“A Sleeper:” A film that isn’t forecasted to do well, but has surprised the critics and achieved unexpected success.
“Why would I want to come to a science fiction movie?” It was Memorial Day weekend and I had joined my two brothers and parents reluctantly at the Thunderbird in Urbana, IL to see a new movie called, “Star Wars.”
Although I found the movie unexpectedly exciting, I was particularly fixated at the sight of the Mos Eisley Cantina located in the pirate city on the planet of Tatooine. While the scene at the Cantina was incredibly rough, with incidents of violence apparently common (including Obi-Wan Kenobi slicing off an alien’s arm with his light saber within minutes of meeting him), I wasn’t focused on the various patrons lashing out at one another. Rather, what caught my immediate attention was the clientele of the bar itself. Each of the non-human ‘creatures, looked more different than the next. And, although you couldn’t help but notice Chewbacca, a hairy seven-foot tall, 200 year-old Wookie with dog-like features, others had grossly distorted faces with almost monster-like appearances, their bodies as alien-like as your imagination could muster up.
Yet among this motley crew of weirdness and extreme difference sat the humans Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker who cared only to get a drink and find someone to rent them a ship. To them, the other patrons were the usual crowd, nothing amazing or shocking. They represented the diversity of the galaxy, something which even a farm boy like Luke, who had never traveled in space before, readily accepted.
The Cantina scene was the first moment I had ever seen (movie or not), where ‘normal’ people encountered others with blatant physical differences and had none of the expected reactions. No curiosity, fear or alarm, at least no more than would be expected from entering such a rough bar in many sketchy towns in America and elsewhere. Obi-wan expected some to be helpful and others to be rude or confrontational and he got what he expected. There were no surprises.
As I am writing this post, John and Ethan just headed out to see the new Spiderman movie. I wasn’t even invited to join. I get it—father and son bonding time. But, little did either realize that as a child, I was obsessed with the adventures of Spiderman and, frankly, any heroic character who lived the life of an inadequate or insecure teen by day, but possessed great powers in secret.
The first time I learned of the concept of a ‘sleeper film’ was over twenty years ago when I overheard my father talking to a friend about how the original Star Wars film was a real ‘sleeper.’ I immediately interjected. “No, Dad! That was a fantastic film! Remember the bar scene with all those amazing aliens walking around?” I was practically defensive in tone. Quickly, though, he explained what he meant.
Ever since, I have thought of myself as the human equivalent of a sleeper. Because, let’s face it…..I am frequently the human version of an unexpected surprise. Strangers take one look at me and can’t fathom what I can or have achieved. Whether they realize it or not, I’ve heard it all. Can she write? Can she drive? Can she tie her shoes? Can she type? (Okay but can she type with any speed)? Can she button her shirt, coat, jeans, pants, skirt? Can she…[fill in the blank…]? How, just how can she possibly function with only one finger on each hand?
Lately I’ve been kind of secretly amused how impressed others are by my unexpected accomplishments. I’ve noticed that the concept is spreading in a positive way. I caught a recent testimonial by an attractive African-American woman named Cheri Lindsay who just kicked off Dermablend’s “Camo Confessions” Campaign. In it, Lindsay took off her makeup in a viral video in order to “reveal her truth”—that she has been experiencing life with a skin condition called Vitiligo causing the depigmentation of parts of her skin. Lindsay’s condition emerged only a few years ago, at age seventeen. Now at twenty-four, she is the face of Dermablend which creates an even blend of color and masks here condition. In taking off the makeup she flaunts and tells the camera, “Don’t hide. There’s something wrong with everyone. Nobody’s 100% perfect.” Lindsay turns the tables and defies how people would expect her to continue to hide her condition. And then, quick to follow, celebrities like Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow posted selfies, barefaced, with the hash tag #nomakeup. The media and public were enthralled by their authentic appearances and they in turn, seemed thrilled with the response, attention and new-found admiration.
And so, when I read about all of these “unmasked beauties,” to me they are simply first learning the excitement of being a sleeper: There is simply nothing like surprising people with your natural self, yet all the while still impressing, achieving and overcoming the critics.
This past week as I planned for this post, John (still an avid Star Wars lover, as is our son Ethan) told me that George Lucas was concerned that Star Wars was heading for “G” rating (too low to attract big audiences) so he added the violence of Obi-wan dismembering a bully at the bar. That ensured a PG rating and a more successful film. It also made the cantina one of the most memorable parts of the movie and set the standard for how Hollywood would portray and “normalize” diversity in film.