Coco, Spielberg, Beyoncé and me

Doors of Perception

Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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There are countless reasons why I became a film major — the job security, the financial stability, the look of respect people at UC Berkeley give you when you tell them your non-computer science major, etc. But it comes down to this: I really fucking love movies. (Well, that and I made a promise to myself never to step foot in a math class after I graduated from high school.) I love them so much that I decided to study them over literally anything that could actually give me job prospects after college.

Everyone has their passions — the topics they can talk on and on about, that they get overly competitive about in trivia, that make them smile just a little bit wider. What I especially love about passions is that each one has its own unique origin story. Coco Chanel grew up in a French orphanage, where the nuns taught her to sew. Steven Spielberg wanted to earn a Boy Scout merit badge for photography and, after learning that his dad’s still camera was broken, asked to borrow his 8 mm to make a short film instead. Beyoncé floated down from the heavens on a cloud and was immediately given a microphone and a record deal when she touched the earth.

Everyone’s passion begins somewhere and evolves as they get older. My love affair with movies is a trilogy, and it started with Universal Studios in Hollywood. Yes, the reason I’m staking my entire future on a degree that’s about as useful as the paper it’s printed on began at the theme park everyone settles for when they can’t go to Disneyland.

I grew up in three different states, but California, and specifically Los Angeles, has always been a constant in my life because my aunt lives there. No matter where I was living, whenever we went to visit her, she would always take us to Universal Studios because she had “connections” there in a way that only Angelenos do. For some inexplicable reason, I fell in love with the park’s studio tour, where they take guests around famous movie sets. The first time I sat in the tram, cruising along the streets of New York one minute and the outskirts of the Wild West the next, I felt an intangible magic in the air. I was an escapist child, always living in made-up worlds; in my young mind, these backlots were where imagination thrived, where any story you wanted to tell could be brought to life. It was love at first sight.

My love of film may have started at America’s second-favorite theme park franchise, but it was fostered by my parents. Before they married, going to the movies was their No. 1 date activity. Was it because they were secretly cinephiles? Was it because Korea is absurdly hot and humid in the summer and this was a cheap way to stay cool? The world may never know. But either way, watching movies was how they spent their time together, and when my sister and I came into the picture, it became the Lim family standard for spending time together as well. From Blockbuster to Netflix to Redbox and back to Netflix, Friday and Saturday (and sometimes Thursday, if we were lucky) nights were dedicated to watching the widest possible array of movies that catered to my family’s respective tastes. (It’s why I watched the R-rated “Stand By Me” in third grade and why my dad has seen more Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson rom-coms than he ever needed to.) So growing up, movies connotated cherished family time.

Now, my love of movies is also fueled by a passion for social justice. I cheer when I see Asians like me play lead roles that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play a few years ago. I tear up when I watch Lady Gaga perform “Til It Happens to You” at the Oscars among the crowd of sexual assault survivors and can almost feel the decades of hurt in their voices. I am outraged when I learn about yet another case of a character being whitewashed. Because of their global reach, movies have the power to tell stories that shape our perspectives and give us opportunities to experience life in someone else’s shoes. This is a type of magic that goes beyond being able to recreate medieval Europe or bring dinosaurs back to life.

From the backlots of Hollywood to my living room television to my work as an arts reporter, movies have been a part of me for most of my life. This is my passion’s origin story. I am still the 6-year-old in awe at cruising through the Bates Motel and Amity Island, the 8-year-old crushing on River Phoenix while watching (in hindsight) an extremely depressing movie about childhood with her family, the 21-year-old balling her fist Arthur-style when I hear that another damn minority role has been given to Scarlett Johansson. Movies will continue playing an integral part in my life, and my passion will continue to evolve — even if I never end up doing anything with this damned degree.

Julie Lim writes the Thursday column on how media shapes our perceptions of the world. Contact her at [email protected].