In times like these, with right-wing populism, partisanship, and anti-intellectualism on the rise throughout the West, it is more important than ever that we utilize our art to push forward with the work of building a better future for ourselves and for our children. It is classic modus operandi for aspiring autocrats to crack down on artistic expression and dissent, because they know that it provides one of the most fertile grounds imaginable for expanding the human consciousness, and there is nothing more terrifying to those who would rather turn back the clock to an imaginary, more “glorious” past.
We’ve already seen the first salvos of this in the United States, where Trump is resolutely following the heels of the Putins, Erdogans, and Politburos of the world by recommending eliminating federal funding for the arts, while egging on the long-running right-wing conspiracy theory that the liberal Hollywood “elite” seek to push an extreme progressive agenda on “real Americans,” and that this must be stopped at all costs.
Everywhere we turn, there is fear, anger, hatred, and ignorance. And yet, I feel excited and encouraged by the opportunities these trying times present to us. We’ve been down these dark roads before, and on many an occasion people have risen admirably to the challenges they faced. One of our greatest collective traditions is to use our storytelling crafts to light candles within the darkness that, together, can paint a path forward for us when it at first seems there is none.
We are each now called upon to do our part, and as a historian who loves cinema, I intend to do mine by spreading the word about just a few of the great films that can provide us comfort, inspiration, and ideas, or provoke us to think deeply about a side of the human experience we hadn’t considered before. The time for small thinking is long gone. Let’s embrace with abandon our pasts and our arts, and let our imaginations run wild with the possibilities proffered to us by Fate.
With this, I am pleased to formally announce the start of a new long-running series on this blog; Films for the Trump Years. In each installment (I am currently planning one a month, unless circumstances compel me to do more or less), I will look at one or a handful of movies- many historically-based, but also some fictional- that I feel have something to offer to our current cultural dialogue and reflect on why I recommend taking the time to see them.
I already have an extensive list of movies I plan to include, but recommendations and suggestions are welcome at any time, as there are obviously whole worlds of movies I haven’t yet seen, and by the end of this I’d like this list to be as expansive as possible.
That said, I have already settled on my first film, Avu DuVernay’s marvelous Selma, and should be up by the end of the month. Until then, stay strong, hold fast to truth, and never stop fighting.
May we all live long, and prosper.