EXAMPLES OF MOVIES FOR SOCIAL WORK / HUMAN SERVICES THEORY COURSES
1. 54 (1998)
2. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
3. A Simple Favour (2018)
4. A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)
5. A Time to Kill (1996)
6. Admission (2013)
7. All About My Mother (1999)
8. American History X (1998)
9. An American crime (2007)
10. Antwone Fisher (2002)
11. Appropriate Adult (2011)
12. As Good as It Gets (1997)
13. August Rush (2007)
14. Away from Her (2006)
15. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
16. Being There (1979)
17. Ben-X (2007)
18. Biutiful (2010)
19. Black November (2012)
20. Black Swan (2010)
21. Blind Side (2009)
22. Blood Diamond (2006)
23. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
24. Boy A (2007)
25. Boyhood (2014)
26. Boys Don’t Cry (2000)
27. Boyz n the Hood (1991)
28. Brothers (2009)
29. Cake (2014)
30. Case 39 (2009)
31. Cathy Come Home (1966)
32. City of Ghosts (2017)
33. Clinical (2017)
34. Closet Monster (2015)
35. Coco (2017)
36. Crash (2004)
37. Crocodile Gennadiy ( Almost holy) (2015)
38. Cry Freedom (1987)
39. Daddy’s Home (2015, 2017)
40. Dances with Wolves (1990)
41. Dear White People (2014)
42. Defiance (2008)
43. Despicable Me (2010, 2013, 2017)
44. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)
45. Dirty (2005)
47. Enough (2002)
48. Father Unknown (2014)
49. Fire Song (2015)
50. Fly Away Home (1996)
51. For Colored Girls (2010)
52. Frankie & Alice (2010)
53. Freedom Writers (2007)
54. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
55. Gifted (2017)
56. Gimme Shelter (2013)
57. Girl Interrupted (1999)
58. God Grew Tired of Us (2006)
59. Goff God Bless the Child (1988)
60. Good Will Hunting (1997)
61. Half Nelson (2006)
62. Harold and Maude (1971)
63. Here One Day (2012)
64. Holly (2006)
65. Hotel Rwanda (2005)
66. Human Trafficking (2005)
67. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
68. I am David (2003)
69. I Am Sam (2001)
70. I, Daniel Blake (2016)
71. Inside Out (2015)
72. Iris (2001)
73. It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
74. Juno (2007)
75. Ladybird, Ladybird (1994)
76. Lila & Eve (2015)
77. Lilian’s Story (1996)
78. Lion (2016)
79. Losing Isaiah (1995)
80. M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016)
81. Made in Dagenham (2010)
82. Martian Child (2007)
83. Milk (2008)
84. Misery (1990)
85. Miss Evers’ Boys (1997)
86. Miss Representation (2011)
87. Mississippi Damned (2009)
88. Monster (2003)
89. Monster’s Ball (2001)
90. Moonlight (2016)
91. Mully (2015)
92. Murdered by My Boyfriend (2014)
93. My Left Foot (1989)
94. My Sister’s Keeper (2009)
95. Mysterious Skin (2004)
96. No Child of Mine (1997)
97. North Country (2005)
98. Notebook (2004)
99. Once Were Warriors (1994)
100. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
101. Oranges and Sunshine (2010)
102. Pariah (2011)
103. Philadelphia (1993)
104. Philomena (2013)
105. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2017)
106. Prayers for Bobby (2009)
107. Precious (2009)
108. Provoked (2006)
109. Rabbit proof fence (2006)
110. Radio (2003)
111. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
112. Reviving Ophelia (2010)
113. Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013)
114. Room (2015)
115. Running Scared (2006)
116. Running with Scissors (2003)
117. Selma (2014)
118. Sherrybaby (2006)
119. Short Term 12 (2013)
120. Shoplifters (2018) Trailer
121. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
122. Sin Nombre (2009)
123. Slumdog millionaire (2009)
124. Spanglish (2004)
125. St. Vincent (2014)
126. Still Alice (2015)
127. Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007)
128. Taken (2008)
129. Tears of the Sun (2003)
130. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013)
131. The Accused (1988)
132. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel(2011, 2015)
133. The Boys (1998)
134. The Brandon Teena Story (1998)
135. The Burning Bed (1984)
136. The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978)
137. The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009)
138. The Danish Girl (2015)
139. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
140. The Four Feathers (2002)
141. The Glass Castle (2017)
142. The Good Lie (2014)
143. The Help (2011)
144. The Imitation Game (2014)
145. The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (2013)
146. The Kite Runner (2007)
147. The Lady in the Van (2015)
148. The Light Between Oceans (2016)
149. The Mask of Zorro (1998)
150. The Normal Heart (2014)
151. The Other Sister (1999)
152. The Perfect Guy (2015)
153. The Pianist (2002)
154. The Price of Sugar (2007)
155. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
156. The Rainmaker (1997)
157. The Soloist (2009)
158. The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008)
159. The Terminal (2004)
160. The Theory of Everything (2014)
161. The Unloved (2009)
162. The Way Back (2010)
163. The Woodsman (2004)
164. Thirteen (2003)
165. Thunderheart (1992)
166. Torch song trilogy (2004)
167. Trade (2008)
168. Tully (2018)
169. Twister (1996)
170. War Room (2015)
171. Waru (2017)
172. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
173. We Were Children (2012)
174. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
175. White Oleander (2002)
176. Wild (2014)
Shoplifters By Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov
The Shoplifters is a Japanese movie which received an Oscar nominee for 2019 Best Foreign Language Film. It is also a winner of the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or. All the characters from the Shoplifters movie can benefit from connecting with a professional social worker, and multiple issues can bring each movie character to seek social work intervention. The movie looks at human need, the law, family dynamics, murder, labour concerns, child abuse, and sex work. The less one knows about the storyline the more enjoyable can be the viewing. The movie portrays life in a residential, non-touristy part of Tokyo, Japan for a group of people who live under one roof in poverty. A “family” is formed based on the principles of the mutual support that each “family” member can provide to one another. The family one of the main sources of income includes petty theft. Each member of the “family” has a story which is constantly evolving until the end of the movie. The viewers are provided with some information for each movie character. One of the main characters, Osamu, needs to leave his job as a day labourer due to the accident at work. Nobujo needs to leave her job due to lack of demand for industrial laundry service. Aki is working in the sex club, Shota, a young boy, stays at home, and Hatsue (grandma) owns the home and support the “family” with her deceased partner’s pension.
The movie is beneficial to watch for anyone who wants to study social work. Throughout the movie, one can feel simultaneously hopeful and uplifting observing “family” dynamics but the hope quickly changes to the recognition of how living in poverty can be harsh and depressing when one notices multiple levels of oppression experienced by each “family” member. The movie also overlooks the insecurity that many Japanese people feel working in contract or part-time jobs with a limited chance of advancement. However, despite everyday challenges, the poor working-class members of the “family” are seen as bright and playful, insightful and philosophical. The critique of labour conditions in Japan is evident in the movie. For example, Osamu states that “everyone gets a bit poorer by the day”. The movie also questions the current criminal justice system in Japan. The authorities are perceived to do more harm than good. They return Yuri (Lyn) to an abusive relationship from “kidnappers” who are loving and generous. The movie make the viewer examine the nature of the family and how family members can address poverty, prosecution and government neglect in providing social services. The Shoplifters raises many questions about who is family and who deserves to be a parent. Members of the “family” remark that when one chooses their own family, the bond is stronger. The “family” is portrayed having fun at the beach and comes together to listen to fireworks and appreciate the gifts they have as a family. The movie also provides an opportunity to explore “family” intergenerational relationships observing how Osamu and Nobuyo treat their “children” and “grandma” The critical question the movie asks is what society can do to help people in need. How can help be provided? Those are essential questions social workers are continually reflecting in their professional practice.
Kore-eda, H. (Director). (2018). Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku) [Motion picture]. Japan: Magnolia Pictures
Biutiful By Anik Leclerc
Every scene in González Iñárritu’s Biutiful demonstrates how humanity behind social challenges is difficult, complex and breathtakingly beautiful to watch. Should social work students and practitioners watch Biutiful? Yes, from beginning to end, we’re presented with a movie on life’s complexities and an understanding of a person’s nightmarish situation.
Biutiful presents the audience with the concept of the ways a microsystem is affected by the macrosystem. Uxbal, Javier Bardem, eager to provide a better life for his children, takes risks with his health, illegal immigrant workers, entrusting his children to a stranger, police bribes, etc. We grasp González Iñárritu’s efforts to flip the drama from Uxbal’s daring acts because we can identify with a political context seeking to dissociate us from emotional pain.
Like the ceiling of Uxbal’s apartment, we’re haunted by images of personal and social decay. Unlike Hollywood, this movie reflects real people with characters we recognize. We understand Uxbal’s motives because the film reminds us of the risks we’ll take when our social existence is continuously on liminal thresholds between growth and stagnation.
We also know how decay leading to death breathes new life into our personal growth and social existence. We watch as Uxbal make meaning of his life as we’re brought back to the same scenes at the end of the movie as we saw at the beginning of the film. The repetition of these scenes, of Uxbal between generations, make us question if this is will be the lasting memory his daughter will hold of him as he had of his father. Because the memories his daughter will have of Uxbal could define the narrative she will tell herself in relationships later in life.
There’s a lot of dialogue to Iñárritu’s film but Uxbal rarely talks about his weaknesses to others – particularly, with his children. Although much gets said throughout this movie of towering emotion, we don’t question the impact his thwarted damning will have on his children. Perhaps the love they felt from Uxbal will foster a greater sense of truth for them during fraught time than the distance he created in communicating his visible destiny.
This film is rich in symbols representing life’s social complexities and borderlines. Marambra, Maricel Alvarez, a complex character, with borderline personality disorder, represents the risks people take with impulsive behaviours and the considerations individuals make for individuals with mental health challenges. The ways we turn inward in seeking healthy relationships with individuals who are powerless over their triggers does not isolate Uxbal from the measures individuals take to improve relationships.
Rather than blame Uxbal for his personal circumstances, we empathize and root for the main character despite knowing his efforts will result in tragedy. Viewers believe Uxbal is the film’s protagonist because we understand he’s being powered over by social dimensions and economic interactions bigger than him. His efforts gain his audiences’ empathy and we can appreciate the motives behind his criminal activities.
González Iñárritu, A. (Producer & Director). (2011). Biutiful [Motion picture]. United States : Lions Gate Home Entertainment.
Fire Song by Darice McNally
Fire Song (Milliken, Thornton, & Jones, 2015), staring Andrew Martin as Shane is a movie about coming of age on contemporary Turtle Island (now known as Canada), and living with a legacy of generational trauma. This presents the Truth of personal experience through the creative lens of Indigenous community members, in the current era, post Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Fire Song paints the reality of what challenges Reconciliation for both the Aboriginal Peoples of Turtle Island and its’ Settlers.
The story follows the struggles of Shane, a two spirited Anishinaabe man, who is caring for his mother Jackie. Jackie is in a deep depression after the suicide of Shane’s sister. Shane is in love with a Medicine Man named David. Pressured by colonial ideas of bi-sexuality Shane denies his affection for David and dates Tara, who is unaware of the relationship between Shane and David. Shane wants to go to College in Toronto but feels he cannot leave his mother. Tara wants to live with Shane in Toronto and David is resisting living in Toronto and moving away from his community and culture. Social interactions among the young characters and their families involve drinking and drug use, sexual/ized violence, despairing discussions about their future, and a continual theme of suicide. Fire Song presents the raw reality of life for current generations of Indigenous People after the culturally annihilating experiences of Residential Schools, the Sixties Scoop and the countless other atrocities of Colonialism.
Fire Song depicts the multi-generational impact of Colonialism across Turtle Island. The themes of the film reflect the results of ongoing vicarious trauma (cycles of oppression) and evolution of external control into internalized trauma. The all indigenous cast reflects the intention of Canada’s Indigenous People to reclaim their values, culture, and beliefs within the approach of “nothing about us, without us,” in this frank depiction of life on a Canadian Reservation.
Structural Social Work Theory presents methods of decolonizing colonial values as a normative approach to identifying and responding to oppression and reclaiming empowerment. However, structural social work theories do not express traditional Indigenous values, ethics, world view, or spirituality. The core of Aboriginal spirituality is the interconnectedness of everything and the source of wisdom being the Creator. Community is sacred. Autonomous empowerment counters Indigenous community values.
Trauma informed social work practice finds its roots in empowerment theory; even this social work practice is practice approach is problematic when an entire community and population of people have been violently and systematically stripped of their culture. The continued oppression of the Aboriginal People of Turtle Island is clearly portrayed in the cycle of violence depicted in the story line of Fire Song; demonstrating the need for self-governance and Reconciliation. As social-workers trained and working in colonial sourced systems, methods and theories, how can we possibly have the answers about how to reclaim Aboriginal culture? Fire Song offers opportunity for Critical Reflection on how problematic social work is for Aboriginal People and Settlers.
