If you were Muslim, first generation Asian American, or queer with Christian roots, and you were to imagine your life through film, you’d go from early twentieth-century films ridden with whitewashing and villianized misrepresentation, to early-aught films cast with attempts at supporting roles, albeit well-intentioned, likely in the form of hyperbolized sidekicks.
Today, you’d see yourself characterized as the retired drag queen helping the new kid one last time before hanging up her wig to the suburban bestie shedding wisdom (with a poorly aged blaccent) on navigating dating apps. For these characters, it seems like there is nothing else to their identity beyond their role serving the protagonist’s needs. They never go to church–voluntarily at least. They never seem to have a family. And usually their significant other is the same color.
For the course of western cinema, these supporting characters were written with a fourth wall just waiting to be broken. Instead, for the sake of continuity, identities are generalized, religion is non-existent, and relationships are safely homogenous. It’s no surprise that films about interfaith, East-meets-West cultural conflicts, or queer folks fully embracing Eucharist struggle their escape from obscurity.
Here are six films that break stigmatizations and challenge the religious status quo with a sledgehammer in hand.
From a very close peek into Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, to watching pilgrims in Iran kissing the silver grails of the Imam Reza Shrine, Baraka is a non-verbal documentary capturing cinematic landscapes of everyday life across the world. This film colorfully depicts modern day multi-century rituals that humble and ground its practitioners, spanning over fourteen months in twenty-four countries in its production. Directed by Ron Fricke as a response to the photographically shot documentary Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1983), Baraka shares how diverse human activity molds the world. Its much darker sequel, Samsara (2011), shows the destruction of this world through globalization.