I walked into the almost empty Ritz at the Bourse on 3rd and Ranstead with Andrea and Kareli on a snowy day. The Ritz was a small movie theatre in Old City that blended into the stores beside it. I expected to pay about the same price for a movie ticket at The Rave, but was pleasantly surprised by the slightly lower ticket price of $7.25. Immediately this reminded me of a movie theater back home near my high school. Our teachers would always take us there to watch foreign films and documentaries, which is where I saw An Inconvenient Truth for the first time. This place was quaint, quiet for 4 o’clock in an afternoon, and the people that we did see had probably taken advantage of the Senior Citizen discount at the ticket booth. I took a look at the coming attractions and in fact, this was a movie theatre that did not cater to big blockbuster films but rather catered to films that I personally think have more cultural meaning. When we headed downstairs, nothing more than the smell of popcorn encouraged us to make some purchases at the concession stand. We took our food and headed into the movie theatre where our movie was being screened which only had seven other people in it ready to watch Michael Gondry’s The We and the I.
I had learned about the movie The We and the I from a recent trip to New York City through the Latino Dialogue Institute at Penn. We had visited The Point which was a cultural center in the Bronx that was devoted to enriching the community with arts-related after school and summer programs. The executive director explained to us that Michael Gondry showed up at her door one day telling her he wanted to make a movie about her kids–that is how the The We and the I was born. The children from The Point worked with the director to develop characters and stories and they themselves were the teen actors cast in the movie. Because of this, the film ends up being an expository about the issues children in the Bronx face in their everyday lives. However, the story takes a unique perspective on exposing these issues by having a stoic setting, the city bus, which allows the characters in the movie to reveal their stories in the way they want to be portrayed. I’m hesitant to call this film a documentary but in many ways it serves the function of being “an instrument of information, education and propaganda as well as a creative treatment of reality” (106). The film addresses everything from family ties, sexuality, death, depression to more minimal issues revolving around high school cliques and Sweet Sixteens. In addition, The Point was particularly pleased by the way the children was portrayed because its was an accurate representation about the issues that their children encounter and the confusion that takes place during a person’s teenage years. The Point also received generous donations from organizations and foundations after the first screening of the film in New York City, which could technically label The We and the I a piece of propaganda for The Point.
One of main story lines that we see develop is that of Teresa’s. Teresa has apparently not been attending school for the last month and on this particular day, she comes back just to attend her last day of school. However, when we see all the high schoolers boarding the bus, she is literally an outsider looking in—she is watching all her friends from a Laundromat at the corner of the bus stop. This is foreshadowing of how much Teresa will not abide to society’s expectations and will continue to be an outsider in many ways. As the film progresses, the audience learns that at a party a few weeks ago, Teresa and Laidychan, the flirtatious and hyper-sexualized Latina in the film, had an intoxicated sexual interaction. While Laidychan does not remember any of it, Teresa does and that is why she stopped attending school. In many ways this reminded me about the way Ivan E. Coytoe and Zena Sherman describe the way that femmes “defy reductive stereotypes and inflexible categories” (Coyote & Sherman, 25). While Teresa seems to be ashamed of what happened with Ladychan, she never seems to express the fact that she is or is not attracted to girls. Femme might be too strong of a word to categorize Teresa in considering she is not completely comfortable with herself yet, but she definitely disregarded the gender binaries in that moment. This is also one of the reasons why Teresa chooses to physically place herself out of the vicinity of her peers. About halfway through the film, Teresa makes her way outside of her friend circle and moves to the front of the bus to speak for the bus driver for most of the way home. This could be interpreted as a way for Teresa to literally and mentally free herself from her friends. Like Jewelle Gomez’ explains in herd story include in Coyote and Sherman’s book “once free to imagine ourselves as more than simply a reflection of an oppressive het culture, the binary of heterosexuality was forever transformed.” Physically having removed herself from the space of her friends, allowed Teresa to have a more positive attitude towards herself and feel better about the incident with Ladychan. It’s clear that Teresa does not necessarily fulfill the sexuality binaries as either a queer person nor heterosexual person but she gave herself the time to reflect and towards the end rationalize the confusion of her sexuality in a more positive way.
The small audience at The We and the I allowed me to observe more of what they were thinking. In many ways, I was familiar with the topics that Gondry addressed in the film either from personal experience or from talking to people who have experienced similar the things. The people in the audience were much older than we were and definitely saw things through a different lens. In one particular scene, the bus driver smells smoke on the bus and stops the bus to go looking for the culprit who is smoking cigarettes. The end of the scene reveals a sleeping baby with a cigarette in his mouth because the culprit did not want to be caught. While the three of us found this scene to be funny and laughed out loud as it progressed, the rest of the movie goers did not. This scene was definitely added in for comic relief but the rest of the movie goers maybe saw the inclusion of a baby with a cigarette in its mouth not something that should be reacted to with laughter. The age group and maybe even the socioeconomic status of the people who were viewing the film with us could have affected their perspective and interpretations of certain scenes and topics presented in the film. But I do not think this film was particularly targeted towards an older audience. Many references in the film revolved around social media and even the way that information was spread throughout the bus relied heavily on technology. This gave some indication that maybe the people in the theater did not interpret parts of the film the way I did because we came from two different perspectives and maybe it was not necessarily targeted towards that particular age group.
The We and the I was a good exposition to what life is like for many children in the Bronx and what their lives look like. Gondry did an excellent job of capturing the nuisances of high school along with the more serious issues that plague many of the children of The Point. While the movie may not have been targeted towards an older audience, it is important to have people who may not know the experience of these children see this film and contribute to the efforts of The Point.
Coyote, Ivan E., and Zena Sharman, eds. Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011. 23-26, 67-78
Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 105-108.
The We and the I. Dir. Michael Gondry, 2012. Film.