Baskin, C. (2016). Strong Helpers’ Teachings: The Value of Indigenous Knowledgs in the Helping Professions, 2nd ed., Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Collins, R. (2012). Aboriginal Social Service Workers’ Perspectives on Theory and Practice (Master of Social Work Thesis). Carlton University. Retrieved from https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/etd/38efc794-5b4f-42c3-8365-4005ce4c27ad/etd_pdf/48c71d6b4908833d2ef22180a09e302a/collins-aboriginalsocialserviceworkersperspectives.pdf
Milliken, L. & Thornton, J. (Produces), & Jones, A.G. (Director). (2015). Fire Song [Motion Picture]. Canada: Big Soul Production Inc.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 2 1939 to 2000. The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved fromhttp://www.myrobust.com/websites/trcinstitution/File/Reports/Volume_1_History_Part_2_English_Web.pdf
Good Will Hunting By Sabah Randell
The film Good Will Hunting (Bender & Van Sant, 1997) is a drama that portrays the narrative of main character, Will Hunting. A bright, young man, Will is depicted as a genius. He is encouraged by many of those that support him to identify his life goals and while in this process exposes his barriers to attachment. Will is a janitor at a prestigious university is sought out by a math professor to use his skills as a benefit to the faculty math team. Will lives in an apartment in a lower class neighborhood in South Boston. He is presented as having experienced a difficult childhood as an orphan that experienced physical and emotional abuse while in foster care. Will has strong ties of loyalty and attachment to his friends that have proved themselves with reliability and consistency in their friendship. Issues of trust and anger as well as healthy and troubled relationships are vivid on his journey of personal growth and self-discovery.
Along with presenting Will’s narrative, the story also tells of the relationship between counsellor and client. Particular themes explored relate to ethical concerns, therapy outside the office, key therapeutic events in the process and personal boundaries. More specifically, the viewer is brought into a world of understanding how Will and his counsellor, Sean Maguire build a therapeutic alliance. Through Will’s therapy sessions the viewer is also invited to learn about the pain and humanity within the character of Sean. Progress is not just achieved by Will in this process but also within Sean. This movie creates various connections between theory and practice and would be of benefit for social work students as well as social workers in understanding how theory and practice relates to human relationships. Specifically, in learning about ethics and boundaries, the use of personal stories in practice, in exploring specific counselling skills, and the importance of a therapeutic relationship in building rapport and collaboration. Also, Good Will Hunting (Bender & Van Sant, 1997) would be useful in learning about the importance of critically understanding social and environmental determinants of health.
Good Will Hunting explores different theoretical approaches, such as; psychoanalytic theory, empowerment theory and attachment theory in the various therapy sessions that Will participates in. Psychoanalytic theory can be understood through the relationships that Will encounters with his professor and counsellor in understanding the client’s (Will) defenses. The use of specific terms of endearment such as “sport” and “son” by Sean help to empower Will and various examples of insecure and secure attachment are expressed in his relationships with his distant family, abusive foster family, Sean, his girlfriend, and his close friends. The movie is also beneficial in understanding the significance of how ethics and boundaries can impact rapport, trust and responsibility in building an effective working relationship with a client.
The viewer learns about Will’s life at the macro, meso and micro level of understanding. At the micro level, the film explores his past personal traumas, his search for identity, and the reliability he experiences with his social circle of friends. His negative experiences with community and the law describe his understanding at the meso level as well as his macro views regarding political beliefs and societal systems. The depth of this narrative allows the viewer to better understand how his social and environmental factors define his identity and social location. This information is critical in developing awareness and understanding a client’s experiences. Lastly, specific skills used by Sean in practice such as the use of silence, use of self-disclosure and active listening all help to enhance the establishment of a therapeutic alliance. Good Will Hunting (Bender & Van Sant, 1997) can provide experiential learning in social work by understanding the main character of Will Hunting and his many relationships. This movie helps to develop awareness through a critical lens of how theory translates to practice in understanding ethics, building rapport and the use of practical skills in a worker-client relationship.
Bender, L. and Moore, Chris. (Producer), & Van Sant, Gus. (Director). (1998). Good Will Hunting [Motion Picture]. United States of America: Miramax.
Deal, Kathleen H. (2007). Psychodynamic theory. Advances in social work. Vol. 8 No. 1 (Spring 2007) 184-195. Indiana University School of Social Work. Retrieved from: http://advancesinsocialwork.iupui.edu/index.php/advancesinsocialwork/article/view/140/141
Dean, R. (2002). Teaching contemporary psychodynamic theory for contemporary social work practice. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 73(1), 11-27.
Blakely, T., & Dziadosz, G. (2015). Application of Attachment Theory in Clinical Social Work. Health & Social Work, 40(4), 283-289.
Goldstein, H. (1986). Toward the Integration of Theory and Practice: A Humanistic Approach. Social Work, 31(5), 352-357.
Adkins, A. (2005). Violent Adolescents: Understanding the Destructive Impulse. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 14(3), 455-456.
August Rush By Tessa Coddington
The film August Rush (Jerou et al., 2007) depicts the fictional story of Evan, an 11-year-old orphaned boy, and his determination to find his birth parents, convinced that he will find them by following his musical intuition. Naïve, soft-spoken, eccentric and optimistic, he sets out on a journey and finds himself in New York City. Evan meets a man nicknamed Wiz, who the audience learns is exploiting children to earn money by having them play music in the streets. Evan miraculously learns to play guitar with excellence overnight, and he is then instructed to busk, given the nickname “August Rush.” Evan eventually runs away from Wiz, meets a priest, amazes him with his musical skill, and is somehow admitted to The Julliard School.
As this storyline unfolds, the audience simultaneously learns of the backstory of Evan’s birth by getting to know both his biological parents, both of whom are musicians. Eventually, it is revealed that when Evan was born, unbeknownst to Evan’s mother, his maternal grandfather forged Evan’s mother’s signature on adoption documents.
The movie concludes with Evan conducting a rhapsody in Central Park that he had written while attending Julliard, and both of his biological parents seeing each other for the first time in 12 years in the front of Evan’s audience. Evan’s mother recognizes her son.
While the film is whimsical and full of unlikely coincidences, it can serve as a useful tool to contextualize social work theory in applying it to practice. For example, students might assume that following the conclusion of the film, Evan’s biological parents gain custody of him, and that Evan would see a social worker to assess his psychological wellbeing and provide therapeutic care.
Students can reflect on what social work might look like for Evan by applying many theoretical approaches, such as a strengths-based approach. Evan’s musical intuition is a strength. Students may also research the limitations of social work when seeking specific therapies, such as music therapy. Another approach that may be applied is a trauma-informed approach, taking into consideration Evan’s experiences in the group home and as a missing youth.
Students can also consider existing government systems of child welfare and think critically about their systemic impact on Evan’s situation. Students might also take the opportunity to shed light on the underlying social issues that were present in the film, such as child exploitation and trafficking, and the less likelihood of adoption of older children. In my case, I would apply this work to my own geographic setting, as I write this from Ontario, Canada.
August Rush (Jerou et al., 2007) is a film that has received unfavourable reviews (“August Rush”, n.d.). One critic writes, “watching this yucky emotional drama is like being sprayed with treacle from a high-pressure hose” (Bradshaw, 2007). Still, looking past the emotional cliché, August Rush can serve as a teaching tool for social work students to further understand theoretical approaches in practice.
August Rush (2007) – Rotten Tomatoes. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/august_rush
Bradshaw, P. (2007, November 23). August Rush. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/nov/23/comedy.drama
Jerou, G., Wigram, L., Goodsill, L., Lee, M., Kamp, R., Lewis, R. B., Greenhut, R. (Producers), Sheridan, K. (Director). (2007). August Rush [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Bros.
Beasts of No Nation By Roxanne LeClair
Beasts of No Nation is a brutal, heart wrenching look into the tragic experience of child soldiers. Set in a war-torn African country, the film follows the story of Agu, a young boy who is torn from his family and the life he knows when civil war erupts in his country. We are introduced to Agu, played by Abraham Attah, as a happy little boy, playing harmless pranks on the other residents of his peaceful village. This sense of family and wellbeing is quickly shattered as the civil war raging in neighbouring countries spills over into the village. In an intense moment, Agu loses his entire family and flees into the jungle where, alone and vulnerable, he is picked up by a rebel army lead by a warlord who goes by the name Commandant, portrayed by Idris Elba. Rather than dismiss or kill him, Commandant instructs his charges to respect Agu’s potential, as “a boy is very, very dangerous” (Fukunaga, 30:02). Agu’s indoctrination into the rebel army sees him executing innocent villagers with a machete, partaking in “brown-brown” (a potent drug), and enduring various abuses from frantic and hallucinatory feelings of Agu’s initiation. The light in his eyes visibly dulls as Agu sinks deeper into this new world but, even as he becomes more of a hardened soldier, he never quite loses his childish mannerisms and the connection to the happy boy he once was.
How does one make contact with that little boy within? The army disbands and the youngest of the child soldiers are sent to a missionary school in a safe part of the country and the challenges that Agu faces switch from external to internal. Agu will not only have to address his grief following the loss of his friend and fellow child soldier, but also the unresolved grief of losing his family and the life they shared. Agu’s experiences with addiction and the abuse he suffered while serving with the rebel army must also be addressed, and the symptoms of PTSD might make it difficult for Agu to reintegrate with his peers following his time in the war. In the post-war lives of child soldiers who have suffered various forms of neglect and committed unspeakable acts, there is the question of how to connect and serve these children, while also taking into account how trauma-informed approaches can be tailored when working with children to achieve the best results and most success.
The Unloved (2009) By Lauren Lee
The Unloved is a film based loosely off of director Samantha Morton’s childhood, chronicling the experiences of 11 year old Lucy as she navigates the UK’s precarious foster care system. After being physically abused by her alcoholic father, Lucy is placed in a youth group home. There, she befriends Lauren, her teenager roommate who struggles with substance abuse while caught in an exploitative relationship with an adult group home worker. During her time in the group home, Lucy witnesses petty crime, substance use, and sexual abuse. Throughout the film, Lucy looks to her Catholic faith for guidance and strength while searching for love and acceptance from her parental figures and guardians.
I believe social work students and practitioners should watch this film for several reasons.Firstly, the film provides a better understanding of the foster care system and the children placed in group homes, highlighting the intersectionality of barriers and challenges faced by these youth. This can be further explored by applying a systems theory perspective to analyze the multiple interrelated systems of Lucy’s personal, family & guardians, religion, education, and foster care system.
This film also demonstrates how insecure attachments can form through exploring Lucy’s relationship with her biological mother and father, both of whom are distant and show love towards Lucy in unhealthy ways. Throughout the film, Lucy struggles to feel loved and protected, seeking affirmation from other guardian figures such as Lauren. Windsor’s portrayal of Lucy perfectly captures the loneliness, heartbreak, and pain Lucy feels while she aims to be reunited with her family. Attachment theory can be applied to analyze ways in which Lucy and her parents’ relationship can be strengthened and replaced with secure attachment.
In addition, the complexity of Lucy and her parents’ relationship throughout the film show their capacity to love one another while struggling with their own personal challenges. Their desire to be reunited and their fragile relationships with one another challenge the stereotypes of families whose children are placed into foster care. These emotional complexities can help social workers build empathy and a critical understanding of multiple perspectives when engaging in child protection work.
Furthermore, Lucy’s strength and resilience in the face of adversity through her religious faith challenges the perception of children as passive individuals who must be taken care of by adults working in the ‘best’ interests of the child. Seeing Lucy’s Catholic faith as a strength and tool for dealing with adversity can encourage the building of autonomy for child clients and co-constructing a collaborative therapeutic framework between social workers and child clients based on mutual respect and right to self-advocacy.
Lastly, the film touches on aspects of crisis intervention theory when Lucy begins to experience crisis near the end of the film as the weight of all her experiences come crashing down. Social workers and students can use the film as a case example for analyzing the different stages leading up to the state of active crisis and strategize ways in which Lucy’s crisis can be resolved.
Morton, S. (Director). (2009). The Unloved. [Motion Picture]. United Kingdom: Channel 4.
The Glass Castle by Kayla Brinston
The movie, The Glass Castle (Cretton, 2017), is based on Jeannette Walls’ memoir of the same name. The movie depicts the life of Jeannette from adolescence to adulthood. Jeannette grew up with her siblings, Lori, Brian, and Maureen, as well as her parents, Rex and Rose Mary. Between scenes of Jeannette’s childhood and her adult life the viewer learns of the lead character’s difficult upbringing and the consequential trauma she experiences as an adult.
Jeannette’s family lives in poverty for most of their life; this is due to her parents’ lifestyle choices as well as their own struggles. Jeannette’s mother is an artist and her father’s occupation is undisclosed, although he works a few jobs during the film. Jeannette’s father also struggles with alcoholism and this causes him to lose several employment opportunities. Jeannette’s parents also seem to be irresponsible and make poor parenting decisions. For example, Jeannette’s mother allows her to cook on a gas stove at a young age which causes Jeannette’s dress to catch on fire, putting her in the hospital and leaving permanent scars. Due to job loss, unpaid bills, and the fear of social workers taking their children, the Walls family often moves to different towns.
