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Film Finders: Exploring Special Topics


Cover art for the book Maid by Stephanie Land; pictures a dirty pair of yellow cleaning glovesExplore themes from 2023's First Year Common Reader selection, Maid, via documentaries, films and video games from the Film & Video Collection.

At 28, Stephanie Land's dreams of becoming a writer dissolved when a summer fling turned into an unplanned pregnancy. As a single mother, she scraped by as a housekeeper to make ends meet.  Driven to carve out a better life, she cleaned by day and took online classes by night, writing relentlessly as she worked toward earning a college degree.

Maid is Stephanie's story, but it is not hers alone. It is a testament to the courage, determination, and strength of the human spirit.  Explore the films and games below for a window into the experiences of others, real and imagined, facing similar struggles.  All are available for you to view or play on site or watch via Library-licensed streaming services. 

Little Women (2019)

DVD box art for Little Women, featuring actress Saoirse Ronan looking outward with chin raised, wearing a dark blue dress.In Maid, Stephanie Land discusses her drive to create: “Part of me demanded that I become a writer. But I soothed the insistent voice by telling myself it was just for now, while Mia was still little, and then I would become a writer. This promise to myself felt like throwing buckets of water on the only fire that was left in me, the only part that dared to dream.”  Like Stephanie, the protagonist of Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Little Women struggles with her desire to become an author at a time when women were expected to fulfill caretaking roles.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

Storming Caesars Palace (2022)

Poster image for Storming Caesars Palace.  A black woman with an afro stands in the foreground with people protesting and holding signs in the background.Ruby Duncan advocates for welfare rights after leaving an abusive relationship and finding herself unable to support her children on a hotel housekeeper’s salary in Las Vegas.  She encourages others: “If you want your life to be better, you’ve got to fight for it…  You’ve got to be strong – don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!”  Ruby emerges as a charismatic leader of the Black feminist anti-poverty movement in the 1960s & 1970s.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

Winter's Bone (2010)

Poster image for Winter's Bone.  A small boat with three figures is in the foreground, with a forested ridge behind them.  A young woman, looking concerned, stares into the distance in the background.Challenging work conditions, a relentless schedule and the pressures of providing a stable home for her daughter cause a great deal of stress for Stephanie, but she refuses to give up.  Likewise, in this film, Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree, a 17-year-old who lives in poverty in Appalachia.  Ree is the sole caretaker for her younger siblings and mentally-ill mother.  Ree searches for her father through a harrowing landscape of addiction and crime in hopes of saving their home.

Available as Blu-ray, DVD and eVideo.

Waging Change

Cover image for Waging Change DVD.  A young black woman wearing classes and an apron with the phrase "It's time for a change" on the front is holding a blackboard that reads, "Did you know that tipped workers earn only $2.13 an hour".Documents the movement to end the federal tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers. Most Americans don't know that the majority of people serving their food get paid a federal sub-minimum wage of only $2.13 an hour and are forced to depend on tips to feed themselves and their families. Women who rely on tips are also particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. This documentary weaves together the stories of workers struggling to make ends meet with the efforts of Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, who faces off against the powerful National Restaurant Association lobby and fights for one fair wage. Featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who have mobilized support for the movement, Waging Change reveals the role consumers can play in ending this two-tiered wage system which has already been abolished in seven states.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

The Babadook (2014)

Poster image for The Babadook.  The silhouette of a black figure wearing a tophat with grotesquely long arms is depicted in front of a red background, with the image of a woman holding a small child foregrounded on the figure.Stephanie recognizes the precarious nature of her ability to care for her daughter Mia:  “We lived — we survived — in careful imbalance. This was my unwitnessed existence, as I polished another’s to make theirs appear perfect.”  As Mia’s sole caretaker, Stephanie struggles to keep her safe.  In this Australian horror movie, a young mother named Amelia faces a different challenge – grief that manifests as a disturbing monster following the death of her husband – as she fights to provide a safe environment for their young son.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

A Place at the Table (2012)

Poster image for A Place at the Table.  A white dinner plate is resting on a picnic table.  A fork designed to look like the American flag is standing vertically in the center of the plate, with the words "One Nation. Underfed." under the tines.Stephanie describes how difficult it is to provide a nutritious diet for her daughter Mia: “Fresh produce became a sort of delicacy. I only bought vegetables priced at a dollar or less a pound, and only at the beginning of the month… the second shopping trip of the month had to be for minimal foods that barely kept our bellies full and never satisfied.”  This documentary looks at the problem of food insecurity experienced by millions of people in the U.S. like Stephanie and Mia and proposes solutions that could make society stronger for all.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

