WATER is the story of an 8-year old Hindu widow who is exiled to an ashram for the rest of her life during India’s colonial era. An overview of the film and a Discussion-Bible Study Guide (authored by yours truly) is available at:



Beauty Academy of Kabul

In 2003 a group of hairdressers from New York traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan to open a beauty school for women. Two of the hairdressers had fled Kabul more than twenty years before and wanted to return and volunteer their time and skills to their Afghan sisters; the others came from the U.K. and New York City. The Beauty Academy of Kabul is a warm, sometimes funny, fascinating, and revealing 75 minute film that documents this adventure in mutuality, empowerment, and solidarity. It opens in Los Angeles on April 28 at the Nuart.



The first group of hairdressers arrived in Kabul and rolled up their sleeves. They found a location and began the renovations. The laborers, that is, the men, had a difficult time taking orders from women for the most part. Nevertheless, the Academy opened and welcomed its first twenty students, selected by lottery from a crowd of applicants. The course would be three months long; many brought their children to class every day; some students would not be able to finish because of family duties that fell to them as the wife, mother, or daughter.


Though the students tell their stories about life under the Taliban with simplicity and grace, the terror of those days, and the chance that they might return, is evident. The teachers are amazed at the students’ lack of bitterness and at their joy in learning so that they can earn money – mostly from beauty shops they will create in their own homes. One student told of the clandestine beauty shop she did run from her home throughout the reign of the Taliban. She described the fear that even her husband felt when the Taliban would knock at the door and then have it turn out to be one of them bringing his wife to have her hair done.


What is remarkable about this film is what the New Yorker’s learned from the students. One of the teachers was brass and though good-hearted, she didn’t “get” the culture of the Afghan women at first. She tried to turn them into suffragettes of make-up and eye shadow, but the women were not interested in that; they were realistic about their possibilities and goals. When another teacher taught the women to meditate briefly every day in silence, the students laughed at first. But they caught on as the teachers communicated that beauty starts from the inside first of all. During a question and answer session, a student asked one of the teachers if she was married. She replied, “No.”  “Do you plan on getting married?” “No; I live alone and I am happy as I am.” When the students went silent, the teacher asked “Don’t you have any more questions for me?” A student replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “No. You are not married and you don’t have children. You are … boring.” And everyone laughed.


In the United States, in first world countries, beauty is a commodity, a multi-billion-dollar industry. Striving for beauty can kill a woman because she can’t be thin enough. In Afghanistan, however, as the hairdressers from New York and the students of the beauty school of Kabul enriched one another’s lives, it becomes evident that being beautiful is about dignity.


The Beauty Academy of Kabul, both the film and the actual school, was made possible through an organization called “Beauty without Borders” and was directed by Liz Mermin.



Da Vinci Challenge and Jesus Decoded

With the coming of film version of “The Da Vinci Code” in May, you might like to check out a couple of web sites for information and Christian responses to the issues the novel raises.

An essay that I wrote has just been posted on www.thedavincichallenge.com and there are other wonderful essays by John Allen, Msgr. Frank Maniscalco and others from various Christian communities. Mine is called “Jesus, DaVinci and Cherrios” and asks what it would mean to me as a woman religious if Jesus had been married. There is also a space for you to add your comments to any and all of the essays.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also has a web site called www.JesusDecoded.com; there are several articles about aspects of the novel as well as a trailer for a DVD that the USCCB is producing for release when the film opens.

If you are undecided about reading the novel or seeing the movie, I would like to suggest that if you have family, friends and co-workers who know you are a believer and may ask your opinion of the novel or film, and the Jesus the story advocates, it would be a good idea to read/see it so that you can speak to the issues from a position of informed experience. This is especially so if you are an “opinion leader” in your faith community. When people ask us what we think, and we are prepared, it will be a wonderful opportunity to share about who Jesus is and what faith in Jesus means.

Another reason I suggest that believers read/see TDVC is not to add to Dan Brown’s coffers (which would be a passive position), but to be able to engage in conversation and dialogue with people who may not share our faith – in credible and relevant ways (an active position). This is an opportuntiy for believers to co-opt this pop culture phenomenon and turn TDVC‘s premise to an encounter with the real Jesus – through us.

45 millions copies of the book have been sold and people are asking meaningful questions. Let us be prepared to offer meaningful responses and build bridges between (pop) culture and faith.


Is everything going to be OK?

‘Nobelity’ for Earth Day 2006

In an effort to answer his growing children’s questions about the future of the earth, Texas filmmaker Turk Pipkin set out on a unique journey to find out how to save the world.

Over the course of 18 months Pipkin traveled around the globe visiting nine Nobel laureates to get their views on the world’s problems, the situation of children who are most affected by them, and what in their view, we must do to leave the world a better place. Pipkin’s film, “Nobelity,” is being released for the 36th annual Earth Day on April 22.