There are several reasons social work students and practitioners should watch The Glass Castle (Cretton, 2017). First, this movie depicts a family struggling with severe poverty and the issues that arise from this such as poor nutrition, lack of education, and health risks. It also depicts a family living with an alcoholic father, causing instability and even danger to the family. Related to the father’s alcoholism, the film also deals with sexual abuse and portrays how the family processes this trauma. Finally, the film illustrates the effects of poor attachment and insecurity. For example, as a child, Jeannette is constantly packing to move to a new home; she keeps this habit in her adulthood and the viewer sees that she has yet to fully unpack in her own home. In addition, Jeannette’s father is always promising the family improvements to their life such as their own home, a glass castle which the film is named for. As these promises are never fulfilled, Jeannette and her siblings have difficulty with trust and security as adults. It is clear to the viewer that Jeannette, as a successful adult, is embarrassed of her parents and her childhood. There are several occasions where we see Jeannette lying about where she grew up and her parents’ occupations. Jeannette carries guilt due to this and struggles with feeling a sense of belonging in her job and current relationship. This film illustrates how Jeannette processes this guilt and how she finally finds balance between the traumas of her childhood and her success as a journalist.
This film provides insight into the effects of trauma during childhood. A social worker viewing this film can see how each family member is affected in their adult life due to issues from childhood such as poverty, sexual abuse, and substance abuse. This film and its characters could be used as case examples to explore several social work issues as well as an opportunity to apply different theories to practice.
The Fault in Our Stars by Christine L. Merrigan
The film The Fault in Our Stars (Bowen, Godfrey & Boone, 2014) is adapted from the 2012 novel of the same name, written by John Green. The film centers on 17-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster. Hazel is living with a terminal cancer diagnosis after finding out her thyroid cancer spread to her lungs. At the beginning of the film, Hazel is depicted as a lonely, isolated teenager who dropped out of school due to her illness. Hazel’s parents urged her to attend a support group for teenagers with cancer, and this is where she met Augustus Waters. The film follows their friendship as it turns into love and a romantic relationship. Hazel tries to protect Gus from the pain of her impending death, and in the end, it is Gus who dies before Hazel, after his cancer aggressively returns. Grief swirls throughout this film, but there are many facets that could benefit from the critical lens applied by social workers and social work students.
First, Hazel is a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, who has spent a significant portion of her life under the scrutiny of medical teams and her parents. She is questioning the purpose of her life, the overall meaning of life and the impact her life will have had and will leave on the people in her life. She hopes to feel the magic that life can offer in love before she dies. She is also trying to exercise independence and autonomy in her choices in medical settings and her daily life.
Second, Hazel is attending a support group, but no other counseling. The support group is comprised of teens who have cancer. It is led by a cancer survivor with no formal training. The group has a religious component that could hinder the efficacy expected by the Lancasters. There is an opportunity here for Hazel to attend formal counseling with more structure and support.
Third, building on Hazel’s counseling would be more immediate support for the Lancaster family unit. The family could gain positive outcomes from a social worker who specializes in palliative, end-of-life and bereavement care for families. Fourth, Hazel experienced trauma from Gus’s untimely death. She prepared for her own death but not that of her partner, and crisis counseling could assist with coping mechanisms and reconciling her loss.
Lastly, there is a direct link to social work in the film, when Hazel’s mother, Frannie announced to Hazel that she had been taking social work classes. Frannie explained that she wanted to help other families navigate the challenges of parenting a child with cancer and the inevitable loss that some families would face. Frannie recognized that she could use her own experience with Hazel’s cancer to inform her empathy through a humanistic approach to her social work.
This film navigates the complexities of terminal cancer diagnoses and provides social workers an opportunity to understand the layers of grief and trauma and the reconciliation that people go through when grieving and accepting death.
Still Alice By Alison Lynch Richard
The film Still Alice (Lutzus, Brown, Koffler, Glatzer, & Westmoreland, 2014) centers on world-renowned linguistic professor Alice Howland who, after forgetting words during a lecture and getting lost on a run in her neighbourhood, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 50. The film shows Alice, her husband, and their three adult children grappling with the disease’s progression. The film does not, however, depict Alice or her family receiving social work support.
Social work has made limited contributions to theory and practice approaches for clients with dementia; rather, medical models have primarily shaped Alzheimer’s services (Kaplan & Andersen, 2013). Although Alice consults only with medical doctors throughout the film, its realistic depiction of the lived experience of Alzheimer’s can benefit social work students and practitioners by encouraging them to consider how social work theory might complement and enhance medical treatment.
Alzheimer’s growing presence makes this consideration important. More than 500,000 Canadians live with Alzheimer’s disease; a 66 per cent increase is expected by 2031(Alzheimer Society Canada, 2018). Our medical system is not equipped to deal with this expanding public health crisis (Alzheimer Society Canada, 2018), but increased social work involvement could build capacity to respond. As such, the film is beneficial viewing for social work students and practitioners as it encourages them to reflect on how they might help address this growing need.
The absence of social work services in the film also provides many important points of consideration. Alice’s husband digs deeper into his work instead of confronting his wife’s illness. Alice’s family members avoid engaging her in conversations about her experience. Social work students and practitioners can benefit from using their understanding of family systems to consider how they might assist, perhaps by helping Alice and her family learn to communicate more effectively.
Social work’s understanding of oppression provides still more to consider. Alice’s family inhabits many privileged identities. They are white, highly educated, and equipped with a plethora of resources; yet, Alice’s diagnosis and the disease’s progression are devastating and overwhelming. It begs consideration of the additional challenges a family affected by systemic issues like racism or poverty might face. This encourages social work students and practitioners to consider their unique role assisting Alzheimer’s clients; perhaps no other profession is as well-positioned to recognize systemic barriers contributing to hardship and create holistic interventions that aim to address them through anti-oppressive and empowerment approaches.
Finally, the possible impact of viewing a film like Still Alice should not be underestimated. In a sample of 300 clinical social workers, Kane, Hamlin, and Hawkins (2004) found most respondents believed they did not possess adequate knowledge and skills to work with clients with Alzheimer’s disease; yet, their willingness to work with these clients increased simply by being exposed to material related to Alzheimer’s in social work education and professional development. For social work students or practitioners who have limited experience with or understanding of Alzheimer’s, Still Alice can provide a perfect entry point to begin considering how to support these clients.
Alzheimer Society Canada. (2018). Latest information and statistics. Retrieved from https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/Get-involved/Advocacy/Latest-info-stats
Kane, M. N., Hamlin, E. R., & Hawkins, W. E. (2004). How adequate do social workers feel to work with elders with Alzheimer’s disease? Social Work in Mental Health 2(4), 63-84.
Kaplan, D. B. (2013). The transformative potential of social work’s evolving practice in dementia care. Journal of Gerontological Social Work 56(2), 164-176.
Lutzus, L., Brown, J., & Koffler, P. (Producers), Glatzer, R., & Westmoreland, W. (Directors). (2014). Still Alice [Motion picture]. United States: Sony Pictures Classics.
A Simple Favor by Marina Mikhail
A Simple Favor (2018) is a comedy noir that centres around Stephanie Smothers, a single mother who becomes friends with the mother of her son’s best friend, Emily Nelson. Stephanie had recently lost her husband and brother in a car accident before meeting Emily, and the two develop an unaccepted bond. Emily soon goes missing and Stephanie takes it upon herself to find her friend. During her quest, she uncovers many of Emily’s hidden secrets, realizing that she did not know her friend as well are she thought.
While A Simple Favor (2018) is a comedy, it touches on many difficult situations and experiences. These problems in the characters’ lives are often downplayed or used for comedic effect. This dark comedic view on traumatic experiences allows the characters to find humour in their hardship and change their perspectives. This change in perspective is a technique that is often used in narrative therapy. The film also touches on many other experiences, such as grief, toxic relationships with partners and friends, sexual orientation and exploration, and childhood trauma.
Of all the different problems the characters face, I feel that the experience of grief was the reoccurring theme in the film. Stephanie had experienced many forms of grief, from the loss of her partner and family to the loss of her friend. It also shows that people can grieve even when the person being grieved is still alive. A Simple Favor (2018) provides an opportunity to explore different coping methods when people experience grief, and display the need for human connection. In the film, Stephanie is seen to seek companionship and comfort during loss by connecting to those who were close to person she is grieving. This is a way for her to maintain a connection to the person she is grieving.
A Simple Favor (2018) also has many strong independent female characters with nuanced relationships. The film explores the complicated relationship between Stephanie and Emily. We see how they encourage and support each other as well as toxic behaviours such as unhealthy fixations. These nuances in woman companionship are not often seen in film and it is exciting to see this explored.
Henderson, J. (Producer) & Feig, P. (Producer & Director). (2018). A Simple Favor [Motion Picture]. United States: Lionsgate
Taken By Hailey Macdonald
Taken (2008) is an action-packed film about a father, Bryan Mills, who is trying to build a closer relationship with his 17-year-old daughter Kim. Kim begs him to allow her to take a trip to Paris with her friend Amanda, despite Bryans disapproval, he agrees. Bryan disapproves because he is an ex-CIA agent and knows the dangers presented when young women travel alone. Upon arriving in Paris Kim and Amanda meet a young man named Peter whom they share a cab with to the apartment where they are staying. As they are settling into the apartment Kim calls her father Bryan to let him know they have arrived. During this call Kim sees men enter the home and abduct Amanda. Following her father’s instruction Kim hides under the bed until she is pulled out and taken.
Bryan Mills, with the financial help of Kim’s step-father Stuart, takes a private jet to Paris to find his daughter. Sam, a friend of Bryans, identified the men who took his daughter as an Albanian sex trafficking ring. He informed Bryan that if his daughter is not found within 96 hours, she most likely will never be seen again. Through an old contact of Bryans, he is able to find out where the Albanian sex traffickers’ brothel is. Upon arrival of this brothel he finds a woman who has possession of the jacket Kim was wearing when she left for Paris. This woman who has it was incoherent. Bryan takes this woman from the brothel in a high-speed chase where he is able to escape with her and bring her to a hotel to detox her. She reveals where she believes Kim is being kept. Bryan goes to this house and kills all of the men, with the exception of Marco, the man who kidnapped Kim. Maco reveals that Kim was sold quick because her virginity was highly valued. From here, Bryan infiltrates an underground sex slave auction where he finds and ultimately saves his daughter, leaving a blood bath behind him.
Taken is a valuable film for social workers to watch for a number of reasons. It provides insight into human trafficking and what this looks like. It demonstrates how resources for finding these victims are extremely limited. Thus, individuals who may not have the resources, financial or otherwise, are at a higher risk for being trafficked and possibly never being found. This film also demonstrates the plethora of issues survivors of human trafficking may be faced with, including drug addiction and PTSD.
Guilt, grief and trauma can also be seen in this film. Through being trafficked Kim’s best friend Amanda died. Within human trafficking, death is common and survivors such as Kim, will most likely have experienced deaths, which may stimulate grief and guilt among other emotions.
Through human trafficking people suffer from the horrendous events they have been subjected to. By watching this film, social workers will be able to connect theory to practice by analyzing how trauma informed theories can be applicable to these survivors who may be dealing with complex issues as a result of their experiences.
Hoarau, H., Lebreton, F., Mandaville, M., Besson, L. (Producers), Morel, P. (Director). (2008). Taken [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
A Time to Kill by Joan Spaulding-Williams
The film, “A Time to Kill”, based on the 1996 novel by John Grisham, evokes a lot of emotion. Anger, hurt and pain are often present while viewing due to the racism and oppression revealed in American society. It is a difficult film to watch and one would be challenged to view it without being moved to tears. Perhaps a prerequisite to watching is ensuring the availability of a box of tissues!
A Time to Kill (1996) features a number of well known Hollywood actors who portray the protagonists well and do justice to a difficult topic. The story is about a black Father, Carl Lee, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who has been accused of murdering two white men. The latter have been accused of raping his 10 year old daughter, throwing her over a bridge and leaving her to die. This horrific act against an innocent child, happened due to an Eurocentric world view, seeing the girl as an inferior human being.
The setting for the movie is a town in Mississippi at a time when racial tensions were high (To date I am not sure that much has changed in this regard). Matthew McConaughey plays the role of Jake Brigance, a young white attorney defending Carl Lee. However, he has limited knowledge about the life of a black man, or his family, as they inhabit very different worlds. He also lacked experience with this type of high profile case, as shown by his need to constantly seek guidance from his past mentor (played by Donald Sutherland). During the movie, one is led to wonder if, in fact, Brigance took the case merely to receive recognition, or if he genuinely believed in and wanted justice to prevail for his client.