City Walls: My Own Private Tehran (2008)

Still from City Walls.  A reflection of a woman in a hijab wearing sunglasses is captured in a mirror while she is driving a car.Stephanie recounts an interaction with a client: “’You don’t seem like the type who needs a man around to save you. You’re one of the hard workers.’ While Henry offered me praise, I knew that I could never work hard enough.”  In cultures more deeply rooted in patriarchal norms, the limitations on women’s roles provide additional challenges.  In City Walls, three generations of women in an Iranian family describe their struggles for survival within difficult marriages founded on traditions that make it exceedingly hard to achieve their goals and care for their families.

Available as eVideo.

A Better Man (2017)

Poster image for A Better Man.  A man and woman are shown seated at a table with two cups between them.  They are each covering part of their faces with their hands.Stephanie’s struggles to escape an abusive relationship with the father of her child set the events depicted in Maid in motion.  The co-director of A Better Man describes her film as a document of a personal experiment between her and her abusive ex-partner:  “A step towards understanding and accountability. By getting closer to the truth of what survivors experience, and of why men choose to use violence, we can help stop the abuse.”  This film poses the question:  what can happen if abusers take responsibility for their actions?

Available as DVD and eVideo.

From Nothing, Something (2012)

Poster image for From Nothing, Something.  The title of the film rest amidst dozens of crumpled pieces of paper.Stephanie’s succeeds as a memoirist despite the overwhelming odds she faced.  In this documentary, follow the journeys of an array of creative thinkers, including a musician, chefs, a special effects artist, an architect, a cartoonist, and others, as they overcome challenges in pursuit of their chosen professions.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

Waging a Living (2006)

Poster image for Waging a Living.  Images of four of the documentary subjects' faces are aligned against text featuring words like "low wages", "poor", etc.Stephanie describes the frustration she feels as she works long hours to provide for her daughter, never able to gain financial traction: “Poverty was like a stagnant pond of mud that pulled at our feet and refused to let go.” This film chronicles the day-to-day battles of four low-wage earners fighting to lift their families out of poverty. Shot over a three-year period, this observational documentary captures the dreams, frustrations, and accomplishments of a diverse group of people who struggle as Stephanie did living from paycheck to paycheck.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

The Maids: A Documentary (1999)

Still from The Maids.  A drawing of a black man and woman wearing servants' clothes are standing behind two young white children, a boy and girl, who are dressed in formal period clothes.A historical documentary exploring the historical, social, and cultural issues surrounding domestic work, especially by black women, in the United States since slavery, utilizing still photographs and interviews.

Available as DVD and eVideo.

Video Games

Cover Art to Life Is Strange (PS4).  A Polaroid photograph of a young woman with chin-length brown hair who is holding up her hand is taped against a sketch of a coastal town with a lighthouse and a tree-lined coast in a stormscape.Cover image of Detroit: Become Human (PS4).  A close up of a man's face, staring at the viewer, is foregrounded with a city skyline in the background.Cover image of Undertale (PS4).  A dark grey skyline is foregrounded against a black background, with the title above.  A small heart appears in the 'R', and the text and graphics are in an 8-bit, blocky style.

When we think of video games, we might be more likely to think of battles with magical creatures or quests in far-away lands than everyday reality, but many do explore how we navigate day-to-day challenges like those facing Stephanie Land.  Like Maid, Life is Strange (PS4) is set in the Pacific Northwest.  It allows the gamer to make difficult choices from the perspective of a young woman who struggles to protect her friend with powers that allow her to travel backwards in time.

Undertale (PS4 and Nintendo Switch) may be one of those games that features magical creatures, but it allows the gamer to choose how they address the characters they meet as they traverse an underground world.  This game, released in 2015, is notable for being one of the first where obstacles can be overcome and monsters ‘defeated’ without violence.

Although Detroit: Become Human (PS4) is a game set in a future where androids become sentient, the pressures that the characters the gamer controls face call to mind class inequities Stephanie observes as she traverses different socioeconomic worlds while working as a maid.  One character in the game, Kara, is a domestic service android who deviates from her programming to protect a young girl from her abusive father.

These games (and more) are part of the Library’s console-based video game collection.  You’re welcome to check out these and others, from current to legacy consoles, or play them on site in the Film & Video area’s viewing and gaming carrels.