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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.