Due to his involvement in this case, Jack’s wife (played by Ashley Judd) has been forced to remove their own daughter to a place of safety due to a threat on their lives by the white supremacist group, the Klu-Klux-Klan. Although this movie is difficult to watch, it is, nevertheless, an important film for social work students and practitioners to watch. It helps to connect theory to practice and raises questions about morality, humanity, fairness, equality, racism, discrimination, oppression and marginalization.
As the movie progresses, it reveals the corruption and oppression of how the justice system can be unfair and lack justice due to racial stereotyping. The need for macro level social work interventions is evident. Also evident is the importance of having empathy in achieving change and justice; this is seen in Jake’s closing argument (“picture that little girl; now imagine she is white”). The film’s message is clearly educational; all people should be treated fairly, justly and with humanity. The justice system should never play a part in the suppression of others. However, decision makers in the court system can show bias because of the effects of colonialism and the work to dismantle and change these systems must continue.
As a social work student, my goal is to have a more just and fair society and one that is free from oppression. I believe this movie, A Time to Kill, encapsulates this. As workers of change, I must look at the broader social and political systems that continue to oppress people based on differences such as race, gender, abilities, age and sexuality.
Milchan, A., Nathanson, M. Lowry, H. & Grisham, J., (Producer), Schumacher, J. (Director) (1996). A time to Kill [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros
Boys Don’t Cry By Natalie D. Compagna
The biographical film Boys Don’t Cry (Peirce, 1999) is not for the faint of heart. It is raw , necessarily difficult to watch at times, and forces the viewer to consider a real-life story that did not end with “happily ever after” (Zipes, 1997).
The story is situated in a small Nebraskan town and centered around Brandon Teena, played by actress Hilary Swank. Brandon Teena, named Teena Brandon at birth, is a trans male who is struggling to reconcile the differences between his identity with the biological and societal demands of his gender assigned at birth. The story begins with Brandon’s ex-girlfriend’s brother discovering that he is transgender; the violent reaction is the first glimpse into how deep-rooted the transphobia and homophobia is intertwined into the local culture. Brandon is forced to flee Lincoln Nebraska and finds refuge a few towns over in Falls City with a new group of friends; Candace, Lana, Tom, and John. Brandon relies on Candace’s friendship for safe-keeping and lodging, falls in love with Lana, and cautiously spends time with Tom and John. All of their lives and histories overlap creating challenging dynamics. When Brandon’s discretions and legal troubles from Lincoln catch up with him he is arrested and detained in the women’s section of the jail. The location of his detainment, and a local newspaper article inform his new friends of his identity and they are enraged. Despite Lana’s support and love for Brandon regardless of gender, he is outcasted by his friends and sexually assaulted by Tom and John. Brandon and Lana plan to run away but in the end Tom and John’s hatred is a force he cannot escape and Brandon is shot dead in Candace’s home.
The development of Brandon’s new relationship to himself and others, the portrayal of social problems, and the depiction of structural barriers that ensues are current. Social work students and practitioners alike should watch Boys Don’t Cry (Peirce, 1999) for many reasons. The relationship between Brandon, John, and Tom will task you to consider the social construct of masculinity and the concept of hegemonic masculinity (Grozelle, 2014). Brandon’s journey will shed light on the topic of self-identity, gender, hate crimes, the stigma of transsexuality, ascribed meaning to homosexuality, and sexuality.
Furthermore, Brandon’s lived experiences can be considered and interpreted through a Foucauldian lens: “Foucault’s model of postmodern power is a salient foundation for a discussion of gender representation, gender identity and reactions to gender transgression” (Set Adrift on Theoretical Bliss, 2012). Put on a your critical lens’s and you will have plenty to analyze.
Grozelle, R. (2014). Hegemonic Masculinity in Boys Don’t Cry. Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse, 3.
Set Adrift on Theoretical Bliss. (2012). Case Study: Boys Don’t Cry. Retrieved from https://setadriftontheoreticalbliss.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/case-study-boys-dont-cry/
Sharp, J. H. (Producer), & Peirce, K. (Director). (1999). Boys Don’t Cry [Motion Picture]. United States.
Zipes, J. (1997). Happily ever after: fairy tales, children, and the culture industry. New York: Routledge.
No Child of Mine by Suji Won
No Child of Mine (1997) is a film based on the true story of 11 year old Kerry. The title itself points to the multiple adults in Kerry’s life who fail to take her in as a child to love, nurture and protect. Her mother, stepfather, and later the residential worker at the foster home sexually abuse Kerry, while her father only takes his daughter out to “pimp” her for his economic troubles. Kerry is traumatized constantly despite moving from home to two different foster homes. She only finds genuine safety with an adult when she runs away to a safe house near the sea. After 12 days of not sharing her name or background, Kerry is able to open about the abuse she suffered. The film states that Kerry has gone to university, suggesting she is doing well but the film also states no adult was charged because only a small fraction of child sexual abuse leads to prosecution.
Although a difficult film to watch, social workers would benefit from watching by seeing how pervasive sexual abuse is and how the subsequent trauma does not cease. The viewer cannot help but ask why must Kerry take it into her own hands to flee? Caseworkers do carry out crisis intervention and criminal charges, but the lack of dependable foster homes and the court’s failure to charge her stepfather allow for trauma to continue in Kerry’s life. Thus the film depicts to social workers how their profession too can fail to properly care for children like Kerry. It is her teacher who researches and finds a safe house for Kerry, not her social workers who refuse to find different options because of the lack of money, even when it is clear she is coping in harmful ways. Similar to the parents in her life, the social workers do not take measures to properly care for Kerry. The real life depiction of how difficult it is for a child to find the protection she needs highlights to all viewers that working with sexual abuse and trauma does not just consist of a single crisis intervention. As Payne states, such a model is not helpful for long-term individual care and social issues (2013, p. 170).
This film also is a great resource on how attachment theory believes survivors can recover. Since Kerry is expected by her mother to keep the house clean and used by her father for making money, Kerry does the laundry at her teacher’s home and offers money she made on the streets to the lady at the safe house. It is when these two adults reassure her that she is welcome without having to clean or pay, Kerry starts to internally change her beliefs about her self-worth. Although relationships with parents can form one’s identity and beliefs, attachment theory believes relationships with others can effectively change a person internally (Ruisard, 2016, p. 279). Social workers should listen to Kerry’s story in order to understand that child protection is not just about intervention but is also finding a place where they feel welcome, safe and secure to recover amongst safe people.
Kosminsky, P. (Director). (1997). No Child of Mine [Motion Picture]. UK: Meridian Broadcasting, Stonehenge Filming, United Film and Television Productions.
Ruisard, D. (2016). Transformation Through Attachment: The Power of Relationship in Clinical Social Work. Clinical Social Work Journal, 44(3), 279-292.
Payne, M. (2013). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed). Chicago: Lyceum Books, Inc.
I am Sam By Michelle Graham
I am Sam is a movie based on true stories of individuals with disabilities and their social interactions. The creators tied with a non-profit organization that works with adults with disabilities. This movie is about a man with an intellectual disability who has a child with a homeless woman. She leaves him with their newborn baby where he is gone to raise her. This movie shows his battle with the child services fighting and proving his right to remain the legal guardian. Throughout the film you see his daughter, Lucy, grow up with the support of his neighbor and “uncles.” I believe this movie should be view by social workers as for the many instances of social justice.
For instance, the movie first starts following a dad who encounters many barriers by being a single father first and a father with a disability. We see the social impacts of a single father with an intellectual disability. Teachers and services providers seem to always question him and ask if he understands what they say, additionally, how individuals with the disability are viewed in society. You can see throughout the movie some people give them looks or address them in a problematic manner.
Many social factors impact female secondary character throughout the movie. The character is a lawyer and mother. Somewhat acting as a single parent as both she and her husband work most of the time. You never see her husband in the movie, although you meet her son. You see her overcome some stressful moments whether it is at work, as a mother or with her client.
Overall, this movie well represents the struggles of individuals with disabilities in society and how young women in the workplace viewed.
Nelson, J. (2001). I am Sam [DVD]. Hollywood: The Bedford Falls Company.
War Room By Oluwatoyin Otiotio
War Room is all about the fight, we always have to fight for one thing or the other in our life. We fight for freedom, riches, rights and everything that will make us fulfill a purpose. War Room is set on Tony and Elizabeth Jordan with their daughter, 10 year old Danielle, they both had great jobs and a great home. One will think they have it all, but their marriage is not what it looks like to the world, there is so much tension which is affecting their daughter. Elizabeth works in Real Estate, while Tony, a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company who could sell anything with his smile, makes so much money and well respected.
The movie is interesting as it portrays a typical day to day problems families face in marriages. The problem of aggression transfer can be seen because when Elizabeth and Tony are at longer heads aggression is transferred to Danielle and she does not get the attention of her parents.
Tony is flirting with temptation while the wife is always angry and bitter towards her husband because she feels he does not want her to give money to her struggling sister since he makes the bulk of the income. He is not happy when he found out Elizabeth transferred $5,000 from the account to her sister. She was asked to return the money and never to give the money to the sister since her husband is “lazy” because he does not have a job.
Their daughter Danielle is not a happy child because of the parent’s relationship, she hears them yelling at each other and the father does not get involved with her activities and even try to discourage her from a double-dutch game by telling her she is too old.
With all of the happenings, Elizabeth met a new client Clara, who want to sell her house. She went to Ms. Clara’s house to get the details of the home and in the process saw the picture of Ms. Clara’s husband on the wall, she asked her about him and Ms. Clara told her a little bit about her late husband that they were only married for 14years before he died. Ms. Clara could sense that Elizabeth is troubled, not happy, struggling in her marriage and with her faith as a Christian. As an older woman, she used her faith to intervene by speaking to Elizabeth, ask her to come over the next day for coffee and a bond came into existence because as an older woman, she has asked God to find someone (younger woman) to impact disciple or mentor.
She told Elizabeth about her two of her favorite rooms in the house, which is where she has her “wall of remembrance” (where she keeps lists of prayers that has been answered) and her closet “War room” (where she posted written prayers, requests, and scriptures all over). Tony found himself in the closet and realized it was empty and found all the prayers for him and in the process broke down and became repentant, remorseful and also prays for help. Tony realized that Elizabeth stayed despite all he did to her and she told him because she was ready to fight for their marriage and won’t let go.
The fighting in the “war room” Clara told Elizabeth is to be grateful and pray for her family while confessing their shortcomings and ask for forgiveness
Ms. Clara counseled Elizabeth to pray by using a bible quote Matthew 6 verse 6: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your father who is in the secret place; and your father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Clara used the opportunity to tell her to trust Him (God) and stand by His word to fix the husband rather than her trying to do what she cannot do. She also mentioned to Elizabeth to offer her husband “grace” unmerited favor, and then quote another bible verse to establish that none deserves grace but God gave it willingly, so she must offer grace to the husband by praying for him. Tony was caught to be lying about his sales and how he has been keeping some of the drugs for himself and was fired, this consequence tends to bring out a positive change for Tony. He was forgiving and asked to pay back what he took from the organization instead of being prosecuted. Elizabeth and Tony broke down in tears and said this is the mercy and grace from God on them.
Learning opportunity social workers and social work students should watch this movie to see how empowerment theory could be applied to troubled marriages. Empowerment theory, which offers practice techniques that rely on self-help (Payne, 2016). It also brings about an informal setting with Ms. Clara and relationship brought about a social change with the way the Jordan’s relates with people (Tony and his boss, when he helped to change his flat tire). Conflict theory is in play in the movie, in the way their finance is been spent and who has control over what, crisis and task-centered practice could also be used to focus on their emotional reactions with the events going on in their lives.
At the end of it all, the family is united and one happy family again with both Elizabeth, Ms. Clara and Tony participating in the double Dutch competition with his daughter’s team.
Kendrick, S., Wheeler, G. (Producers), & Kendrick, A (Director). (2015). War Room (Motion Picture). United States: Affirm films
Payne, M. (2016). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press
Thirteen by Sarah Gould
The film “Thirteen” (Hardwick & Reed, 2003), is a whirlwind story of a young girl navigating her way into adolescence as she starts her life at a new school. In the beginning, Tracy (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is portrayed as a young girl who is focused on maintaining her ‘A’ average in the seventh grade and participating in extracurricular activities, such as gymnastics. Soon, we see Tracy taking note of the attention that other girls get from boys and how the girls dress and act much differently than she and her friends do. Tracy sets out to befriend Evie (played by Nikki Reed), who was identified as the hottest girl at school. This starts with Tracy enlisting the help of her mother, whom she seemingly has a close, friend-like, relationship with, to change her appearance. Eventually, Tracy fully immerses herself into Evie’s world of drugs, sex, and thievery and is seen to be arguing with and challenging her mother much more frequently than before. Viewers are given a look into Tracy’s home life where we see that her mother (played by Holly Hunter) is a recovering addict, often attending meetings and having her attention pulled away from Tracy to support other addicts. Her mother’s live-in, on-again off-again, boyfriend is also an addict and we discover Tracy has witnessed him actively using and the spiral that it caused. Tracy, at times, challenges her mother and the boyfriend in regards to their choices and seems to have a difficult time processing all of the chaos that is circling around her throughout the film. Eventually, we see Tracy using self-harm as a coping mechanism.
