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"For I am not ashamed..."
This is probably the best race related film I've seen in years. In an attempt to point out the injustice of racism, filmmakers often resort to the very racial generalizations they abhor, forgetting that a statement about any group affects individuals. Thus, I have spent countless hours in theaters feeling guilty for actions or thoughts that haven't even belonged to me. I love this film because it doesn't make me feel responsible for generations of racists before me or try to place the blame of racism today exclusively on whites. I love this film because for once, I don't feel like the offender.
But really, there are many more reasons to love this film.
1. The film reveals that the battle against bigotry wages within all races. Something New makes the statement that racism exists on both sides of the fence, as does tolerance. The main character, Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), is a black woman struggling with her attraction to a white man, Brian (Simon Baker). She tries to be open-minded, but has to wade through all of the social and emotional garbage that has been handed to her throughout her life. Brian in turn battles the discomfort of hearing about race issues every day, because he was raised in a multi-cultural environment (as evidenced by his ability to speak Spanish). The great thing about this film is that you could just as easily change the ethnicity of these characters to any race. Keny and Brian could be any number of other ethnicities and the principle would still apply. Some people listen to the stereotypes, some don't.
2. The film challenges us to move beyond our existing limitations. In the story, Kenya treads lightly. She wades through her inhibitions and slowly liberates herself from other people's expectations. This is true not only of her love life, but also her work life and even the color she paints her walls. She has to move beyond her self-imposed limits to discover what kind of life she wants to lead. In the opening scene, Kenya and her IBM (Ideal Black Man) stand at the altar about to wed when a bullhorn sounds. It turns out to be her alarm clock interrupting a dream, but it sets the tone for the film. The bullhorn sounds the alarm that something is wrong. Her childhood dreams, a racist at her job, formulated lists of what who and what will be in her life, the hopes and dreams of her mother - these are not things that should dictate her life.
3. The film is well done. Actress Sanaa Lathan gives an incredible performance. At no point does she "flip the switch" or unnaturally move into accepting a new truth in her life. Both the script and her performance are incredibly believable, honest, and rarely contrived. Her and Brian's conversations are ones that real people might have as they try to expand their belief systems. I also admire the director's use of light and color. The first love scene is shot in yellow light, creating the illusion that both Kenya and Brian are white. The second love scene is shot in blue light, creating the illusion that they are both black. The final shot is sepia, where again, no color distinction is made. These are phenomenal visual statements about individuality.
4. Spiritually, the film puts a face on something almost every Christian has struggled with in their lives. This is perhaps what I loved most about it. Many Christians suffer from a society-driven shame that tries to undermine the reality of their relationship with Christ. Because it's not popular to love Christ or to act on one's beliefs, many Christians suffer the same kind of discrimination, coarse joking, ugly stares and family rejection that Kenya faced. And yet, the relationship is real. It is life-giving. It makes us thrive. It helps us discover who we are and move beyond ourselves. There should be no more shame in the way we feel in Christ than there should be in the way that Kenya felt when she was with Brian.
Like Kenya, every believer must move from their hearts outward, not from society inward. We must all decide what makes us truly happy, whether in our relationships, our jobs, or our faith. Then, we must be willing to stand for that and take the mental and verbal battery that will inevitably come. Amazingly, when we come to know the kind of intimacy we have always longed for, the stand is easy to take. It is something we are so deeply proud of, we finally feel no shame.
"For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Rom. 1:16)