There are two days I have started mentally celebrating every year, and they are very close in time to one another. The holidays are bracketed by National Film Registry Day and Public Domain Day. I’ve noted before that the choices can sometimes be seen to making political points, and while the whole list doesn’t necessarily fit things this year, an argument can definitely be made that the Library of Congress is once again emphasizing voices they feel need to be listened to. It’s honestly noteworthy to me that nine of the films are, at least arguably, about women whose voices matter to the story and to themselves, and there are multiple stories about queer voices, especially stepping outside the Upper Class White Gay Man milieu.
Okay, also there’s Iron Man, and I could be unbelievably smug about that if I chose. But let’s look at the few other big-name films on the list, the ones you don’t have to be a film snob to have a chance at recognizing. Because we’re going to start with The Little Mermaid, which is just literally about a woman’s voice. Or a teenage girl, because that’s how these stories play out, but still. There’s Carrie, which I’ve argued before, with the full support of Stephen King, is about feminism and the fear of women’s power. Hairspray is about a woman taking pleasure in her body despite it not being the body people want her to have—and helping others to do the same. And while When Harry Met Sally . . . is also the story of, well, Harry, it doesn’t work if you don’t understand Sally and allow her feelings to be just as valid as his.
Charade is unjustly obscure given its absolutely packed cast, and it’s the story of a woman who cannot trust anything she believes to be true. She’s just as lied to as Roxane in the 1950 Cyrano de Bergerac, a movie I am not counting in my list because it’s Cyrano’s story, but the parallels are definitely there, except we’re supposed to be on Reggie’s side instead of that of any of the men in her life. There’s also “Betty Tells Her Story” and “Union Maids” and Bush Mama and Pariah, all women’s stories as well.
In queer voices, we have “Behind Every Good Man,” about a gender fluid black man in the ‘60s. There’s “Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives,” which does as I recall (I haven’t seen it in years) lean a bit toward Upper Class White, but it at least acknowledges the “some” part. “Tongues Untied” is another film about the gay black community, and Pariah fits into this category as well. The emphasis in queer voices this year seems to be on intersectionality, as three of the entries in it will fit into at least two of the categories the Library of Congress has chosen to emphasize.
Almost every other film on the list is emphasizing minority voices. We have Cab Calloway’s home movies and the short “Mingus.” “Manzanar,” about the World War II internment camp, and “Itam Hokim, Hopiit,” about Hopi culture. “Attica” and “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez,” both about unjust treatment by the law, one generally and one specifically dealing with how much worse minority cultures have it. (The two form a triad with Titicut Follies, one of this year’s other entries and one I cannot make myself watch.) Super Fly and House Party.
Honestly, only Iron Man and “Scorpio Rising” are fully about white dudes this year. There’s also the earliest known footage of the Mardi Gras Carnival, from 1898, closing out our extremely eclectic list. Well, that’s what the National Film Registry is all about—eclectic voices. Preserving as many aspects of American media as possible. I won’t say this is a list that looks like America, and not just because one movie is set in Paris and one in a fictional country of some sort and also Under The Sea. However, it’s a list that looks a lot more like America than the traditional canon, and blessings on the Library of Congress for continuing to strive for that.