Using a framework structured by themes of “Decisions,” “Challenges,” “Change,” “Persistence,” “Peace,” “Reason,” “Love,” “Disparities” and “Knowledge,” Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, physiology, peace and economics offer insights that create a road map for development and peace.

Wangari Maathai of Kenya, for example, speaks of persistence. She founded the grass roots Green Belt Movement in 1986 and is the first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Through her work Maathai has helped women plant more than 30 million trees at schools, on church grounds, and farms. All wars, she says, are a result of conflict over resources.

Other laureates include Archbishop Desmond Tutu who provides spiritual insight, Jody Williams of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and Rick Smalley, Nanotechnology Pioneer.

Gentle but incisive, “Nobelity” invites viewers to contemplate the wisdom of the laureates, to engage in dialogue, and take action in the sphere of their daily lives. Because “Nobelity” reinforces the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, teachers and religious educators will find this documentary an inspiring and invaluable resource.

“Nobelity” is a well-paced documentary that is in no hurry to discover the answers to the earth’s survival, responses that require the will to change business as usual. It is a sight and sound environmental experience in itself. “Nobelity” is being released through churches, environmental centers, private theater screenings, and libraries during April and May. For information about screenings in the Los Angeles area visit http://www.nobelitythefilm.com.

—Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

God or the Girl

Although I have not yet seen this new series on A&E, here is a link to an article about it by Harry Forbes of the USCCB’s Office for Broadcast and Film. The series begins on Esater Sunday evening:

A surprisingly reverential treatment of a profound life passage:



I have now seen two episodes, but have been traveling so I need to finish seeing the series. What I liked about the first part was coming to realize that there are young men out there whose faith life is so developed that they are actually in discernment about the priesthood. But I have heard some groans about the priests in the series, but I want to see for myself before commenting. 

R April 21, 2006

Take the Lead

America will once again be invited to the dance floor when Take the Lead opens on April 7th. Starring Antonio Banderas and Alfre Woodard, the film tells a story inspired by the experience of Pierre Dulaine, an award-winning ballroom dance teacher who believed that dancing could make a difference to New York City school kids. The “Dancing Classrooms” program he began in 1993 has gone nation-wide and was the subject of 2005’s Academy Award-nominated documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, now on DVD.


Take the Lead begins one evening in the Bronx when a young man, Rock (Rob Brown, Finding Forrester, Coach Carter) tries to get into a school dance. The principal, Augustine James (Alfre Woodard, Desperate Housewives, Beauty Shop), refuses to let him in because he does not have his I.D. On the street, he sees her car and smashes in the windshield in a fit of anger. A man comes upon the scene as he rides his bicycle home. His name is Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas, The Return of Zorro), a professional ballroom dance teacher who is just starting a dance school after the death of his wife. He picks up James’ parking permit from the ground and watches as Rock runs away.


            Bright and early the next morning Dulaine goes to the high school to return the parking permit. As he sits in the outer office waiting to see Ms. James, he opens the door for everyone who passes through. A kid named Eddie (Marcus T. Paulk, Moesha) watches in amazement and tells Dulaine he won’t get any girls that way. The secretaries, however, are very impressed.


            After Ms. James finishes speaking with one teacher, Mr. Temple (John Ortiz), who refuses to supervise detention after school, Dulaine asks if he can volunteer to teach ballroom dancing to those very kids. Ms. James is skeptical but gives her permission.


            That afternoon Dulaine meets with the kids who are not only skeptical but guffaw at the idea of fancy dancing. Dulaine looks up when he sees Rock walk in and they recognize one another from the night before. Rock sits in a corner and refuses to participate. The kids have attitude – and some of their own moves to teach Dulaine.


            Mr. Temple resists Dulaine’s attempts to bring culture to the students by trying to pit the parents against him and Ms. James. But Dulaine wins the students over when he demonstrates a stunning number with Morgan (Katya Virshilas), one of the teachers at his dancing school – and when he tells them they can be part of a ballroom dancing contest a few weeks hence.


            Take the Lead is a film about life, communication, and respect, said Pierre Dulaine at a recent interview with faith-based publications. “Kids need to be given permission to be respectful.” During the dance lessons, “Boys learn that ladies should be on the right; this is a position of respect.  The students learn to feel good about themselves.” Dulaine tells the story of a fifth grade boy who refused to dance in the early days of his program in New York. The boy stayed in the back of the room and cried. Dulaine let him help in other ways. After four lessons or so, the boy joined in and later became a lead dancer in the community; he and Pierre still keep in touch. “Teaching boys especially how to dance,” said Dulaine, “teaches respect, and it will make life better for women.”


