What to Watch For the Fourth of July


June 26, 2021

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i'm cassandra marcella

As a college student who spent 7 months of his junior year studying abroad in Spain, staying home quarantined was never part of my planned “study abroad experience.” I went from weekends backpacking across Europe and northern Africa to remaining indoors for the past three and a half months now. My soul is consumed by fleeting wanderlust, aiming to escape and vicariously experience the world via the internet. 

But interning with Premier Wellness Travel is almost like a safe haven, where I get to pursue my passion for the travel industry from the comfort of my own home until the world has healed and is ready to welcome travelers once more.

In the meantime, as we approach the Fourth of July weekend, I urge you to make the most of your holiday, even if you find yourself without the physical presence of your loved ones.

As we are all travelers, there is no doubt that learning the histories of our destinations is near the top of our travel checklist. One suggestion for spending this patriotic holiday weekend is to simultaneously entertain and educate yourself on American history! You might learn a new thing or two―like the spy ring run by George Washington or the Black loyalists who liberated themselves in Canada (and as a history major, I admit I did not know about these myself!). 

Without further ado, I present to you a list of recommended movies and series, so that you too can escape and vicariously experience the world in which we live:

1 | 1776 (1972)

Like Hamilton, 1776 originally played on Broadway. The musical captures in song the debates and wrangling of the Continental Congress that culminated in the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. A few fun disputes exist behind the scenes. John Adams is depicted as a curmudgeon (who takes breaks from the arguing to chat with his wife Abigail) but historian David McCollough points out that in fact Adams’ colleagues in the Congress widely respected him. Then one song, Cool, Cool, Considerate Men, portrays conservatives of that era as power-hungry schemers who only care about holding onto their wealth, and Nixon objected. So the film’s producer Jack Warner had the song edited out over the objections of the director Peter Hunt’s wishes. Decades later, the song was restored. Many of the lyrics are pulled directly from the letters and memoirs of those involved, so this film will give you a good sense of how the 4th of July came to be.  

Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes for $3.99 (Director’s cut)

2 | The Book of Negros (2015)

Based on the 2007 award-winning novel by Lawrence Hill, this 6-episode miniseries tells the story of Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis), a black woman involved in the politics of her time via the eponymous Book of Negroes, a document recording the identities of liberated Black Loyalists. Against the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War, Diallo deals with topics such as love, loss, and hardship while simultaneously having to come to terms with the realities of her situation. Depicted as a biographical narrative of her life, Diallo encounters characters who contribute to pivotal moments in her life: there’s her love interest Chekura (Lyriq Bent) and the sympathetic indigo inspector Solomon Lindo (Allan Hawco). Although a fictional narrative, the miniseries does weave in historical figures like American restaurateur Samuel Fraunces (Cuba Gooding Jr.). The compelling story carefully portrays the events and consequences of the American Revolution from a female and black perspective, empowering the voices of historically underrepresented groups.

Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play and iTunes for $13.99

3 | Glory (1989) 

This film is not set during the time of our nation’s founding but during the Civil War and tells the story of the Union Army’s second African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.  Starring Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment’s commanding officer, and Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, and Morgan Freeman as fictional members of the 54th, the film covers the formation of the regiment through to their heroics at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. Along the way there are unlawful orders, blackmail, peril and a crazy charge on a beach.  Their courage caused the United States’ Army to accept thousands of black men for combat, whom Lincoln credited with helping turn the course of the war.  It’s a riveting story. 

Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes for $3.99

4 | Hamilton (2020)

Premiering digitally on Disney+ for the first time is the live recording of the critically-acclaimed musical Hamilton. First appearing on Broadway in 2015, this musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of  American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (Miranda) in two acts and how his life was influenced by the people around him. The show’s music draws heavily from hip-hop, R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes and features a heavily diverse cast of non-white actors portraying the Founding Fathers and other historical figures. The musical has been characterized as “America then, as told by America now” due to its use of modern storytelling methods. In other words, it’s an accessible account of our nation’s rich history that engages with today’s young generation. The film version of this musical is an edited compilation of three performances in June 2016 with the original Broadway cast members, and is set to premiere on July 3, 2020 at the outset of the Fourth of July weekend. 

Available on Disney+

5 | Independence Day (1996) 

It’s hard to believe that this film is 24 years old.  It’s essentially a disaster film with an ensemble cast along the lines of Towering Inferno and Earthquake.  Starring Will Smith, Randy Quaid, Bill Pullman, Vivica Fox, Jeff Goldblum, Harry Connick Jr. (I didn’t remember that!) and Judd Hirsch.  UFOs arrive on July 2 and sit over 36 major cities around the world. They cause anxiety and confusion and panic before the unknown extraterrestrial race attacks, which kills millions.  The world has to unite. The thrilling action that follows includes a psychic attack, some Morse code, a helicopter crash, a dash through a tunnel by the gorgeous Fox, and a St. Crispan’s Day-like speech by Pullman who plays the US President.  A satellite engineer and technological expert (Goldblum) figures out that to liberate earth from this otherworldly threat something has to be done about the aliens’ force fields, and it’s all riveting good fun because Will Smith is involved. A sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, was released in the summer of 2016.

Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes for $3.99

6 | Jaws (1975) 

An early film of Steven Spielberg’s, this thriller takes place over the 4th of July weekend on an island off the coast of Long Island (though the movie was filmed at Martha’s Vineyard).  A human-eating white shark starts attacking, killing and eating swimmers so the police chief (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dryfuss) and a professional shark hunter (Robert Shaw) decide to find the predator to kill it, and a suspenseful cat and mouse (or man and shark) chase is on. Unsatisfied with the simulations of a shark by the art department, Speilberg decided to keep the shark mostly out of sight and to use the score to create suspense  in a way that evoked Hitchcock. John Williams’ creation is now famous.  Also known for the understated line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” this film essentially created the genre of the summer blockbuster. The Library of Congress named the film  as culturally significant in 2001 so it would be preserved in the United States National Film Registry. 

Available on Hulu, Amazon Prime and HBOMax

7 | John Adams  (2008)

Chronicling the life of our nation’s second president is the eponymous 7-episode miniseries John Adams, based on the 2001 biography by historian David McCullough. Featuring actor Paul Giamatti in the titular role, this biopic tells the story of the first 50 years of the United States through the lens of Adams and countless other historically-significant figures like his wife Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), fellow Founding Fathers George Washington (David Morse) and Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane), and more. What makes this series even more interesting, in my opinion, is the abundance of scenes in foreign countries like the then-Dutch Republic, France, and England, thus underscoring the role international politics played in a nascent nation. A visually-appealing series with a diverse array of sets and storylines, John Adams is definitely a miniseries that will not disappoint.

Available on HBOMax

8 | National Treasure (2004) 

This action-adventure film offers a more fun, quick-paced approach to storytelling that integrates historical elements and secret societies into an epic heist escapade. Nicholas Cage plays the starring role as treasure hunter and cryptologist Benjamin Franklin Gates who, with the help of Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), races against rivals to decode the mystery surrounding a fabled “national treasure” that has involved groups ranging from the Knights Templar and Freemasons to our nation’s own Founding Fathers. If you’re a fan of mystery thrillers like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you will most definitely enjoy the fun rhythm of this Disney film. The film has inspired a sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), that also features the ensemble cast, while a third film in the series is currently under development.

Available on Disney+

9 | Turn: Washington’s Spies (2014-2017) 

An adaptation of the book by historian Alexander Rose, Turn: Washington’s Spies is a period drama television series with 4 seasons and 40 episodes filled with clandestine operations and political intrigue. The storyline is based on the accounts of the real-life Culper Ring, an American Revolution-era spy ring founded by then-General George Washington (Ian Kahn) and directed under the leadership of members Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) and Robert Townsend (Nick Westrate). The spies of the Culper Ring are involved in a series of espionage activities during the years from 1776 to 1781 in order to help turn the tide of the revolution in favor of the patriots. Equally parts exciting and historically accurate, Turn: Washington’s Spies is sure to become your next Netflix binge.

Available on Netflix

10 | Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) 

This film, released in the midst of World War II, won 4 Academy Awards and like Jaws is listed in the National Film Registry because of its cultural significance.  Told in flashback, the movie relays the story of George M. Cohen, a legend on Broadway and played in the film by James Cagney.  Cohen goes to Washington DC to accept a medal from President Roosevelt, and he ends up sharing with Roosevelt the story of his and his family’s life on stage.  Cohen himself was born on the 4th of July.  He even returns to the stage out of retirement to play Roosevelt on stage.  After getting the medal, while leaving the White House, Cohen tap-dances down the stairs – a moment that was completely improvised by Cagney and executed without rehearsal. The World War II song Over There is also a key emotional touchstone of the film. 

Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes for $2.99

Watch the infamous, improvised tap dance here —

So until the world heals and re-opens, why not enjoy some films and series that entertain you and some of which also educate a bit?

Have you seen any? Which intrigue you??

Also – not all of us have the ability and privilege of staying home and watching movies. Our deepest thanks goes out to the medical care professionals and other leaders on the frontlines at this time.

Additional Resources 

‘Hamilton’ Is Coming to the Small Screen. This Is How It Got There – from the New York Times

When the Fourth of July Was a Black Holiday After the Civil War: African Americans in the South transformed Independence Day into a celebration of their newly won freedom – from the Atlantic

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