A barrier is something that can keep people apart. It can prevent communication or even progress in one’s life. But breaking barriers is often where growth happens.
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This week on Full Frame, we talk with those who are breaking barriers, and taboos, in the world of arts and culture…from embracing creative expression to building awareness around issues people just doesn’t want to talk about.
Brian Wilson: Bringing awareness to mental health
Brian Wilson is a legendary American musician, singer, songwriter and record producer. He’s best known for being the mastermind behind the 1960’s rock and roll band “The Beach Boys.”
While he continues to tour, Wilson’s other passion is shattering taboos about mental illness. Now in his 70’s, Wilson’s story of struggling with childhood trauma, drug abuse and mental illness is almost as famous as the music he created. He’s now part of a nationwide campaign to bring awareness to mental health issues faced by millions of Americans.
Brian Wilson spoke with Mike Walter about his struggles with addiction and mental health and about the 2014 biographical film, based on his life, called Love and Mercy. Mike also spoke with the film’s screenwriter, Oren Moverman, about the challenge of telling the story of a legend who’s lived a long and complicated life.
Mira Nair: Overcoming cultural barriers
Accomplished Indian film director Mira Nair is one the world’s premier storytellers. Her films often cover powerful and controversial cultural stories which have successfully moved and inspired audiences for nearly three decades. She is perhaps best known for her international blockbusters Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, starring Denzel Washington, and The Namesake with Kal Penn. It’s probably safe to say that with the release of the new Disney film, Queen of Katwe, a drama based on a true story and featuring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Nair will have yet another hit on her hands.
In addition to her captivating on-screen work, Mira is also an activist. She believes it’s important to create the kind of movies that can break down cultural barriers and she’s dedicated herself to a diverse range of causes, from promoting child wellness in India to supporting filmmakers in East Africa. Nair is also a faculty member at New York’s Columbia University.
Mira Nair joins Mike Walter in our New York studios to talk about overcoming cultural barriers.
Danai Gurira: Giving African women a voice
The new American hit play Eclipsed made history on Broadway. It’s the first play ever written by, directed by, produced by and starring black women. And its playwright, Zimbabwean-American Danai Gurira believes it’s about time. The play features Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o and is set among the chaos of the Liberian Civil War. It tells the story of the captive wives of a rebel officer.
Gurira is perhaps most notably known as an American actress. She’s the star of the popular TV series The Walking Dead.
Through her plays, Gurira has an instinct for humanizing global problems. And says her personal mandate is to break down racial barriers by creating more opportunities for talented young black women, like herself.
Danai Gurira joins Mike Walter in our New York studios to discuss giving African women a voice through her plays.
Gish Jen: Exploring cultural barriers through writing
Originally a novelist, Gish Jen delved into non-fiction writing after reading her father’s memoir on life in China. Jen was struck by the fact that her father focused more on his environment than his individual self. This revelation inspired her to write her first nonfiction book: Tiger Writing: Art, Culture and the Interdependent Self. It’s a book that looks at the interdependent culture her Chinese upbringing encouraged versus the independent culture many Western cultures value.
Jen is now working on another book that’s breaking barriers while taking an in-depth look at the concept of interdependence across cultures.
Full Frame visited Gish Jen in Boston, where she helps us understand the impact of interdependence on art and culture.