Increasing cultural sensitivity with popcorn and a movie

As the population of United States is changing, the mainstream media seems to have responded by producing more movies that depict a more realistic perspective on diversity compared to the stereotypical portrayal of ethnic minorities in the past.  Some movies allow us to get a bird’s eye view of cultural and social groups other than our own. They also allow us to observe the within group differences and help us examine the stereotypes we hold of certain cultural groups. Movies like Crash, for example have addressed many dimensions of racism in today’s world. Many of us are more easily able to identify, and empathize with, the socio political aspects of racism, acknowledge the presence of power and privilege and how these may impact issues of trust and mistrust in the clinical/legal setting or creating barriers to seeking help. Since this movie provides us with more questions than answers, it provides a blank slate for intellectual discussions.

The movie Babel addresses, among many other emotional issues, the discomfort and miscommunications that happen between people from different countries and how interrelated we are despite our differences. This movie, set in four different countries, allows us to examine the clashes of cultures, universality of certain experiences, and the existence of misinterpretations in the absence of a common language.

The movie Namesake covered many important issues of the immigration experience. Many of the issues were related to ethnic identity development, intergenerational conflicts between first and second generation immigrants, universality of certain developmental issues, and the uniqueness of each individual’s journey. Real women have curves addresses intergenerational issues in immigrant families while also bringing up gender and body image issues. Another movie that depicts issues of immigration and related racism is House of Sand and Fog.

Some movies have addressed many of the issues of ethnic identity in a humorous but sensitive manner, e.g., My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Movies such as Bend it Like Beckham and Monsoon Wedding bring up differences of world views and application of family systems theories with culturally “other” families. What’s Cooking is another movie that provides us a window into four families from different cultural groups that are dealing with gender, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic identity, inter racial relationships, and acculturation issues. The movie is set in southern California. Save the last dance and Something New are movies that highlight issues related to inter racial relationships, specifically between an African American and a Caucasian, set in Chicago’s south side and Los Angeles west side respectively. The interesting contrast between these movies relates to many other aspects of diversity such as, gender, age and economic issues.

In teaching issues of multicultural sensitivity, it is often challenging to highlight the many layers and levels of the experience of ethnic others in the context of multitude of social systems. We are all limited, to a large extent, by the experiences of our lives and the people we encounter on a daily basis. We may never personally or directly experience the struggles of our clients, however, we can develop an increased level of empathy and compassion by watching their stories. The role plays and discussions of our emotional experiences that follow the viewing of these films or film clips often increase our comfort discussing these issues with our clients.

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