This film provides an important learning opportunity for social work students and social workers that may not have experience working within the scope of dynamic topics covered throughout the story. As previously mentioned, the film provides a look at coming of age issues for adolescents, addictions, family dynamics, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, all leading to missing and failing classes, dropping out of extracurricular activities, and engaging in increasingly high risk behaviours. It could be used as a tool to learn about addictions, social learning theory, and therapies used to address behaviours such as self-harm. Empowerment theory could be appropriately applied here as well, as it seems that Tracy could be feeling a loss of power during this time in her life and is seeking to fill such a void with negative coping mechanisms. Finally, while the focus of the film is generally on Tracy and relationship dynamics involving her, we also get a look at Evie’s background. We hear stories of abuse and abandonment and see how she develops inappropriate attachments, which can be related to Bowlby’s attachment theory or the Strange Situation experiment explained by Payne (2014, p 160-166), for learning purposes.
In conclusion, “Thirteen” (Hardwick & Reed, 2003) is a dynamic story for viewers to follow and learn whether they will watch Tracy find her way back to healthy relationships and education or if she will continue to spiral out of control.
Hardwicke, C. (Director), & Hardwicke, C., & Reed, N. (Writers). (2003). Thirteen [Motion Picture]. USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work theory (Fourth ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cry Freedom by Hope Itsueli
This movie portrays a story of Steve Biko, a South African black campaigner for equal rights who was brutally murdered by police. A true story about two men from different worlds who are drawn together in a struggle against the racist regime in South Africa.
Denzel Washington is the key character known as Stephen Biko, His main message in the movie was the call for black consciousness and nonviolence in inspiring his people to an awareness of self-esteem. While, Kevin Kline performances as Donald Woods, a white liberal newspaper editor who becomes Biko’s friend and biographer. They joined forces to fight apartheid in South African, they each paid a high price for their belief, their value for human dignity, and a strong call for equality and freedom. Biko paid with his life, while Woods suffered persecution and finally decided to go on self-exile from his homeland.
Five key reasons why social work students and practitioners should watch cry freedom and how the movie connect theory to practice are as follows;
- The movie conveys the costs in human suffering of apartheid with its harsh policies of house arrest, imprisonment, and death. As social workers, we are interested in making the world a safe place to live in. This means that the movie should help us to be more resilient in our practice to help the human race, even when faced with serious obstacles.
- As a social worker, we learn about the practice theory of human development and the struggle to fight against all forms of Social -Eco-Political oppressions and discrimination in society. The concepts of anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice have long been embedded in social work. It is quickly becoming part of the mainstream of social work thinking.
- The movie provides an excellent opportunity for viewers to engage with fundamental concepts such as diversity, equality, and social justice.
- The movie covers a wide range of practice contexts, including disability, families, and asylum seekers, poverty, homelessness, and are supplemented by engaging these key ideas for practice. It draws the connections between theory and practice.
- With respect to social research and critical social theory, social work practitioners and researchers can proactively use this movie to engage with issues of social justice and equality in social work.
Finally, “Cry Freedom” is a sincere and valuable movie that goes beyond a story of today’s South Africa, and it is a lesson that apartheid is evil, as it breeds oppression, poverty, and destruction to human dignity.
Precious by Veronica Aliu
A movie directed by Lee Daniels, an epic adaptation by Geoffrey Fletcher from Push, the bestselling 1996 novel by Ramona Lofton, the writer and performance poet known as “Sapphire”. This movie setting was Harlem in 1987. The central character is an obese 16-year-old black girl called Precious Jones played by Gabourey Sidibe, functionally illiterate Harlem teen who is emotionally and physically abused by her mother Mary (Mo’Nique) who keeps precious around because she stands as her meal tickets from welfare. Aside from her mother’s heinous acts, Precious has suffered bullying from schoolmates as well as sexual abuse from her father who has raped her continuously with the mother’s knowledge and convenience resulting in a child with down syndrome and pregnant with a second child on the way.
Precious finds herself in the centre of two influential figures, a teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton) who stood in as an inspiration and mother figure. Blu showed precious she can and is loved by her, encourages and supports precious to pick up writing and to further her education. Also, a social worker, Ms Weiss (Mariah Carey) who saw through the troubled teenager and takes it upon herself to understand the issues she faces in her home by questioning and exploring Precious on happenings in her home. Due to Precious’s gentle but tenacious disposition, these two figures go to great lengths to help save her from her abusive and troubled life to build a brighter future of her and her kids.
This movie will intrigue all audience and is recommended for social workers and students as it addresses issues of child abuse and family dysfunction that can affect child development, the long-term effect of violence on a child.
Secondly, it displays the intricacies of family dynamics and issues faced in families. Exploring the client’s problems and eliciting information about the person, their problems, as well as environmental factors affecting the client (Hepworth, Rooney, Rooney & Strom-Gottfried, 2017), is a step towards solving the client’s issues.
Thirdly, it will help social workers and students to identify various issues and strategies on how to address such problems faced by the client. The movie looks at Empowerment, Advocacy, Crisis and task-centred, social development and problem-solving theories in solving the client’s issues (Payne 2016, p. 33)
Fourthly, it showcases the strategies played by the teacher and social worker in getting precious (teenagers) to open up and discuss their issues. It displays how establishing rapport and building a trusting relationship with a complicated client that has held a strict opinion of how they see the world is vital to developing the relationship (Hepworth, Rooney, Rooney & Strom-Gottfried, 2017).
Finally, this film challenges us (the viewer) on employing a critical perspective on issues. Social workers and students can analyse and deal with social barriers that influence the present problem faced by their clients. It will help social workers to look more on the structural rather than the personal interpretation of social issues (Payne 2016, p. 139)
Hepworth, D. H., Rooney, R. H., Rooney, G. D., & Strom-Gottfried, K. (2017). Empowerment series: Direct social work practice: Theory and skills. Nelson Education.
Payne, M. (2013). Modern Social Work Theory. (4, Ed.) Chicago: Lyceum Books, Inc.
Freedom Writers by Trent Chroniak
Freedom Writers (2007), written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, allow viewers to delve into the lives of at-risk, gang-affiliated, and racially diverse students, who attend the once venerable, Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. The film is inspired by the Freedom Writers Diary, an influential, true story, written by Erin Gruwell, which includes excerpts from the students of room 203. Racial strain continues to impact the Long Beach community, causing students to segregate themselves from one another. While ‘whiteness’ appears to be present within positions of power at the high school, the students also struggle to identify with individuals who differ from their own race. These assumptions have resulted from a long history of racial conflict. Dilemma is brought forward for student, Eva Benitez (April Lee Hernandez), when she is placed in a position of testifying in a case of murder. Eventually, Eva is forced to choose between her own blood and the honest truth.
Desperate to make a difference, the young, white, middle-class, teacher by the name of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), help the students to challenge their assumptions by teaching them about human rights. This aids in the identification of the students sense of self, their oppression, and sense of belonging, that ultimately allows them to feel at ‘home’ within the classroom. Ms. Gruwell receives no form of support from her fellow colleagues along the way, but this does not stop her from influencing the Long Beach Educational Board and achieving what she has set out to do.
Freedom Writers (2007) can highly influence social work students and practitioners because it will allow them to think about their own positionality within the world, while meeting the privilege and oppression that they may have experienced or continue to experience (Pease, 2010). The film illustrates the existence of perseverance, which permit the students to place faith in their own abilities, with the help of Ms. Gruwell’s use of motivation and empowerment. Erin Gruwell meets the students where they are at, grappling with values and beliefs, ultimately gaining their respect. Erin’s ability to recognize the strength within her students, can encourage social work practitioners to be inclusive, equitable, and anti-oppressive within their practice, while empathizing and focusing on solutions to overcome systemic barriers (Payne, 2016). The film can be looked at through a social work lens to allow students and practitioners to encompass the aspect of advocating for one’s self, as well as for others, to work toward positive change and confronting societal views (Payne, 2016). Freedom Writers (2007) can provide social work students and practitioners an opportunity to identify the influences of grief, loss, trauma, discrimination, racism, and crisis, and the benefit of being able to critically reflect, intervene, and openly talk about these inhibitions (Payne, 2016). Finally, the film can allow social work students and practitioners to embrace a critical thinking approach to avoid assuming that order has to always remain the same (Payne, 2016).
Fanart.tv. (n.d). Freedom Writers Fanart [Image]. Retrieved from: https://fanart.tv/movie/1646/freedom-writers/
LaGravenese, R. (2007). Freedom Writers [Motion Picture]. Paramount Home Entertainment.
Payne, M. (2016). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Pease, B. (2010). Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books.
Love, Simon By Cassie Cole
The film Love, Simon (Bowen, Godfrey, Klausner, Shahbazian & Berlanti, 2018) was adapted from the best-selling young-adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Albertalli, 2015). The movie follows 17-year-old, Simon Spier. Simon describes himself as “… just like you. I have a totally, perfectly normal life. Except I have one huge ass secret” (Bowen et al., 2018, 2:16). The secret he is referring to is that he is gay. Simon has not told his friends or his family that he is gay. Things get a little more complicated when Simon starts anonymously emailing a fellow classmate, who is also gay and falls in love with him. Soon after, Simon forgets to log out of his email on a school computer and a classmate threatens to release the emails and out Simon.
Love, Simon (Bowen et al., 2018) is a movie that social work students and practitioners should watch for the following reasons:
- For most of the movie Simon exhibits internalized oppression, more specifically internalized homophobia. Internalized oppression happens when individuals perpetuate their own marginalization and oppression by internalizing the dominant views and ideas. Gay men may internalize homophobia and feel a lack of pride about their identity (Pease, 2010). This connects with anti-oppressive practice.
- Love, Simon (2018) also looks at stereotypes of what being gay looks like. Often, there is only one version of what gay men look in the media. This educates social workers on how there is not one way to be gay. Simon breaks away from the stereotypes that sexual orientation and gender identity are coupled together. He is Simon, who just happens to be gay. Simon does not allow the label of being gay to be his whole identity, it does not define him, it is just one part of him.
- Love, Simon (2018) shows the complexities of having to ‘come out’. When Simon gets outed, his power is taken away. Everyone should have the right on how, when, where and who they come out to, which is strongly illustrated in the film. Empowerment theory could be applied here as it helps clients gain power over their lives (Payne, 2016). The movie also gives an idea of how isolating coming out is.
- The effects of heteronormativity are present throughout the film. Simon felt that a big part of not telling people that he was gay was that he felt that it was not fair that only gay people have to come out and he questioned why being straight is considered the default.
- Simon comes from privilege; he is a white male, wealthy, and both of his parents are “…as liberal as they come” (Bowen et al., 2018, 19:56). Even though Simon is privileged and in the end was accepted by his family and friends it was difficult for Simon to come out. This enables us to see that there are difficulties within every family. Simon’s family and friends were not upset because they were homophobic, they were upset because he didn’t tell them.
Love, Simon (Bowen et al., 2018) helps connect theory to practice by the use of empowerment. Simon reclaimed his identity as a gay man after being outed, on his terms, which helped him back his power back.
Albertalli, B. (2015). Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. United States: Balzer + Bray.
Bowen, M., Godfrey, W., Klausner, I., & Shahbazian, P. (Producer), & Berlanti, G. (Director). (2018). Love, Simon [Motion picture]. United States: Fox 2000 Pictures.
Payne, M. (2016). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Pease, B. (2010). Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books.
My Sister’s Keeper By Sharon Ahn
In My Sister’s Keeper (2009), the story centers around the Fitzgerald family and the many difficulties that the family face with a daughter, Kate, who is battling leukemia. One of the central story lines in the film is the younger sister, Anna, the central character of the film, who seeks legal emancipation from her parents Sara and Brian as her parents have been using her and her organs to keep Kate alive. Anna was bio-engineered specifically for this purpose, which robs her of her independence and autonomy as she is expected to give parts of herself up for her sister’s survival. Another ongoing storyline is the disconnect with Jesse, the only son, as his needs go unmet by the family as they struggle with Kate’s disease.
Social work students and practitioners should watch the film because it allows social workers to consider the basic values and ethics when it comes to working with children diagnosed with terminal illness and the importance of remaining aware of the needs and concerns of the child’s parents, but other siblings as well. In My Sister’s Keeper, the mother, Sara, shows an understandably obsessive desire to save her oldest daughter, Kate. How does the social worker provide support and resources for each family member, when the primary parent’s focus is solely on the first daughter, Kate? What kind of support can be given to the family that would allow her to see the needs of her other, healthy children as being just as relevant as the needs of Kate? The most difficult aspect of treatment would be forcing Sara to confront her own behaviours and to recognize what those behaviours are doing to the rest of her family. While it is understandable that a mother would want to do anything to protect her child, her primary focus is on Kate and only Kate, which can cause lasting damage to her healthy children that will follow them into adulthood.
