starring, written by, and directed by white men is because that is what people want. They insist that movies starring, written by, and directed by women and people of color and particularly women of color will not appeal to a broad audience and will therefore not make money.

Well, Belle is exactly the kind of movie that can prove that notion wrong. It has a black female star (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), was written by a black female (Misan Sagay), and was directed by a black female (Amma Asante). And guess what? It’s beautifully acted, written, and directed. Did you like Pride & PrejudiceAmazing Grace? Do you like beautiful sets? And beautiful costumes? And brilliant acting? Then you will like this film. There is absolutely no reason it should not be successful.

So I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Are you somebody who usually waits until a movie comes to Redbox or Netflix? Do you normally just download movies from the internet? Are you just not sure you want to see this particular movie? I will buy you a ticket.

I am completely serious. I will buy anyone who wants 1-2 tickets to go see Belle at the theater and time of your choice, up to 10 tickets total (I’m not made of money…I have to cut it off somewhere). It’s first come, first serve – just comment and let me know when and where to buy the ticket and make sure I have your email address so I can send you the tickets. All I ask in return is that after you see it and love it (because I know you will), you spread the word and convince more people to go see it.

 

Why Being Single is Really Hard Sometimes

For the 27+ years that I have been on the planet, I have been single. This has not been entirely by choice, but over the past 5 years I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it. Most of the time I actually enjoy it. There are a lot of perks to being single – I always get to pick the restaurant, I can go see whichever movie I want, and I never have to share the remote. I’ve really come to appreciate the level of freedom and independence that comes with being a single adult, and I’d like to think I’m not all that bad at it.

But then sometimes things will happen that remind me of how nice it would be to have a partner in all of this.

Like when I work an 80 hour week and still have to take care of the dog and make my own dinner.

Or when I finally get a long weekend after some very busy weeks, and then realize that I need to buy groceries and do laundry and run errands.

Or when I treat myself to Starbucks, but it doesn’t have quite the same feel as I imagine having someone hand me a fresh cup of coffee on an early morning would.

Or when I have to take my car into the shop for the 4th time in two months and so I can’t make it to the gym because I don’t have a ride. And even though they assured me I wasn’t wasting money, I realize I’ve now spent almost $2000 to fix a car with an estimated trade-in value of $750. And I can’t help but wonder if maybe it would be different if it had been my husband taking the car in.

Or when I realize I’m going to need to buy a new car soon, but I have no idea how to do that and no one to help me make the decision because as much as my friends can give me advice, ultimately the decision comes down to me.

It is when I am faced with those types of decisions that I feel the weight of singleness. I have no problem making the fun decisions on my own – where to eat, what to watch, how to spend a Saturday evening, etc. But when those weightier decisions come along, the ones that involve more money or greater consequences, I sometimes wish I had someone alongside me to help share the responsibility.

I’m not completely naive; I know that relationships come with their own set of difficulties and obstacles. But I also imagine that it must be nice to know that when trouble comes, you have someone there to watch your back.

Frozen, Rebellion and the Gospel

So, Disney accidentally made a movie about the gospel. Which is awesome.

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

A lot has been said about Frozen, both positive and negative. It’s about two sisters, which is fantastic!  It hangs a lampshade on the ridiculousness of marrying someone you just met, which is also fantastic (and funny)! And yes, it is problematic that there are no people of color. And it’s a bit weird that the sisters have essentially the exact same facial features and bear a striking resemblance to Rapunzel and apparently that’s because it’s hard to draw women with emotion, but hey, nothing’s perfect. 

Most of the conversation around the movie seems to be centered around the song “Let it Go,” which is a fantastic song and is exquisitely performed by Idina Menzel (aka Elphaba from Wicked, aka Maureen from Rent, aka the woman whose voice I would kill to have). It’s become this huge phenomenon, this anthem of embracing yourself and throwing off the shackles of expectation. I’ve seen a lot of talk on the internet about how much people relate to the song and how great it is to see Elsa stop concealing her true nature and becoming who she was meant to be, with quite a bit of sass thrown in for good measure. She is rebelling against the rules and restrictions that have been placed on her for so many years, both by herself and the society around her. Obviously, this is a message that resonates with people, particularly those who feel marginalized by society for whatever reason.

What no one seems to be talking about is how her rebellion does not solve ANY of Elsa’s problems. She embraces her power and builds herself a super awesome ice palace – but nothing else changes. She is still lonely. She is still isolated. She is still afraid (the scene where Anna comes to the ice palace really illustrates just how afraid she still is). And she is still causing incredible amounts of damage to the people around her. Letting it go completely is just as harmful as keeping it all shoved in inside, even if she insists that the cold doesn’t bother her.

So what does solve Elsa’s problems? What enables her to use her gifts for good? What reconciles her with her community? What allows her to experience joy and companionship and fulfillment? Love. Specifically, relentless, unconditional, sacrificial love. Sound familiar?

Let’s look at Anna and the love she has for her sister.

  1. It is relentless. In “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Anna continues to come and knock on Elsa’s door, even though she is continually turned away. Even though Elsa is hiding, Anna desires a relationship with her and does everything she can to build one.
  2. It is unconditional. After Elsa’s powers are revealed and everyone begins to fear her, Anna continues to love her. She says she knows her sister and that her sister is not a monster. She sees her sister for who she is and loves her all the more. She continues to pursue her sister, even as Elsa tries to run away.
  3. It is sacrificial. When Hans threatens Elsa during the climax of the movie, Anna steps in and lays down her own life for her sister in what even Disney considers an act of true love.

Even more than that, it is Anna’s resurrection that shows Elsa what love really is. It is only once her sister revives that she learns how to release Arendelle from the winter she has caused – through love.

When the king and queen took Anna and Elsa to the trolls at the beginning of the movie, the troll king warned them that fear would be her enemy. They tried to defend against fear with control, which only made things worse. Completely letting go of control didn’t make anything better either. But through Anna’s sacrifice, Elsa learns the truth – that perfect love casts out fear. Once she learns this, she can use her powers for good. She brings joy to the community, she is reunited with her sister, and she is both controlled and at peace.

I don’t think for a second that Disney intended to make a movie about the gospel. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t. And honestly, that’s one of the things that reassures me when I find myself doubting whether the gospel is really true – it is a story that is so ingrained within the hearts of humanity that it spills out everywhere. No matter where you look, you will find stories of this kind of love, of love that is so relentless, so unconditional, so sacrificial that it has the power to change people’s hearts. We all want that; we just have to remember that these echoes and imitations that are all around us should point us to the original source, Jesus.

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