Movie summary: “What’s Cooking”
“What’s Cooking” is a movie directed by Gurinder Chadha and shot in Los Angeles, United States. It looks into the lives of families living in a multi-ethnic part of the city. The setting is timed at a period when Los Angeles was experiencing a high influx of foreign nationals mainly from the African-American, Latino, Jewish and the Asian communities.
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It is set during the Thanksgiving celebrations, these are times when families gather at their homes, get to spend times together and sort whatever issues that might be affecting the family, and welcome new additions to the family structure.
The movie is about experiences of four ethnically diverse families who grapple with their own integration problems during Thanksgiving. It starts with a shot of a Latino man on his way to the grocery store to do some shopping, meets his exiled father who had left them a long time ago to lead his own life after separating with the mother. He invites his father home for dinner after catching up briefly with one another.
The mother does not like the idea of inviting the father for the festivity because of the existing differences but after being convinced by the family, she takes advantage of the opportunity to reconcile the huge family. She makes less of the situation as the family members engage in the all day preparations.
Elizabeth’s college student daughter comes home with his Asian boyfriend, Lee, to introduce him to the family. Ethnic toleration is brought to the frontlines by this situation since the boyfriend’s family have no knowledge of his presence at their home, he had to lie that he’s going to be in school to catch up with his school work just to get an excuse to visit his potential in- laws.
The second family is introduced, Lee’s family is Vietnamese and his mother is preparing traditional dinner for her family. She does not appear happy with the course that their children have taken in life. Her daughter (Kristy) has a white boyfriend and this raises arguments during the preparations.
The Vietnamese consider themselves as a conservative society who sees the American social fabric as being too loose and lenient on the children making them rebellious, their fear was that the children might get assimilated to the American way of life.
The third family headed by Ronald (Dennis Haysbert) is introduced. He is an African- American spin doctor working for ‘The Republican Politico’. He has invited his mother to dinner but she does not approve of the daughter in law. His wife, Audrey is trying to put her best in the menu but it seems the kitchen battles with the mother in law cannot end, she detests her culinary skills.
She does not like the way she raises the children either. Another problem with this family is that the son has refused to come for thanksgiving dinner because of the existing differences on career choice and political affiliation with the father.
The fourth is a Jewish family who has reservations about their daughter’s roommate. They see her as not just an ordinary roommate because of her behavior and the existing relations with the daughter. Despite the realities that the families discover that they have to live with during the thanksgiving celebrations, they manage to handle all the issues in a dignified manner, appreciate each other’s views of the world, and are able to practice tolerance as a source of peace in their families.
During the celebrations and feastings, details are revealed about the personal lives of the characters, reality dawns on the Jewish family that their daughter, Rachel is a lesbian and she goes to an extent of bringing her partner, Carla home to meet them. The Vietnamese immigrant family struggles to get into the lives of their assimilated children.
Nguyen discovers a gun in her son’s room as she was doing her rounds in the house. She is infuriated by this discovery but it gets worse when she finds condoms in her daughter’s jacket. In her mother’s eyes, that was a sign that she had already gotten spoilt by the white boyfriend.
The reading summary
The history of Thanksgiving goes back in the colonial times when the Americans were still being considered as a refuge for most refugees who were driven out of their ancestral lands. There were Pilgrims who came from England escaping the persecution carried out at the time, they initially moved to Holland but did not like the place. On arrival in America, they settled at Massachusetts with the help of American natives.
They immediately adopted a means of livelihood by planting corn and rearing turkey. When they received their first harvest, they were in a celebratory mood because of the peace they were experiencing and the abundant food. They then celebrated their first Thanksgiving as a feast to give back to the community for their generosity and acceptance. Since then, Americans have always recognized that day.
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Thanksgiving was initially not a welcome idea among other groups of people since the Pilgrims who started it were believed to be following a specific doctrine. Most of the migrant communities from England settled at New England, the Puritans living at the region did not observe thanksgiving as they thought it was associated to other faiths.
Special thanksgiving observances were issued by the government and these were compulsory to anyone such as celebrations of military victories, celebration of a bumper harvest, or the welcoming of the rainy season signaling the start of cultivation. The Puritans just prayed and congregated together during these days. However, no specific day was set aside by then for thanksgiving.
Little is known about the components of thanksgiving in the ancient times, however, turkey stood out as the main delicacy that formed a bond across different cultures and people in America as families would share it out. The difference in style was the accompaniment that was taken by it and this varied from place to place like the people of New Hampshire had ham with roast turkey while people from Connecticut had turkey and chicken.
In the early nineteenth century, thanksgiving was still an optional celebration held just when there were special achievements made by the government and its people. For example, George Washington called for thanksgiving when the American Constitution was adopted after successfully passing through a referendum. However, the real push for adoption of Thanksgiving as a nationwide celebration was a brainchild of Sarah Josepha Hale.
She published books and other editorial pieces that discouraged the practice of slavery and the need for recognition of basic human rights. These fictional novels changed the people’s perception towards other disadvantaged communities who were used by the whites to give manual labor in farms and industries.
She also talked about the value of Thanksgiving to her audiences, emphasizing on the benefits including a moment for families to interact with one another, shared meals creates strong bonds among families and it provides an opportunity for the disadvantaged to feed and be supported as a method of promoting reconciliation.
Despite the restrictions on publications of political pieces, she continued to produce her publications occasionally crossing paths with the authorities. She eventually started the campaign to make the day a national holiday marked on the last Thursday of November, in 1846. She did this by writing to presidents and governors in every state.
She also mobilized other magazines to help in the campaign even though this was a difficult task because the presidents were still rigid about the idea. She believed the day provides an opportunity for Americans to pull together their efforts in alleviating regional differences and economic disparities.
By 1860, thirty states in United States of America celebrated Thanksgiving due to the pressure from the citizens and lobbyists. It was also observed by Americans living abroad. The eventual success came in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared the day a national holiday. However, some historians still thought that the push for Thanksgiving by Hale did not consider the original ideologies of English settlers.
Comparison between the movie and the reading summary
The movie, “What’s Cooking” is a celebration of diversity in cultures and it promotes the idea of tolerance among the different cultures. This is seen in the way the four families grappling with the issues of assimilation in their young ones eventually accommodate their views on life and take a rejuvenated role of handling their children’s concern.
The reading material tells about the history of Thanksgiving, the English on their voyage from Holland through the Atlantic landed in Massachusetts where they were welcome by the natives. After settling there for a while and getting their first harvest, they decided to celebrate with the natives irrespective of their ethnic affiliations.
In both the movie and the reading, turkey is the main meal that is used as a symbol of Thanksgiving; this was adopted during the inception of the day back when there was initial push to make the day a national holiday. It became the central meal since it was big enough to be shared by the members of a family.
The original intention of Thanksgiving was to make it a moment for people from different regions but living in one place for example, the slaves who worked in the farms and their masters celebrating a harvest as is stated in the reading. However, the movie dilutes the significance of this day by setting the plot in individual family units and not the society in general.
The reading summary tells more about the process that led to the recognition of Thanksgiving as a national holiday while the movie “What’s Cooking” shows the modern day reflection on the day and shows how the day’s perception has evolved over the years.