There’s more to watching movies than sitting in the dark for two hours and eating a tub of popcorn.
Tony Kashani believes great films also can inspire people to change their own lives and even fight for social change. He wrote a book on the subject, called “Movies Change Lives,” and published it earlier this year. It’s his fourth book on the social impact of popular culture.
In “Movies Change Lives,” Kashani contends that cinema is a major player in the relationship between a society and its people, translating universal issues like economic inequality, racial strife and rapidly changing technology into human terms.
“There are particular elements that all people relate to and have similar experiences with,” said Kashani, a media studies instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College.
He cites a film that looks at cultural conflict through the eyes of a man and woman from different continents who fall in love, and another that reveals the way technology affects us through the story of a lonely man obsessed with his computer.
“With its universal language, cinema can help us respect our differences while sharing common values, goals and aspirations,” Kashani said.
He believes that films can bring people together by shifting the cultural focus away from mindless action, commercialism and stereotypes. Instead, films can embrace the broader themes of life, love, justice and moral courage, and a film about parents and teachers working together to save a school can inspire people to launch similar crusades in their own communities.
“Therefore, seeing a film can be personally transformative, but also socially transformative,” he said. “In this book. I argue that cinema can indeed be an agent to usher in such transformation.”
As an example, he cites Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary about the McDonald’s restaurant chain, “Supersize Me,” which challenged viewers to question their own eating habits, as well as the fast-food industry.
Kashani chose these seven films to illustrate his premise, explaining that he believes they can change how we treat each other, how we view race, religion and our nation, and even how we relate to reality.
1. “Queen of Katwe,” 2016. A Ugandan girl sees her life rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess.
“This is a refreshingly rare film where the protagonist is an African teenage girl, and all the other characters are African as well. It is, of course, a melodrama that can easily make one cry with compassion and empathy and at once feel good about the human spirit and our innate ability to persevere.”
2. “Snowden,” 2016. Based on the true story of Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency employee who leaked thousands of classified documents to the press, revealing the NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques.
“This film raises the question of ‘what is patriotism?’ and the meaning of ‘American freedom.’ Filmmaker Oliver Stone stays with the facts and does not sugar-coat anything. It also presents what a quintessentially American form of courage looks like, something we used to have and have lost to the corrupting nature of power.”
3. “Her,” 2013. A lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
“The film compels us to think about our relationship with technology. It’s a message to humanity that we need to reconnect as human beings and experience each other and create a collective consciousness. So people can become conscious and take action: maybe working less, or changing jobs.”
Find out more about Tony Kashani and his book, "Movies Change Lives" at tonykashani.com.