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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: Six films that navigate uncomfortable truths of Thanksgiving

The+2015+film+Songs+My+Brother+Taught+Me+recounts+the+complex+relationship+between+a+brother+and+a+sister+from+the+Lakota+Tribe.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Kino+Lorber%29
The 2015 film “Songs My Brother Taught Me” recounts the complex relationship between a brother and a sister from the Lakota Tribe. (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

Thanksgiving remains divided between a designated time to spend time with family and a reminder of food insecurity, cultural alienation and America’s Indigenous genocide. 

With these films, celebrate Indigenous Heritage Month, spark conversations with your family, expand your worldview, or simply have a movie night.

1. “Addams Family Values” (1993)

Once you’ve seen the cult-classic sequel’s Thanksgiving play, you can’t forget it. 

When cast as Pocahontas, Wednesday Addams delivers the iconic monologue, “We cannot break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the roadsides. You will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said do not trust the pilgrims. Especially Sarah Miller.”

Aside from the play, “Addams Family Values” revolves around a rift in the Addams family unit. With Gomez and Morticia welcoming a new baby and Uncle Fester getting manipulated by an unhinged black widow. 

You’re always in for a good time when tuned into the creepy, kooky and campy shenanigans of the Addams family. 

2. “Smoke Signals” (1998)

When highlighting Indigenous pain and trauma, it’s essential to acknowledge the people’s  resilience and joy. The beloved Indigenous-created and centered film “Smoke Signals” embraces all of this.

“Smoke Signals” is a coming-of-age film about the reservation nerd and orphan, Thomas, who, alongside his hesitant friend Victor, sets out on an adventure to leave the reservation and collect his absent father’s remains. 

As a dramedy, the film is beautiful, tender and hilarious. Thomas, known for his ridiculous storytelling, delivers the memorable line when he finds out about the father’s death, “I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. And your mom was just in here cryin’.”

3. “Pieces of April” (2003)

“Pieces of April” centers around an eccentric woman, April, as she scrambles to plan a perfect Thanksgiving for her estranged family as her mom is dying from cancer.

As everything from the cooking to the volatile family dynamic goes wrong with April’s apartment, the stories of millions of broken American families unravel. 

“Pieces of April” is a low-budget indie movie with a lot of heart. It is comedic and touching, speaking to those whose holiday months are affected by a dysfunctional family unit. 

My favorite quote from the movie is this: “You know, it’s funny; my mother was a mean woman, too. Nasty. There wasn’t a nice bone in her body. She smoked nonstop, cheated at cards, and complained every day of her life. And you know what? There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for a chance to spend more time with her.”  

Reconciliation with family is difficult and often a privilege. The film’s message gives a reminder that seemingly hopeless conflict and adversity can be resolved with a bit of effort from everyone. 

4. “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” (2015)

“Songs My Brother Taught Me” features a portrait of a brother and sister navigating life on the Lakota Tribe’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The brother struggles to leave the distressed reservation as he is left responsible for his sister. 

The story lies in glimpses of the sibling’s day-to-day life. It utilizes documentary-style filmmaking that pours authenticity into the characters. Painful realities like alcoholism and incarceration are balanced with a lot of love. 

“Songs My Brother Taught Me” is probably an easier watch for fans of art films than for general audiences, as it is narratively slow. Still, the powerful visuals and compassionate tone make it worth watching for anyone this holiday season.

5. “The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open” (2019)

“The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open” is simply heartbreaking. In this movie, cycles of abuse Indigenous women face on a disproportionate level are confronted head-on.

A tale of sisterhood unfolds as two Indigenous women collide, with pregnant Rosie caught escaping a violent assault at the hands of her boyfriend. Rosie is brought to safety but experiences heavy reluctance as plans are made for her to relocate to a women’s shelter. 

 It’s an emotionally difficult film, but its perspective is worth sharing and listening to. 

6. “Krisha” (2015)

The titular character, Krisha, reunites with her estranged family for Thanksgiving dinner after suffering bouts of addiction. The shame, alienation and trauma that come with family and addiction are expressed in such accuracy.

The film is paced frantically as Krisha fights to maintain her sobriety, facing ostracization from the loved ones she had hurt. The depiction of the anxiety and awkwardness interacting with family can bring is perfect. 

I think it’s a compassionate take on addiction for both the person with a substance use disorder and their family. Substance abuse and mental health disorders follow people everywhere, from work to the Thanksgiving dinner table. Opening the door to these conversations makes stressful events, like family gatherings, much more manageable.

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About the Contributor
Monique Bever, Reporter
Monique Bever is a first-year reporter and photographer. She is a freshman majoring in philosophy. Monique has lived in Wichita for most of her life. She loves film, fashion, and her cat.

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