By Julia Melim

people 2559571 960 720There are many theories on how our personalities are shaped from the day we’re born, to our first day of school, to which neighborhood we grow up, where we travel, the people we meet along the way, our peers, and our parents – it goes from early childhood, like Freud would believe, to genetics, and the environment. There are so many factors that contribute to a unique personality that taking one of those away would change your identity completely.

When I was in high school, I would skip class to go to the movies. Or I would go straight to the movies every day after class while my mom wondered where I was until 10pm on a weekday. While most of my friends were at the beach in Rio de Janeiro, I’d spend my Sundays inside of a dark screening room. Not much has changed. Little did my mother know I’d be making a living watching films – it’s not the ONLY part of my job, but it is indeed part of my job.

I used to think our parents shape who we are, now I’m convinced their role is also to remind us of who we are, which is sometimes even more powerful. In a world of more than 6 billion people, we need to be reminded every day of what makes us unique and why our existence is meaningful. I’ve realized that sometimes what makes up our identity is not so much who we are, but how we see ourselves in relationship to our surroundings. After all our perception of self combines “who we think we are,” “who other people think we are,” and “who we truly are.” The question of identity appears in a few different films this year at the New York Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival.

295814 500x800x250In the film Oranges & Sunshine by Jim Loach, he brings to the screen early childhood experiences by telling the true story of a social worker (Margaret Humphries) who uncovers a national scandal when children were being deported from England to Australia after being falsely told their parents were dead. Emily Watson plays the Margaret Humphries going after the children who don’t know their parents or their real name. The director Jim Loach said, “This film is about identity, what makes us who we are and how people recover after having their identities stolen, really.” He goes on, “For these people, all the things we take for granted about rites of passage just didn’t exist, which is such a big part of our identity and who we are.”

It’s impossible to fully understand who we would be if we didn’t have the chance to meet our parents or if we found out later in life we were “using the wrong name,” as one of the characters in the film puts it. Some people consider our early childhood to be the most defining factor in shaping our personalities. Jim said, “It’s a film about moms and dads, it’s a love letter to moms.” I would agree that anything that had been changed in my childhood would make me a different person today, since interfering in our experiences by the lack of love or the absence of a parent is the same as altering our identities forever.

the skin i live in poster 60220In Pedro Almodovar’s film The Skin I Live In, genetics and physical appearance comes into play when a young boy is seized by a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who attempts to shatter his identity by changing his body through plastic surgery. I spoke to Elena Anaya, the main actress in the film, at the NY Film Festival and she said the film “talks more about identity than sexuality; it says that even though sometimes a person may go through a massive change, identity is not something that can be changed or altered.” Regardless of the physical alterations he suffers in the process, the boy holds on to the essence of his being in order to survive, which makes one question what could indeed alter our identities.

The film Happy New Year, which had its NY Premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, actor Michael Cuomo plays a war veteran who doesn’t accept himself after he returns home. The film discusses the battle against changes in our envinronment and how that can affect an individual psychologically. Director K. Lorrel Manning and Michael Cuomo discuss the issues of war when many war veterans commit suicide or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because they don’t recognize their identity as their own. Senator Patrick Kennedy said 30% of the veterans who come back wounded take their own lives. Michael said that to understand better the perspective from a wounded veteran, he wheeled around New York on his own at night, “going on buses and subways trying to understand how the world looks from that vintage point and also how the world sees you from that point.

Image Julia Melim Face 2

Julia Melim

” Identity can also be how we see ourselves and holding up that mirror to our own faces sometimes is not easy. We can achieve happiness as long as the image we have in our heads of ourselves matches who we are, creating a sensation of satisfaction. We continue to search for answers, but there’s no solid proof binding us to who we are”.

Whether our identity is shaped through early childhood as we see in Oranges & Sunshine, genetics and physical appearance, as it’s portrayed in The Skin I Live In, or in Happy New Year, which brings up our self-image through the environment we find ourselves in, the parents play an essential role in all of those stories.

Human beings fear the unknown and we will always be searching for more in depth answers that will lead us to our true identity. Even though the elements that shape a unique personality change in each film, we continue to find great satisfaction by improving every day and simply making our parents proud, regardless of who we are.

* Julia Melim is a Brazilian actress, TV host/reporter and writer. She lives between Rio, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. She is a long-time Soul Brasil contributor writer –

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