As social workers, we are often put in positions where we have to raise uncomfortable truths with our clients to help them, but Sara would prove to be a very difficult client. In order to help the rest of the family, Sara, who is obsessive and controlling, will have to be convinced of how important it is that a family-centered approach be used to ensure the well-being of all of the family members, not just Kate. My Sister’s Keeper is an emotional film that shows just how damaging a terminal diagnosis can be on a family. From the perspective of a social worker, however, it also raises interesting questions about how one would go addressing the numerous issues the family is facing in order to strengthen the family ties, assist Kate in her treatment plans, and allow Sara to acknowledge the needs of her husband and other two children so that their well-being is just as important as her oldest daughter’s.
Johnson, M. (Producer), Cassavetes, N. (Director). (2009). My Sister’s Keeper [Motion Picture]. United States: Curmudgeon Films.
Black Swan By Breanna Puhach
Black Swan (2010) is a tale about Nina, an up and coming ballerina who has landed the prestigious lead role in the production of Swan Lake. The film is a dark psychological thriller that keeps the audience on an emotional roller coaster from one scene to the next, exploring and blurring the lines between realities in Nina’s life and her delusions (Medavoy et al., 2010). The film is quite powerful as there can be trouble distinguishing what is real and what is not. But is also a great representation of how someone with mental health concerns or delusions may experience their reality. It is an interesting viewpoint to experience, and may help a social worker have a better understanding that their client may not view their reality in the same way another would.
Throughout the film, it is clear Nina deals with many stresses and trauma including a controlling relationship from her helicopter-parent mother (Bayless, n.d.) and inappropriate relationship from her older male director, who uses his positionality to coerce and sexually assault her (Medavoy et al., 2010). Another dancer Lily, drugs Nina while at dinner. Nina is late to rehearsal and confronts Lily about the night before, insisting that they had sex. Lily swears sex never happened, and Nina realizes she had a delusion (Medavoy et al., 2010). The director designates Lily, Nina’s alternate for the production.
The film often shows Nina internalizing her struggles and reacting or acting in self-destructive ways, perhaps as a means of coping. She steals from the former lead dancer (Medavoy et al., 2010). Nina also vomits in the bathroom, this could be physiological from stress, or a purposeful act of purging perhaps a sign of an eating disorder. Some other examples are peeling her skin, scratches and stabbing herself with a shard from the glass mirror in the end of the film are signs of self-harm and even a potential suicide attempt (Medavoy et al., 2010). Nina’s extreme obsession for perfection undoubtedly takes a toll on her physical and mental health drastically – her life mirroring that of the swan characters she portrays in the production (Medavoy et al., 2010). Ballerinas, are often very disciplined individuals in various area of their life who strive for perfection – however there are points where it is detrimental (Smith-Theodore, 2018).
I would recommend Black Swan (2010) to social workers or anyone especially interested in applying psychodynamic practice, crisis intervention and task-centred practice, feminist and critical perspectives (Payne, 2016). As the film highlights power and positionality struggles, abuse, obsessive tendencies or obsessive compulsive disorder, perfectionism, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide attempts, mental health issues, delusions which can impact one’s life, and demonstrates a viewpoint leaving you questioning what is reality (Medavoy et al., 2010). All of these elements are recognizable throughout the film, and can be issues that come up in social work practice with clients.
Bayless, K. (n.d.). What is helicopter parenting? Parents. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/what-is-helicopter-parenting/
Medavoy, M., Messer, A. W., Oliver, B., & Franklin, S. (Producers), & Aronofsky, D. (Director). (2010). Black Swan [Motion Picture]. United States: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Payne, M. (2016). Modern social work theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Smith-Theodore, D. (2018, September 4). The eating disorder trap: How dancers’ perfectionism can make things dangerously worse. Pointe Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.pointemagazine.com/eating-disorders-ballet-2602027646.html
The Help By Rittu Sohal
The film, The Help (2011) is an adapted story, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel which examines the complex dynamics of Black women caring for White children as maids and nannies during the 1960’s, in Jackson, Mississippi, a Jim Crow era. The film focuses on Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a wealthy White woman, recent college graduate and an aspiring writer; who crosses paths with Aibileen Clark (Violia Davis), a Black woman who has been caring for White children as a maid since her youth and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) who has been recently fired as a maid by a privileged White woman, to then find employment in ‘lower class’ White woman’s home. As the film progresses, Skeeter’s she notices the differential treatment experienced by Black maids, amongst her White friends and neighbours. Skeeter attempts to persuade and rally Aibileen, Minny and other Black maids into contributing anonymously to her book about the mistreatment experienced as oppressed Black women.
The Help (2011) is an important film for both social work students and practitioners for the following reasons:
- From a critical theory lens, the oppression and differential treatment experienced by Aibileen and Minny are deeply embedded in how society is organized both politically and economically. The organization of race, gender and class are arranged by the “structures of society and the cultural assumptions garnered by the dominant group that oppress subordinate groups” (Payne, 2016, p 319). The dominance of power organizes Aibileen’s and Minny’s experiences within the film.
- During the time of Jim Crow law, being identified as a Black individual was enough to be killed. Consequently, Skeeter attempts to publish a book about Black women as maids in Jackson, Mississippi; she not only empowers Aibileen and Minny, but also gives them and other Black women a voice at a time of racial segregation. Validating Black women’s experiences and voices encompasses the “empowerment theory” (Payne, 2016, p. 249).
- To many of the families and children, Aibileen and Minny are more than racialized Black maids, they are valued deeply. To which, complex relationships are developed between Black maids and the White families they work for. The impact that Aibileen and Minny have on the White children and families they care for encompasses the complex relations which exist in a world that racially divides them.
- The oppression experienced by Aibileen and Minny describes the unique experiences of Black women from a “feminist theory” perspective (Payne, 2016, p. 349). The complex relationships that Aibileen and Minny develop with White families and their children, while also engaged in their own challenging relationships with their own children and families provides an opportunity to see feminism from a non-White perspective.
- The film touches on “anti-racism theory” (Payne, 2016, p. 373) when Skeeter questions the problematic treatment of Black maids within her town. Skeeter challenges and questions her family about rules that not only restrict but also dehumanize Aibileen and Minny.
The Help (2011) attempts to bring race, gender, and class together by emphasizing the interconnected relationships during a time of racial segregation.
Payne, M. (2016). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Taylor, T. (Director). (2011). The Help [Motion picture]. Unites States of America: Touchstone Home Entertainment / DreamWorks
Room By Brittney Forstner
Room is the film adaption of the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name that depicts a mother and her young son that have been held captive in a shed for seven years. The mother, Ma, played by Brie Larson, was abducted as a teen and raped repeatedly, resulting in the pregnancy and birth of her five-year-old son, Jack, who has only ever known life inside the small, dark room. The first half of the film shows their daily lives inside the room, and how Ma has taught Jack to only think of the outside world as fake. Ma eventually develops a plan for Jack to escape, who then leads police to rescuing Ma as well. The second half of the film shows Ma and Jack adjusting to life outside of the room. Throughout the film, you see how Ma, whose real name turns out to be Joy Newsome, struggles with life both inside and outside of the room. She goes through periods of depression that is evident in her mood and behaviour, leading to her attempting suicide and consequently entering treatment. It also shows how Jack tries to differentiate between real and fake while learning about the small world of the room, and then the larger world after their escape.
Room would be a beneficial movie for social work students and practitioners who are working with individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives and dealing with depression. It would also help practitioners and students see the possible effects of hostage survivors and kids who have grown up with varying forms of neglect (i.e., malnutrition, stunted developmental growth, and growing up in isolation). Room would also provide practitioners and students with valuable tools when working with clients in a crisis situation, as there are several examples of crises in the film: abduction, rape, escaping captivity, and a suicide attempt. Using the characters of Ma and Jack, one can critically think about different practice theories and that could be constructive when working with a client presenting with similar symptoms.
Room is an emotional movie that shows the immense aftermath that trauma has on individuals and how solutions to one issue, may bring upon different, longer-lasting issues.
Abrahamson, L. (Director). (2015). Room [Motion picture].
Short Term 12 by Naomi Richardson
Short Term 12 (Olson, Goldstein, Astrachan, Najor, & Cretton, 2013) provides viewers with an honest, intimate, and humanizing look at life in a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth. The film focuses on Grace, a supervisor at the facility, as she navigates a delicate work-life balance amidst her own unresolved experiences of trauma. Grace is a compassionate, empathetic, no-nonsense person who encourages healthy emotional self-awareness from the kids in her care while also struggling to do the same herself.
Things begin intensifying for Grace with the arrival of Jayden, a young girl with a neglectful father. While viewers do not learn ‘why’ right away, it is clear that Grace identifies with Jayden and the pair bond quickly. At one point, Jayden reads Grace a story she wrote about a shark and an octopus from which Grace infers that Jayden is being abused by her father; this sets her on a mission to ‘save’ Jayden and ensure she never has to go home.
As the tensions in Grace’s life builds, she is notified that her abusive father is being released from prison. This news appears to be a tipping point and sends her into a tailspin that ends with her standing over Jayden’s father’s bed with a baseball bat while he sleeps. Though the end of the movie comes off a bit disingenuous—Grace somehow does not get caught—this film as a whole highlight a few themes that may be helpful for social work students.
First, Grace’s relationship with Jayden emphasizes the potential consequences of countertransference, a psychodynamic phenomenon that occurs when a practitioner irrationally reacts to their patient by bringing in their own past experiences to their relationship (Payne, 2014). This should serve as an important reminder to social workers to maintain healthy boundaries and be critically reflective and evaluative to ensure personal experiences do not impact our clients.
Second, this film underscores the importance of self-care. Grace has a lot of unresolved issues that she has not taken care of and appears to lack adequate coping skills. Proper self-care allows people engaged in social service work to avoid burn out and be the best practitioners possible, while also bolstering overall health.
Third, there are several scenes throughout the film that demonstrate the power of narrative: one resident writes hip-hop lyrics to talk about his mother; Jayden uses her story of the octopus and the shark to alert Grace about her father’s abuse; Mason shares anecdotes about front-line work that highlights the ups and downs. These serve as powerful reminders of how stories—especially client stories—can be empowering and beneficial to the helping process.
Fourth, Grace’s storyline could serve as a case study of crisis and crisis intervention. There are many precipitating factors in her life, but the hazardous event that triggers a crisis is hearing that her father is being released. A discussion could be had while watching this movie about when and how best to intervene for Grace.
Finally, the film in general is a decent portrayal of front-line social service work, particularly in child welfare and mental health settings, as there are several scenes that highlight the expectations placed on staff and the powerlessness they experience at the hands of ‘higher-ups’.
Olson, M., Goldstein, A., Astrachan, J., Najor, R. (Producers) & Cretton, D. (Director). (2013). Short term 12 [Motion picture]. United States: Animal Kingdom
Payne, M. (2014). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed.). Chicago: Lyceum Books, Inc
Dirty By Andre Watkis
Dirty (2005) is a high energy action film featuring many prominent actors such as Cuba Gooding Jr., Clifton Collins Jr., Keith David and Wyclef Jean. This movie is set in Los Angeles, California where Salim Abdel (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Officer Armando Sancho (Clifton Collins Jr.), the main protagonists, are members of an anti-gang task force of the Los Angeles Police Department. Officer Sancho struggles with the guilt of the recent murder of an innocent civilian during a police operation. Additionally, Officer Sancho recognizes that many members of the his unit operate unlawfully, and experiences dissonance regarding whether to protect the actions of his colleagues, or to follow his conscience and his Christian faith and report their perverse deeds.
Social workers should watch this movie for several reasons. First, this movie clearly depicts the duality of being in a position of power yet feeling powerless. Second, one is able to observe how guilt can intersect with an individual’s religious beliefs to create immense mental distress and the onset of a mental health episode. Third, social workers are able to witness the mental processes and reasoning of how powerful figures of society can justify their actions to serve their personal ambitions, especially when these desires counter the responsibilities of their office.
Fourth, this film offers insight into the culture of gangs from several perspectives, and the groupthink of these organizations. Lastly, this film displays the racial tensions that exist between members of the dominant class and those who are marginalized in an urbanized setting.
Fisher, C. (Director). (2005). Dirty [Motion picture]. United States: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Half Nelson By Mélanie L. Stafford
Directed & written by Ryan Fleck and Anna Broden, Half Nelson is a 2006 drama set in Brooklyn NY. White teacher Dan Dunne (played by Ryan Gosling) develops a multi-faceted relationship with one of his black students Drey (played by Shareeka Epps). While teaching, Dan proposes a theme of opposite forces in a dual with each other throughout history. This duality and interactive dynamics are reflected in his relationship with Drey, a young black teenager developing her sense of self and connection to the world. As a progressive and nurturing teacher, Dan is one of her sources of influences. Dan also struggles with addictions, which encroaches more and more on his life as the film goes on. This leads to Dan and Drey’s worlds colliding in a compelling way that leaves them both rattled. Social work students should watch half Nelson for at least the five following reasons.
