"Ladybird", Creativity, And The Magic Of Going Home
By: Danielle Acton
"Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento."
Those words from Joan Didion were written across a black screen as Lady Bird (2017) began. I took a deep breath and I listened to Christine, Lady Bird, speak. I was home for Christmas break, sitting in a theatre in Sacramento, California. Christine’s first line of dialogue is a question to her mother, asking if she looks like she’s from Sacramento. At that moment, I knew that Lady Bird was not simply a coming of age movie that would make me feel nostalgic. I was watching experiences that I had only been able to speak about before. Suddenly, my experiences were tangible, and that’s what makes Lady Bird such an important film, not only to me, but also to every other creative young woman from Sacramento, California.
Lady Bird’s experiences reflect the narratives of many young Sacramento creatives. I was born in the Bay Area, but my family moved to a suburb outside of Sacramento when I was merely three years old. Sacramento, established around the gold rush era, features a mix of tourist attractions focused on capturing the pioneering spirit that brought early settlers as well the Natives who inhabited the land. Frankly, there was nothing for me there. Very quickly you reach the point where you’ve been to every tourist spot, you’ve walked along every street, and you’ve even watched a few weddings at Caesar Chavez park. These are the rights of passage of every Sacramento native.
Just like Christine, I also participated in a youth theatre company in the city that spread my time between rehearsals, thrifting for costumes, and school. I also was able to meet girls from St. Francis, the Catholic school that Christine’s fictional school is based on. My anxiety was bad so I didn’t make lead roles but I was comfortable in the ensemble and loved how theatre consumed my time. Thrifting played a major role in my theatre life but it’s also a huge part of Sacramento culture. There are dozens but somehow, the film had a scene in the EXACT shop that I would go to for my costumes and oftentimes everyday clothes. That shop is near the theatre we rehearsed in and now it’s in movie theatres across the country. Seeing that on film, made tears come to my eyes. It was a reminder of growing up and leaving home.
I came to terms with the fact that I wanted to leave Sacramento soon after I realized my desires to work in television production and to attend film school. Sac State just felt too close, and my only opportunity for work would be at the local news stations which I had already conquered in high school (I was the director of my own broadcast program). I had experiences and privileges that allowed me to go to a summer film academy in LA, and as I discovered I wanted to work in television, I saw that the schooling opportunities were not what I wanted. It was then I realized I didn’t want to stay in California for college. I needed a fresh place, a creative reboot. Luckily, my family understood my want for more, which is a key difference in my story versus Christine’s. And of course, I also needed a school to accept my poor math performance from high school, much like Christine.
Now, I’m in my second year at Columbia College Chicago and it’s been tough, but going to a school outside of Sacramento has given me a fondness for the city that I did not have as a teen. I took for granted things I now know to appreciate, like Sacramento’s art scene. Moments in my life have been defined by the city and to have them anywhere else would be so strange. I had my first jury duty in Sacramento last summer and it was 109 degrees, and it was awful, but it felt like home. Scorching weather is so common; it’s just a part of me. It’s the little things like that I miss the most honestly. I could spend all day analyzing and telling you why lady Bird encapsulates my life but that would be, like Sacramento, a bit boring.
The main story in Lady Bird is that Christine does not want to stay in California. While I sit typing this on my laptop, in my childhood bedroom, someone is filling out an application or desperately waiting for a UC or a CSU to accept them. But that just wasn’t me. I didn’t feel creatively challenged by the UC’s or the CSU’s.
Like Lady Bird says, I wasn’t going to apply to UC Davis. It’s only 30 minutes away and I, a television student, was not going to go to a school famous for its agriculture program. I don’t know if there’s any better way than Lady Bird to explain why I didn’t go to school instate and chose Chicago of all places instead. Lady Bird hits every nail on the head about why you want to leave. But it also reminds you that this is home, and it will always be home. Sometimes you just need to come home and drive through the streets past the Tower Theatre, past the Capital Building, over the tower bridge, and through West Sac to find yourself again.
Did you get emotional the first time you drove in Sacramento?
Danielle Acton is a 19 year old bisexual female directing/producing student at Columbia College Chicago. She originates from Northern California with a strong background in studio based television stemming from a daily high school broadcast. Her work includes short films from The Dodge College Summer Film Academy, a short film for the PAH Festival ran by Christopher Coppola, Short films for Columbia College Chicago, and studio shows like Midwest Emmy nominated The 30 with Joshua Short. As a goal for her career she would like to focus her directing in studio based female led shows, or working for a production company that centers women and minorities.