I don’t tend to reflect on the philosophical implications of movies. But over the weekend, I watched two films that prompted me to think about my final year at Penn and what I want it to be defined by.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and “The Help” probably don’t get much attention from cinema studies majors, but they had me glued to my uncle’s couch even after the credits rolled.
Set in Jackson, Miss., in the 1960s, “The Help” is based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett. It follows a group of black maids as they record their stories and fight against institutionalized racism. The significance of “Harry Potter,” I’ll explain later.
“The Help” portrays a period in American history which, while an improvement from the era of slavery, was still one with much more oppression and brutal discrimination than the one we live in today.
However, to many who lived through the ’60s — especially those wielding the tools of oppression — there was nothing wrong with what was happening.
While it would be foolish to think that we live in a post-racial society today, it is undeniable that our collective norms have changed. What used to be perceived as normal has become much less acceptable and in similar fashion, tens of years from today, what we know to be the acceptable norm will have changed.
Over our lifetimes, we either meet people or are the people who think that the world is a certain way because it is supposed to be that way. We don’t believe that we, as individuals, have the ability to cause change.
We rationalize away uncomfortable facts by thinking that if a lot of people think something is okay, then it must be okay.
But I would like us to challenge that notion and remind ourselves that society has changed so much over the years, because someone or some group of people was brave enough to ask questions, to be critical. People who refused to take “that’s just the way things are” for an answer. People who challenge the status quo.
Penn students are often confronted with the reality of being more privileged than the average person. That privilege manifests itself in economic wealth, social status and the education we receive.
The University gives us generous funding to carry out research projects, to travel abroad, to be taught in a wide variety of disciplines, to meet famous scholars and academics at events that are overflowing with food.
When my friend from the University of Massachusetts told me about a major being cut at her university because the state couldn’t afford it, my awareness of this privilege heightened.
But just because we have access to a world-class education doesn’t mean that Penn is a perfect place. The best education one can receive here is to learn to think critically. Questioning what we see around us not only leads to self improvement but creates a more progressive university and society.
So this year, I promise to ask myself more questions, especially about things that make me uncomfortable. I want to start conversations and debates about Penn and its relationship to West Philadelphia, the increased cost of living in University City — not just for Penn students. I want to discuss the disparity in income amongst Penn’s various employees, the pre-professional environment at Penn, the response of many members of the Penn community to the Occupy movement, mental health, the use of recreational drugs and alcohol abuse as coping mechanisms as well as the need to fit into a specific mold to gain validation.
These are just a few of the issues that I have questions about. What about you?
And the Harry Potter movie? That is to encourage me. As cliched as this may sound, it is to remind me to have faith in the impossible.
Sindhuri Nandhakumar is a College senior from Kandy, Sri Lanka. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org “Questions for Answers” appears every other Wednesday. Ask her your question @sindhurin.
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