            Alfre Woodard, who plays the over-worked principal Augustine James in the film, told journalists that, “Dancing is great. It’s primal. You put music on, and you just go. In tribal dancing, people danced by themselves, but together. In the U.S. in the 60’s, we started dancing together, but alone. People are moving back to “touch dancing”. It’s like a sacrament when you touch one another in ballroom dance because it transforms you.”


            There is a scene in the film when Pierre Dulaine, played by Antonio Banderas, tells a parent who wants to know how ballroom dancing will make a difference, “Your son will know how to touch someone.”  During the interview noted above, Antonio Banderas said, “this is a family-oriented movie that teaches kids about boundaries. It’s about communication and can be a catalyst for change. You can’t be angry or depressed when you dance; it’s like taking a happy pill.”


            Ms. Woodard also addressed the lack of arts programs in schools. “People don’t understand that the arts heal people; dancing affects the brain; there is a real connection between music and math, too …. If you can see yourself dancing, it feels good because it’s natural. If you can imagine it, it’s possible to do it, and it changes everyone’s lives.” Banderas noted that “Kids don’t see money for the arts but the government is willing to spend billions on a war….” He added, “Ballroom dancing teaches self-respect and respect for the other. Kids who won’t look at each other in the cafeteria are dancing together. They begin to carry themselves in a new way.”


Ballroom dancing as a metaphor for life is enjoying a renaissance in popularity that probably began twenty years ago with Emile Androlino’s 1986 Dirty Dancing, a morally challenging coming-of-age story set among differing social classes. In 1992 Baz Lurhmann’s quirky Strictly Ballroom used caricature to reveal a father’s creative soul to his son.  Shall We Dance, both the Japanese original (1996) and the Hollywood version (2004) showed men having a mid-life crisis and resolving it through ballroom dance. Save the Last Dance, produced by MTV in 2001 brought ballet and hip hop together with racial issues, growing up, and teen grief. Television’s Dancing with the Stars (ABC) has proven to be hugely popular.


Take the Lead is directed by first-timer Liz Friedlander who agreed with the journalists that while the film is formulaic, it works. She also said that if there is ever a sequel, there will be more sequences of Antonio Banderas dancing.


Writer Dianne Houston said all she did was to “take Pierre’s program and add hormones” since Pierre Dulaine originally taught ballroom dance to New York City fifth graders when he began in 1993. Take the Lead instead uses teens in high school and fuses their hip hop dancing with ballroom, a creative decision that Dulaine supported. Just recently schools have begun to admit the dancing program into high schools. No dance doubles were used in the film.


Houston also said, “Ballroom dance teaches you how to live in the world as a place of respect and self-respect. It’s magic, that special unexpected something that takes over your life. Kid’s don’t recognize or expect magic when it happens.” YaYa DaCosta (UPN’s Top Model) who plays LaRhette, a young woman with a difficult home life in the film, said that, “I got to feel like a princess” during the filming. “There’s so much out there that contradicts the film. What happens at home has a lot to do with how kids behave. A film can’t fix problems, but it can inspire.” Rob Brown, who plays Rock, said that after making this film, “I open a lot more doors for people now and I use my signal when I drive. I think about people more often. I thought I had decent manners before, but after Coach Carter and being with Pierre (during the pre-filming training), I am more aware of others.”


Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself,” wrote British psychologist Havelock Ellis (1859 – 1939). And Take the Lead makes it clear that ballroom dancing is good for us. 




Respect for Women: A Media Manifesto

Media Manifesto’s Aim: Respect for Women
Document Produced by Congress at European University

ROME, APRIL 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A congress held at the
European University in Rome ended with a “Manifesto for Respect of Woman in the Media.”

The international congress, entitled “Woman and the Media,” was organized by the Athenaeum Regina university’s Institute of Higher Studies on Woman, last Thursday. It brought together communicators and experts who synthesized their conclusions in this manifesto.

The manifesto reads:

1. We defend and promote in the media a respectful image of
woman’s identity and of the dignity of femininity.

2. We combat the abuse of the feminine image as an advertising or consumer instrument.

3. We promote correct and true information on the problems
affecting the feminine world.

4. We commit ourselves to avoid sensationalist tones and refuse to make a show of information.

5. We defend the role of woman as co-responsible with man in
the edification and development of society.

6. We promote a culture of freedom and peace, which respects
the contribution of the feminine genius in the humanization of

7. We defend and promote the irreplaceable role of woman as
educator of society in the defense of the more authentically
human values, such as love, respect, dignity in suffering and
weakness, tolerance.

8. We defend and promote the active presence of woman in public life and the world of work.

9. We promote the dignity of woman and the equal rights of
woman and man.

10. We commit ourselves to responsibly provide information and sensitization by detecting, documenting and speaking out
against situations and practices that limit freedom and violate
the rights of women and girls.