In celebrating America’s independence this Fourth of July, we want to recognize the rich diversity that makes us truly united. While each state is connected to the whole by our common beliefs, each community is unique in its own way. In his hilarious new comedy Irresistible—now playing in theaters and on demand—Jon Stewart, for example, pokes fun at how easily the richness and depth of America’s heartland can be overlooked, often with comically catastrophic consequences.
For this holiday, we’re celebrating the many faces of America by streaming films that affirm our fascinating differences as much as the things that unite us. From Irresistible’s Wisconsin farmland to Loving’s rural Virginia to Brokeback Mountain’s Wyoming ranges to Dallas Buyers Club’s urban cowboys, here are stories that define American independence.
Brokeback Mountain | Wyoming
While the Western landscape of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain sets a classic American scene, its love story was revolutionary. In the summer of 1963, two cow hands—Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal)—meet herding sheep in Wyoming. The love they discovered there would stay with them for the rest of their lives. Of course, their love has always been part of the American landscape. “No story has been as forthright as Brokeback Mountain in reminding us that for all the celebrated machismo of the American West, there have always been men like Ennis and Jack,” notes Out Magazine. By seeing their passion and heartbreak as an integral part of the rugged world in which they live, Brokeback Mountain became, as Rex Reed exclaims, “enduring and unforgettable…[as] an American masterpiece.”
Harriet and Loving | Virginia
While there is a century between the Virginia of Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet and that captured in Jeff Nichols’ Loving, the historical connection between the two eras remains painfully clear. While shot in Virginia, Harriet's landscape perfectly captures the look of the 19th-century Maryland in which Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) grew up. Alicia Malone’s tour in Reel Destinations of the film’s Virginia locations gives one a visceral sense of the impossible odds Tubman faced escaping from slavery. A century after Tubman would risk her life to travel back south to places like Virginia to liberate other enslaved people via the Underground Railroad, Mildred and Richard Loving (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton) were arrested in that state for breaking its law against interracial marriage. After being forced to live in neighboring Washington, D.C., to avoid prosecution, Mildred wanted nothing more than to return to Virginia. She let the ACLU plead her case at the Supreme Court so that she and Richard could return home to raise their family. “I tried to imagine I couldn’t go home again because of whom I married,” explains Negga. “It must have drained the lifeblood from her.” It was Mildred’s love for Virginia as her home, however, that made her fight to make the state a different place.
Dark Waters | Ohio and West Virginia
In Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters, Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) must rely on his home-grown Midwestern values of decency and fair play to fight against the very corporate interests that had promoted him. Having recently made partner at a Cincinnati corporate law firm, Bilott takes on the chemical industry he usually defends when he discovers that farms in his grandmother’s West Virginian home town are being poisoned. Shooting in the actual locations the real-life events took place, the filmmakers showcased the diverse nature and history of their characters’ communities. “For me, all of these images of suburban and rural areas present an unexpected beauty in an imperfect world, not just through a representational view but also a psychological one,” explains cinematographer Edward Lachman.
BlacKkKlansman | Colorado
Spike Lee’s Academy Award®-winning film BlacKkKlansman recounts the real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American detective who took on the Ku Klux Klan in 1978 with help of a white colleague (Adam Driver). Stallworth, just 19 when he moved to Colorado Springs with his family, sought to succeed in law enforcement, rising up through the ranks to become the city’s first African American detective. In the film, Colorado Springs, a city situated between the high plains and the Rocky Mountains, is also a world caught between age-old hatred and the possibility for real social change. “In being a typical all-American community, they had issues of race,” remembers Stallworth. “Probably still have issues of race.”
Dallas Buyers Club | Texas
In Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée captures the tenor of an American city through the exploits of one its most colorful citizens—Ron Woodroof (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey in an Academy Award®-winning performance). In 1985, Woodroof, an electrician and occasional rodeo performer, was diagnosed with HIV, a finding that the hard-drinking, fast-living, very heterosexual cowboy refused to take seriously. When his health diminished, however, Woodroof had to reimagine a different life. With the help of Rayon (Jared Leto in an Oscar®-winning performance), a trans woman living with HIV, Woodroof creates a new community by smuggling in and making available unapproved AIDS drugs to others struggling with the disease. Having grown up in Texas, McConaughey knew people like Woodroof. “I know that language, I know that perspective, I know that anarchic humor,” McConaughey exclaims, adding that “Ron was an American original.”