Thursday, May 17, 2012
Last weekend, The Avengers raked in $100 million from 4,349 movie screens, for a total two-week gross of more than $373 million. Its budget: $220 million. Big numbers. But big deal.
Last Friday evening, Monterey Peninsula College screened a free film that kindly but firmly urged people to confront broken parts of their souls and society. And that film – a compassionate, low-budget documentary – revealed emotions and anxieties in its audience.
The screening of America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments was cosponsored by MPC’s Re-Entry & Multicultural Center, a woman-focused retention and support organization, and Castlewood Treatment Center for Eating Disorders, an exclusive residential treatment facility slated to come to Pacific Grove this fall.
The 2010 film is writer, director and producer Darryl Roberts’ sequel to his 2007 film America the Beautiful, which examines the country’s obsession with beauty, its unrealistic definitions, and its corrosiveness on mental and physical health. Part two, which played to about 100 people on Friday, explores a natural extension of that: eating disorders.
Roberts puts himself into the film alongside his mostly women subjects. It opens with him going to a doctor and being told that due to his weight and eating habits, he is borderline diabetic, has atrial fibrillation (abnormal heartbeat) and is at risk for erectile dysfunction. At the same time he enacts exercise and dietary changes, he points his camera at factors in America’s seemingly epidemic eating disorders – the deadliest mental illnesses of “ABC,” anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating.
He addresses his subjects with fresh candor, naivete and charm. He describes the fare at a hip Chicago raw food restaurant as tasting like balsa and cedar wood. He tapes his own exams. (“Obesity affects you everywhere,” one doctor tells him.) He interviews psychologists, one of whom calls dieting “bullshit.” He gets his half-sister and friends to talk about their relationships with food, fitness and body image. He talks to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Deepak Chopra, as well as a group of teen and pre-teen boys with eating disorders.
There are statistics and talking heads, but interspersed are revelations like Ragen Chastain, a 5-foot-4, 284-pound champion dancer who says she is soundly, medically healthy; and pioneering black model Beverly Johnson talking about the abuse she put her body through to work in high fashion (she was the first black woman on the cover of Vogue) – her daughter Anansa Sims followed the same treacherous path before signing with Wilhelmina’s plus-size modeling agency.
There is sadness and desperation, like the husband in the McMansion who agonizes while watching his anorexic wife compulsively construct a calorie-saturated sandwich. But like another black Chicago resident in the media, Oprah Winfrey, Roberts’ empathy disarms people, who show him and his modest camera their psychic wounds.
Then it was time for the audience to do the same. For a Q&A, Roberts was joined by four women from Castlewood.
“Great film, great film,” began one man, 50-ish, who said he was a personal trainer. “You really opened my eyes.”
He would later inquire about the cost of treatment at Castlewood. The clinic’s co-director, Lori Galperin, was forthcoming: $1,100 a day.
The man gently rocked back and forth, his hands clasped on his chin.
Some adults in the audience looked gaunt and some were emotional. One man said his daughters, 11 and 14, were anxious about their weight. One woman said that her daughter, who looked to be 6 years old, was also “concerned.”
Another woman turned around and implored the mother: “Tell her how beautiful she is. Every day.”
Therapist Theresa Chesnut cited Dr. Anne Becker’s 2002 study which found that after TV was introduced to the Fiji islands, girls, who previously had few body image issues, developed eating disorders. “[An industry] of people are invested in us hating ourselves and our bodies,” she said.
Galperin suggested that eating disorders may start with parents who don’t deal with their own issues of self-worth.
“About 14 million people have some type of eating disorder,” Roberts said, “and many more don’t realize it.”
While he tours with America the Beautiful 2, Roberts says it’s coming out on Netflix and DVD in 5 weeks, and is available in video-on-demand. He’s also working on the next sequel: “It deals with the sexualization of our youth.”
For info on the film, go to AmericaTheBeautifulDoc.com. For local information about eating disorders, contact Overeaters Anonymous at 372-4673, 505-891-2664, or Eating Disorder Recovery Support at edrs.net.