Roles and Identity
Despite similarities, this movie is nowhere near the white hero teacher trope. Early in the film, teenager Drey finds her adored teacher Dan smoking crack in the girls’ locker room. This leads to a scene where she is taking care of her white adult teacher. Her stoic expression & corn rolls depict strength, and his unboundaried and reckless drug use portrays the opposite. Intersectional Black feminism would be useful herein reflecting on the multi-directional nurturing role while considering dimensions of power, age, ethnicity, class and role.
Relationships to Drugs
The historical relationship between crack and Black neighbourhoods make for a potent source of insights with a white main character addicted to it. In keeping with the film’s theme of oppositional forces, Frank, a black neighbourhood acquaintance of Drey is a drug dealer. Each adult offers a complexity of care and support towards Drey; while having an unmanageable addiction, Dan provides knowledge and wisdom to Drey that leads to a scene where Drey tells Dan “You have so many books about black people. Can I borrow one?”. This speaks to realities of euro-centric education systems, where Afro-centric knowledge have to be sought out.
From the opening scene, teacher Dan is portrayed as a boy sitting on the floor wearing tighty whities. A buzzing alarm rings, perhaps representing adult responsibilities, and Dan’s inability to assume some of them. This scene evokes knowledge about trauma-informed practice, where sometimes avoidant, defiant & impulsive behaviours can give us clues as to the wounds experienced by an individual. Much of the film is depicted using hand-held cinematography, giving the viewer a sense of immersion & sometimes nervousness, lived alongside the characters. Imagery is artfully used to expand our imaginations, which offers social working viewers vast & vivid emotional responses.
In class, Dan teaches a version of history which is progressive and left-leaning. He encourages critical thinking, including a scene where he shows a video that talks about “the machine,” which represent various systems of interdependent oppression. This prompts a student to note “Aren’t you the machine? You’re white and a part of the school?” and Dan responds “Why yes, I am. Everything is opposing forces.” The historical themes seamlessly shared throughout the film link up to social workers responsibility towards social change.
During an intoxicated night out, Dan rants about the state of the world and feeling inconsequential in it. The scene ends with him holding onto a stranger as a child holds onto his mom. In the most potent scene, both main characters find each other at their lowest. Following a family dinner, Dan is using in a hotel room with strangers, and in walks Drey selling drugs. The actors brilliantly evoke devastation & defeat without any words.
Patricof, J. Orlovsky, A. Howell, L. Boden, A. Korenberg, R. (Producers). Fleck, R. (Director). (2006). Half Nelson. [Motion picture]. United States: ThinkFilm
White Oleander By Jessica Morden
Based on the novel by author Janet Fitch of the same name, White Oleander (2002) weaves a complicated tale about the effects of trauma, loss, mental health, severed familial ties, and the eventual endurance that can come out of these experiences. Astrid (played by Alison Lohman) lives with her artist mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), who while beautiful and loving towards her daughter, has a cruel, manipulative and dangerous side to her. After discovering her boyfriend is having an affair with a younger woman, Ingrid poisons him with the Oleander flower leading to her eventual arrest and imprisonment. Astrid is then sent to live in several foster and group homes, where she is subjected to varying degrees of trauma, neglect and abuse.
As someone who works within social services, while the film is somewhat melodramatic at times, it does manage to depict aspects of living in care while dealing with trauma faced by many children. It also shows a very truthful depiction of emotions such as love and anger, and the dangers of “bad” love and also of loss, struggle, and depression.
Through the placements Astrid goes through in her time in care, the film demonstrates the various ways children in care can be treated, from love and caring to the opposite. Both of her first foster mothers, Starr (played by Robin Wright) and Claire (played by Renee Zellweger), show her love and caring in the beginning. The film also shows how children in foster care can be vulnerable to exploitation and physical abuse, such as when Starr shoots Astrid due to being intoxicated and jealous of her, when another foster mother uses her foster children as free labour for her business, and when she is attacked by other children while in group care.
This film also examines how early or inappropriate responsibilities can affect a child psychologically such as when Astrid realizes she is living with Claire to help manage her mental health and consequently feels responsible for her suicide. Foster care can also put children at risk for sexual abuse which Astrid experiences at the hands of a caregiver’s boyfriend.
The film further illustrates how children who move between placements adjust quickly to new rules, new people and new expectations in order to survive emotionally and how difficult it can be adjusting and creating new relationships. This also explores the difficulties children face with attachment in these situations. Within every new placement, Astrid must adjust to the new rules of the placement, the people she is now expected to respect and live. She does this while still working through the traumas and pain suffered with her mother and within the previous placements.
One specific area in which the film excels is in its portrayal of the complicated relationships between children in care, their foster families and their biological families. Throughout the film, Astrid struggles with feeling a sense of needing to be loyal and connected to her mother despite the terrible things she has done, but also needing the connection with the people caring for her. It examines how the relationship between parents, foster parents and children can be complex and difficult with children experiencing a pull between their old and new lives. Astrid also needs to reconcile with the efforts her mother makes to stay connected with her and control and manipulate her. Her mother makes several attempts throughout the film to manipulate the situation to ensure that Astrid still only feels a connection with her. This ends up creating a situation where Astrid is afraid to connect with anyone. These actions show how parental attachment can influence a person’s personality and actions.
The film illustrates how trauma, loss and neglect can affect children and how they can learn to heal from it and make strides to move on with their lives. Astrid uses artistic expression and her relationship with Paul (played by Patrick Fugit), another youth in care she meets through her time at a group home. The relationship with Paul shows the viewers how human connection and similar experiences, can influence and help someone heal. Astrid uses her art as depictions of her experiences in foster care in a cathartic way, to release the emotion and trauma she experienced.
While a film designed to depict actions in an entertaining way, the film is able to capture a realistic look at living in foster care. It could be beneficial as a means of allowing social workers to put themselves into the perspective of a child in care and develop further empathy for their experiences. If used effectively, the film could also be a good example to show people affected by being in care that they are not alone in their struggles and show how through finding a healthy outlet for trauma. Someone could move forward.
Lowry, H. and Wells, J. (Producer), & Kosminsky, P. (Director), (2002). White Oleander [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures.
The Light Between Oceans By Megan McCreary
Love, heartbreak, happiness and guilt are only some of the emotions felt by audiences when watching The Light Between Oceans (Heyman, Clifford & Cianfrance, 2016). On an isolated island off the coast of Australia, World War 1 hero, Tom Sherbourne is hired as a lightkeeper. He is seeking solitude after his traumatizing experiences during the war. He meets Isabel during one of his rare visits to the mainland. Tom and Isabel marry and they live a quiet life on Janus Rock alone, tending to the lighthouse and infrequently returning to the mainland. Eager to start a family, Tom and Isabel experience two heartbreaking miscarriages and a stillbirth and struggle to maintain their happy life.
Unsure if they will be able to realize their dream of a family, their prayers seem to be answered in an unusual way. A boat washes ashore and in it Tom finds a crying baby girl along with her deceased father. Isabel, desperate to have a child, begs Tom to keep the baby as their own. Tom knows how much Isabel wants a child and against his own judgement they decide to keep the baby and name her Lucy. At first, life as a family of three is nothing but joyous, but during a trip to the mainland they learn their choice has devastated another person.
The Light Between Oceans (Heyman et al., 2016) is a great learning tool and should be watched by social work students and practitioners for the following five reasons.
- Tom and Isabel experience trauma and loss in different ways. Tom during World War 1 and Isabel from her losses and stillbirth. Using a trauma-informed approach will require the practitioner to be sensitive to how current difficulties can be understood in the context of past trauma, while helping trauma survivors understand how the past influences the present (Knight, 2015).
- Immense grief is experienced by Tom and especially Isabel over the losses and stillborn child. Using grief counselling, a social worker could work with Tom and Isabel to go through the stages of grief and cope with their losses.
- Crisis and loss are experienced by Tom and Isabel after the loss of Lucy. Crisis intervention would be beneficial to both by focusing on their emotional response and being shown how to build upon existing strengths and build support systems (Payne, 2014).
- Isolation is expected as a lightkeeper on Janus Rock for Tom and Isabel. Eco-social practice theories can help social workers to look closely at the social environment to understand the impacts on both Tom and Isabel (Payne, 2014).
- Empathy is seen throughout the film and is a central tenet of social work. Building empathy with clients is essential to positive client-practitioner relationships and this film provides many examples of how this can be effectively done.
The Light Between Oceans (Heyman et al., 2016) highlights how one decision can have everlasting consequences and can provide insight for social work students to build upon knowledge of social work theories.
Heyman, D. (Producer), Clifford, J. (Producer) & Cianfrance, D. (Director). (2016). The light between oceans [Motion picture]. United States: DreamWorks Pictures.
Knight, C. (2015). Trauma-informed social work practice: Practice considerations and challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(1), 25-37.
Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work theory (Fourth ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete By Sheila Colis
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is a 2013 American drama film directed by George Tillman, Jr. and written by Michael Starrbury. The films Anthony Mackie, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks and Jeffrey Wright. Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon star in the title roles as Mister and Pete, respectively.
The movie is of a story of two young boys, Mister and Pete who live in a rough inner-city neighborhood in New York City. Throughout the movie, Mister and Pete stick together as they fend for themselves after Mister’s mother was taken away by the police due to the presence of drugs and drug use in the home. Mister had known the police were coming and instead of warning or helping his mother, Mister goes to hide in the closet in his room and watches as his mother is being taken away from the police. In the beginning of the movie, it shows how Mister was angry and upset at his mother, as he was aware of what his mother did for a living and he was tired of seeing her using drugs in the home. He knew that he could not count on his mom to protect and support him. The police search in the home to look for him with no success. Throughout the movie, Mister and Pete go through all kinds of events alone as they find their way to survive and getting their basic needs met such as food and shelter while avoiding Child Protective Services and other hostile residents in the neighborhood. There are many perspectives and theories that can be analyzed through a social works lens. Here are the 5 reasons that social work students can benefit from watching this movie.
- Strengths-Based Perspective – Throughout the movie, it is evident to see the many strengths that Mister has as he is fending for himself with his friend Pete when his mom was taken away from the police. He goes through many obstacles and is very aware of the dangers around him and he is careful who not to trust in his neighborhood. At first, it would appear that he may be vulnerable but being on his own had helped him become stronger and independent.
- Macro/Environmental – There are many factors identified throughout the movie that shows the environment is an unsafe and high risk place. As a social work student, we can observe the community such as what needs improvement for safety and security. In the movie, it appears that Mister is always on a “flight or fight” mode and is cautious of his surroundings.
- Person-In-Environment – The movie is almost filmed as if the audience where in the shoes of Mister. We experience and observe Mister being bullied at school, from his anger towards his mother and his general emotions as he goes about his day.
- Empowerment – Mister is empowered once he is doing things on his own. He is inspired to become an actor and therefore sees it as a positive light in his life.
- Social Problems – The movie shows many social problems from inner city neighborhoods, mothers neglecting their children and abusing drugs, to people stealing from stores, and robbing homes.
Tillman, G., Starrbury M., (2013) The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete [Motion Picture] United States: Code Black Entertainment & Lionsgate Entertainment.
Closet Monster By Tyler Colbourne
Closet Monster (2015), by Stephen Dunn of Newfoundland, injects life into the tired archetypal narrative of the young, cisgender, gay coming out story; it includes surrealism, an analysis of impacts of vicarious trauma, an accurate portrayal of acrimonious family dynamics, wonderful filmmaking, and a hamster voiced by Isabella Rossellini. The coming of age and coming out story of young, good-looking, and sullen boys has dominated the queer narrative, ever since audiences began to embrace representation of queer people on the screen.
Television and film are filled with sad stories reflecting the real and often tumultuous challenges of coming out. However, many stories are often focused explicitly on trauma or on romance, without much room for nuance or analysis of other complex dynamics. As queer representation increases in the media, there needs to be more stories focused on more than just the struggle of coming out.
In Closet Monster, Connor Jessup plays the title character, Oscar Madly, a teenager living with his father while finishing his final year of high school. The viewer’s understanding of his internalized issues, like his sexuality and challenging family dynamics, is established early on the film. In the early scenes we see his parents separating dramatically, followed by Oscar witnessing a traumatic hate crime against another young man. The film explores his sense of what he is becoming and who he wants to be, while balancing his worldview which has been shaped by vicarious trauma and his parent’s divorce.
