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Five explorations of fatherhood in post-modern cinema


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For this Father’s Day, we are celebrating some of the complex and dynamic fathers in 21st century cinema with these five films

Miles Morales’ father, Jefferson Davis, in Sony’s ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.’ Picture: Spider-Man: Into-The Spider-Verse screenshot

JOHANNESBURG – The prevalent rhetoric around fathers and fatherhood has had a remarkable evolution in pop culture with an increased focus on the ever-shifting nuances of what it means to be a father being a staple theme in post-modern cinema.

The 21st century in particular continues to highlight the experiences of fatherhood and its complications in ways that had seldom been done: fathers of queer kids didn’t have to go through leaps and bounds to accept their own, black fathers have steadily moved away from the discourses framing them as abandoning and unreliable, and, most notably, more and more films are framing fatherhood as just as nurturing as motherhood has historically been depicted.


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So, for this Father’s Day, we are celebrating some of the most complex and dynamic fathers in 21st-century cinema with these five films.

THE GAME PLAN (2007)

I actually went to go see The Game Plan in cinemas as a kid and I remember being both thoroughly entertained but utterly confused. As a millennial who grew up in the era of WWE, it was utterly bizarre to see the film’s star, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, as a sappy dad in a movie and therein lay its beauty.

As a fun movie about a quarterback (Johnson) that didn’t know he had an eight-year-old daughter but is thrust into fatherhood when she is suddenly brought into his life, what makes The Game Plan such a beautiful movie is its framing of the juxtapositions between traditional male roles and fatherhood.

The hard athlete and perpetual bachelor portrayed by someone literally called The Rock stands in sharp contrast to the cheese ball nurturing dad Johnson turns into – an excellent showcase of hard and soft existing in the same realm.

17 AGAIN (2009)

Another sappy one that had me all sorts of confused, albeit for different reasons, is the Zac Efron helmed flick 17 Again.

The film follows Mike (played by Efron and Mathew Perry) as his wish to turn, well, seventeen again, comes true and all the sorts of shenanigans that dream that one might come to expect to come with a premise like this. As a teenager who was ‘finding myself,’ I was conflicted by my attraction to Efron. As an adult I am conflicted about my feelings about that almost-incest plotline.

As cringy as it is to watch at times, the fact that the film purposely frames it as cringy is a welcomed relief and, in my opinion, is utilized as a perfect depiction of a father being able to actively participate in the trials and tribulations that his teenage daughter experiences. Though initially framed as Mike’s attempts to win back the affection of his ex-wife from him, 17 Again is much more powerful when the focus is on the dynamic he has with his teenage kids as their peer and not just their estranged father looking for a second chance.

LITTLE EVIL (2017)

Now this one’s a journey, folks, but a ride worth going along to. _Little Evil _is one of those films that serve best as little you know about this evil (teehee) as possible. So, without giving much away, think of Little Evil as a different take on the premise of The Omen (1976) that is, like, fun to watch.

It follows a newly-married man and his five-year-old stepson that just so happens to may or may not be the spawn of Satan. That’s all you need to know.

The premise, though steadily becoming wackier as it unfolds, is an underrated Netflix gem that’s a smart kind of stupid where behind its bonkers plot lies a genuinely evocative story where it forces its target audience to ponder on how far a father would go to protect ( or not to protect) his son, even if he isn’t biologically his own.

LOVE, SIMON (2018)

This one hits home and is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, not just because it’s generally a good movie, but how it chose to tackle its subject matter. Being a resident twink heartthrob at the time of its release, it was great seeing some true representation on screen.

Though I am obviously kidding (I’m not), it is the way Love, Simon represents its characters, its lore and its themes that made it such a refreshing watch. A genuine romcom, Love, Simon follows the titular character Simon (Nick Robinson) and his journey to self-discovery that is largely told through his pen pal-esque relationship with a fellow closeted boy at his high school.

Though simple on its premise, it lowkey moved me to tears to see a queer boy finding himself without the usual trauma that comes with these kinds of movies. Even when it comes to his relationship with his parents, particularly with his father, he is treated with sensitivity and not sensationalism.

Simon did not have to go through the depths of hell for his father to accept him once he (voluntarily!) comes out to his parents. Instead of being riddled with abuse and shame, Simon’s journey is the type of journey I needed to see in theaters during my pre-twink heartthrob days.

Love, Simon handles the queer coming-of-age story in a way that forgoes tired (and honestly triggering) tropes like the ‘bury your gays’ trope for a nuanced exploration of identity without the exploitation of queer pain – particularly regarding fatherhood.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

When one thinks of Spider-Man, seldom do you think about fatherhood, especially because 2002’s iteration of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man largely grows up without a positive father figure. However, this is not the case with Miles Morales’ Spider-Man.

Aside from being a black Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse has what is, perhaps, one of my favorite explorations of fatherhood in cinema. Like Love, Simon, Into the Spider-Verse is not explicitly about fatherhood but the thematic underpinnings of how the film frames fatherhood is a paramount feature of the film.

At its core, Into the Spider-Verse is a coming-of-age story as Miles (Shameik Moore) figures himself out and his identity and how that relates to the relationships around him through becoming Spider-Man.

Morales’ relationships with his father and his father figures are the most important relationships the movie explores. It does this threefold as the film looks at his relationship with his mentor (Peter Parker from a spider-verse), his father and his uncle. The film does this with more nuance than I have ever seen in animation.

Each relationship is a key aspect to the story that is both separated from each other, given that they share very little actual screen time together, but intertwined through Morales.

Again, like Love, Simon, Into the Spider-Verse trades archaic representations of the relationships that men have with their sons that are usually riddled with abuse and/or abandonment (especially when race and sexuality is thrown in the mix) for a healthy representation that never hinders moral growth. These relationships actively strengthen it in a positive way. Unlike Parker, Morales does n’t need to first lose his father / uncle as a catalyst to foster his development of him – and that is the beauty of the film and what makes it the one best animation films and explorations of fatherhood of all time .

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