Movies have a powerful effect on the global culture of our time, both reflecting and shaping our world. Each of the following award-winning films speak to important issues in our global society today. They are recommended to anyone who would know greater empathy for our increasingly interconnected times.
1. Whale Rider (2002)
Keisha Castle-Hughes plays Paikea, a young Maori girl who is called to represent her people's search for spiritual strength and renewal amidst modern New Zealand. Her community expects a young man to arise as their leader, who will ride on the back of a whale, but young Paikea discovers she is the one for the job. A story of an indigenous people's journey to rediscovering their power, a young girl's feminism and her grandmother's matriarchal belief in her tells a story like no other. Whale Rider was nominated for one Oscar and is the winner of 32 more awards and 33 nominations.
2. Osama (2003)
When the Taliban outlaw all women from working in Afghanistan, a family of three women and no men must find a way to survive. The two elder women decide that the adolescent girl, played beautifully by Marina Golbahari (who, as an adult, has recently been living as a refugee in France with her husband to avoid death threats in her native Afghanistan) will cut her hair and disguise herself as a boy to find employment. The girl is terrified that she will be found out by the Taliban, but as yet only her employer and a neighbor boy know she is female. Her male peer names her "Osama," but soon the Taliban come through to recruit all local boys to their school, which includes the youths' militarization.
"Osama" must find the resilience within herself to survive in a place where extremist hatred of female people is the law of the land. "Osama" puts into perspective the significant differences between girls coming of age in countries privileged by humanist democracies compared so many girls in countries where women fear to step out of their homes, even to find resources to survive.
3. Of Gods and Men (2010)
A French-language film, winner of 19 awards and 27 nominations including three Cannes Film Festival awards, "Of Gods and Men" tells the story of the French Catholic monks of Algeria in 1996 who worked in peaceful relations with the local Muslim people as humanitarian aids to a small village. When violent Islamic extremists suddenly occupy the region, the lives of the monks are thrust into grave danger and they must decide whether to stay in Algeria to continue their peace ministry or go back to France and escape persecution. This powerful movie highlights themes of cross-cultural friendships and confronting violent extremism with remarkably non-violent spiritual strength amidst shifting political sands.
4. Avatar (2009)
Not to be missed, this enormously successful blockbuster directed by James Cameron is no less globally relevant because of its popularity. Winner of an Academy Award, Golden Globe award and a BAFTA Film award, Avatar tells the story of a future US military occupation of an earth-like planet, which is already inhabited by indigenous alien people.
This sparkling film is significant for its strong environmental message of respect for inhabitable biospheres, which are so rare in the universe. Avatar imparts an evocative message stewardship for our world as opposed to a mentality of extraction and exploitation. Perhaps no issue is so large today as the looming question of what shall become of our own precious biosphere here on earth. Avatar brings us to pride in our planet. Its status as one of the most top-grossing films of all time has employed global cinema and communication technology to tell a story we all are empowered and excited to hear.