The traumatic experiences of his childhood blend into the narrative of the film through the surreal imagery, often presenting when Oscar has sexual desires and through his relationship with his hamster Buffy. It is his hamster, expertly voiced with compassion and clarity by the stellar Isabella Rossellini, who acts as a mother figure to Oscar, acting as the moral compass and heart of the film. Rossellini is is no stranger to voicing complex animals and if you have not experienced her YouTube series on animal mating rituals, you are missing out. Their relationship brings a sense of curiosity and whimsy to the narrative, and allows Oscar to demonstrate growth and healing.
Closet Monster flips the script on queer male narratives. The relationships are real, the cinematography is fresh, and the perspective is oddly grounded by a talking hamster and sometimes violent, but always beautiful, imagery. The score borrows from contemporary artists within the queer scene and builds lush soundscapes, giving the film a grand tone, far and above the small town setting of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The representation of queer people in film needs to expand beyond the white, cisgender male perspective. Closet Monster explores familiar territory and themes, but the added imagery, representation of refreshingly real family dynamics, and the surreal quality of the film elevates it to more than just another coming out story. Closet Monster is about becoming, overcoming, and embracing complex identities.
Wild by Renee Crossan
Wild (Papandrea, Pohlad, Witherspoon, and Valle, 2014) is the film adaptation of award-winning author Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her epic 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Reece Witherspoon delivers a compelling performance in her role as a 26-year-old Strayed, who on the brink of despair, embarks on a lone journey of self-discovery. The Pacific Crest Trail provides a picturesque yet at times portentous backdrop. The opening sequence consists of a flashforward and sets the stage for the film. In apparent agony, her bare feet bloodied, Witherspoon unleashes a primal scream that reverberates into the wilderness. The audience is left wondering how Witherspoon came to be atop a foothill with only her backpack “Monster” and the beauty that surrounds as company. The scene that follows begins at the beginning, so to speak, with Witherspoon checking into a motel on the eve of her trek’s inaugural steps. From the moment she sets foot on the trail the following morning, the plot moves forward through use of first-person ‘real-time’ narrative and musings interspersed with vivid flashbacks. With Witherspoon as the vessel, unveiled are the traumatic life events that result in Cheryl Strayed walking over a thousand miles towards her salvation.
Wild (Papandrea et al., 2014) is a worthwhile film for both social work students and practitioners to view for a number of reasons. We learn early on that the untimely death of her beloved mother to cancer proves cataclysmic for Strayed. The enormity of Strayed’s grief becomes unbearable, thus rendering her unable to cope. As social workers, it is important to understand the complex nature of grief and consequently become comfortable with bereavement-centered interventions.
Strayed ultimately finds solace from her grief in using heroin and having sex with strangers. When her husband Paul learns of her infidelities and drug use, he files for divorce. Interestingly, a scene in the film depicts a social work intervention at this pivotal juncture in Strayed’s life. Though substance abuse was the presenting issue, an exploration of Strayed’s childhood would reveal that her mother was a survivor of intimate partner violence at the hands of an alcohol-abusing father. This may contextualize her behaviour in the aftermath of her mother’s death.
Throughout the film, we bear witness to Strayed’s astounding resilience, determination and resourcefulness. The Pacific Crest Trail was wrought with obstacles, yet she persevered. Social workers may learn a lesson about empowerment and strength-based intervention approaches by virtue of watching what Strayed is capable of accomplishing through sheer willpower.
Feminist themes were woven into the entire film. Though Wild (Papandrea et al., 2014) is the story of one individual’s journey, her experiences of male dominance, aggression, and deprecation are universally shared by other women. Viewing Wild through the lens of a feminist perspective may help social workers appreciate the far-reaching impact toxic masculinity has on women.
Wild (Papandrea et al., 2014) is ultimately a story of personal triumph in the face of overwhelming grief and loss. One final reason both social work students and practitioners may benefit from viewing this film, therefore, is the lesson it teaches in never underestimating the power of the human spirit to overcome even the greatest adversities.
Papandrea, B. (Producer), Pohlad, B. (Producer), Witherspoon, R. (Producer), & Valle, J-M. (Director). (2014). Wild. [Motion Picture]. United States: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Fly Away Home By Lydia Bloemendal
Based on real-life events, resiliency and determination are two words that come to mind when trying to describe this stunning, yet sensitive film. After her mother is killed in a car crash, 13-year-old Amy (Anna Paquin) is brought to Canada from New Zealand to live with her father, Tom (Jeff Daniels). Tom is portrayed as an eccentric inventor, and a person Amy barely knows due to her parents divorcing years prior. After her mother’s death, Amy struggles to make sense of her new life, her peculiar father and is quite hostile towards all others. It’s not until Amy discovers an abandoned nest of eggs that the audience starts to see a gentle, caring, and nurturing side of the character; witnessing Amy growing, and slowly processing her grief. After discovering the nest, Amy takes on the motherly role of caring for the eggs, and once hatched, the new goslings latch onto her as their mother. Amy soon finds herself being followed around into the shower, and onto the breakfast table, though much to Tom’s annoyance. The humour of having geese wandering around is soon overshadowed by local authorities, who insist that the bird’s wings be clipped. It’s this moment when Amy and her father decide to teach the geese how to fly. Slowly, a tender relationship forms between Amy and Tom, and they successfully bring the flock of geese from northern Ontario to a small corner of Florida.
Social work students and practitioners should take note of this film. Firstly, it gently guides the viewers through the process of grief. It portrays the real pain, anger, frustration, as well as the questioning a child goes through when they lose a significant figure in their life. For social workers, it is vitally important to understand the emotional turmoil grief brings, along with showing what isn’t often portrayed in film – how a child of thirteen deals with such a loss. Secondly, the symbolism behind Amy losing a mother, and becoming one to her family of geese is heart warming, but also speaks to different coping techniques and the various ways individuals heal from trauma or loss. Thirdly, the film portrays the complex relationship between parents and their children – as well as the impact of trauma, and what trauma informed practice can bring to both parties. Fourthly, social workers would benefit from taking note of Tom’s interactions with Amy. While he is dealing with his own issues, he shows Amy a strength-based approach, as well as empowerment skills which helps her find the strength, and courage to fly a small plane on her own. Finally, Feminist themes are witnessed throughout. For while the film follows Amy’s individual journey, there are short interactions between her and Tom, which display his unfortunate insensitivity, or perhaps unfamiliarity towards her as a young woman.
Fly Away Home is a film which sheds light on human resiliency, the healing process and ability to move through difficulties, no matter how large or small.
Ballard, C. (Director), Baum, C. (Producer). (1996). Fly Away Home. [Motion Picture]. United States: Colombia Pictures
Hotel Rwanda By Isidore Yuntenwi
Hotel Rwanda paints the picture of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority population as a result of a long political battle between the two ethnic groups that resulted in a civil war that began in began in 1990. The Tutsis had been at the helm of affairs for a long time during the era of Belgian colonization. At independence in 1962, the Belgians colluded with the Hutus who then became the ruling class, very much to the chagrin of the Tutsis. The Tutsis decided to constitute a rebel movement – the Rwandan Patriotic Front – which fought ferociously against the Hutu led government forces to reconquer power. In the wake of the war, Hutu militias were formed with the aim of eliminating all the Tutsis whom they referred to as “cockroaches”. At the height of the conflict in 1994, about 800,000 Tutsis were slayed with machetes, in the space of 90 days, by Hutu militias.
Caught in the fighting is Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu manager of the Hotel Milles Collines (a five star hotel owned by Sabena (the Belgian airlines company). Paul’s marriage to a Tutsi woman is a constant source of conflict between him and his Hutu ethnic group. As the fighting rages on, Paul is forced to bribe influential people such as the army general (who supports the killings of Tutsis). This, in an attempt to save his family and 1000 other Tutsis who have taken refuge at the hotel in the hope of being taken to safety by the UN convoy.
Paul lives a horrid experience as he witnesses his neighbours dragged from their homes and beaten on the streets. He witnesses the slaying of scores of people on a daily basis. He has the will power to help, not just his family, but other Tutsis like his wife whose lives are guaranteed only for as long as the Hutu killer squad decides. As the war rages on, guests to the hotel (mainly diplomats, wealthy business men and white tourists) are no longer forthcoming. This means Paul would no longer be able to continue giving bribes of money and alcohol to buy the safety of the Tutsi hundreds of Tutsis who look up to him for help.
A social work student, after watching Hotel Rwanda, would identify some social work theories. The conflict theory is clearly manifest in the fight between the two ethnic groups. There is an unequal division of power between the Hutus and Tutsis. According to Tutsis, they are being dominated by the Hutus who are in the majority, the reason they are fighting to establish equilibrium. Spirituality is also evoked in Hotel Rwanda. Faced with cruel summary executions by Hutus, Tutsis find solace in the church where they profess their faith and spirituality.
Paul’s fight against Hutu domination is an exhibition of what Pease (2010) refers to as “traitorous identity” – the process of negating the innate dominant character. Though he is of the dominant Hutu ethnic group, he overrides the dominant character in a bid to protect the oppressed Tutsi group.
Payne, M. (2016). Modern Social Work Theory (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Pease, B. (2010). Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books.
Coco By Bethany Trainor
Coco (2017), centers around a young boy, Miguel, who was born and raised in Mexico. Miguel is raised by his parents, grandparents, great-grandmother and various other extended family members. Miguel’s family suffers from loss in their family which inadvertently causes them to remove music from their lives. This in turn takes away a major part of their Mexican culture, which Miguel is strongly connected to.
Watching this film provides viewers with an understanding of the rich cultural background of people from Mexico. The film celebrated this culture in every scene and showed respect to the highly celebrated Day of the Dead festival. This aspect of the film broke free of many of the stereotypes typically associated with Mexico and Day of the Dead. It explored the true meaning behind the festival and connected it to the traditional family celebration, which is often inaccurately depicted and culturally represented in North America.
The film also offers a look into intergenerational trauma and how one act can completely alter a family’s future. This is important for social workers to understand, as trauma passed on throughout generations is an issue that is all too often overlooked, especially when working with children. Children can be equally affected by trauma even if it is not experienced first-hand. Children are often deemed resilient and not given the appropriate supports to help them overcome barriers in their lives.
Coco provides us with a child’s perspective on deeply emotional issues that often do not get explored in such a way. This film is targeted for children, but teaches us as adults many valuable lessons in a cultural and creative way.
For Colored Girls By Antoinette Morgan
The 2010 movie, For Colored Girls, is an adaptation by writer and producer, Tyler Perry, from the original play by Ntzoke Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.” The movie tells the stories of ten Black women, each with different social identities, yet their lives intersect as their struggles unfold. There are areas that the intersectionality is nebulous and the film could have benefited from stronger script development. Even so, the film explores the intersectionality of race, class, gender, social statuses and oppression of each woman. Social workers would want to watch this movie as it demonstrates how a person’s social location impacts their experiences. There is an opportunity to use critical race theory and empowerment theories to help empower those marginalized.
This high tragedy movie provides an insight into the multidimension lives of black women as they deal with a myriad of aggression and oppression. The women’s individual experience provides examples of the person in the environment and the different systems that affect them. Their stories are filled with sadness that make it easy to see them as victims rather than survivors. Despite the women’s positionalities that perpetuate various forms of oppression in their lives, their resiliency is clear. For social workers, this movie can serve as a reminder not to see clients through a deficit lens. The social worker could use ecological, empowerment or systems theory to help them.
The intersectionality of poverty, race, oppression and trauma is evident in the movie. Social workers who work with trauma survivors know of its pervasiveness. They should watch this movie as it underscores the devastating consequences of domestic violence and untreated trauma. The performances of Kimberly Elise (Crystal) and Anika Noni Rose (Yasmine) are executed with unapologetic sadness, though certain parts are harrowing to watch, their stories resonate well with viewers. Both of their storylines will evoke a confluence of emotions in both viewers and social workers alike. Social workers must see this film to be reminded of self-awareness and to avoid countertransference.
Social workers who work in the field of gender-based violence should see this movie. The film presents a level of profundity of the role gender plays in the oppression of women. There are examples of the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity, blatantly perpetuated in violent acts by men against women, but also in victim blaming of Yasmine after the rape. Perhaps more salient to this point of toxic masculinity is the domestic violence experienced in the intimate partner relationship of Crystal and Beau that led to the death of Kwame and Kenya. Social workers should watch this movie to remember the importance of proper risk assessment and safety planning with domestic violence survivors. Additionally, the movie provides the opportunity for the social worker to address grief and loss with clients.
This film provides a good opportunity for social workers to practice the use of multi-dimensional theories because it explores issues such as fertility, relationship conflict, infidelity, domestic violence, rape, murder, grief, teenage sex and pregnancy, and substance abuse. The social worker’s knowledge of theories will allow him/her/them to conceptualize and address the clients’ problems, suggest appropriate interventions that will help them deal with the stressors and oppression in their lives, and to provide them with strategies. I highly recommend this movie, For Colored Girls, to social workers.
Perry, T., Bobb, R.M., & Hall, P. (Producers), Perry, T. (Director). (2010). For Colored Girls [Motion picture]. United States: Lionsgate