The Personal and Political Lessons of Billy Elliot



The film marks its 20th anniversary.




Billy Elliot - the story of an 11 year old boy from a mining town in Northern England in the mid-80s who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer despite his disapproving family - was released 20 years ago, on September 29, 2000. I was 15 years old at the time, and I had long given up my own childhood dream of being a bass player. I had wanted to play bass since I was 6 years old, but my mother – otherwise a sensible, progressive sort – had a notion, (probably deeply ingrained from her own childhood) that the bass guitar was not an instrument that girls played. “Girls don’t play the bass. Girls play piano,” she told me. And so, she forced me into piano lessons instead, (which I hated) with a very cruel teacher who used to scream at me and hit my hands when I made mistakes, and who considered my own taste in music to be irrelevant and plebeian, which she reminded me of constantly. My mother and I spent the next six years in a nonstop battle over whether I was going to stick with the piano or not. She won the battle in the short-term, but when she passed away when I was 12 years old, the lessons finally stopped, as my overwhelmed now-single dad didn’t have the time or inclination to force me to continue. But in a sense, she also won the battle in the long-term, since my experience with those lessons scarred me to the point where I didn’t play music again for nearly two decades.

*


Billy Elliot is a story about self-expression, tolerance, and subverting gender roles and expectations – all themes that resonated with me at the time the film came out, despite it taking place before I was born in a location of the world I had never seen. Billy (Jamie Bell, in his film debut) is from Everington, a (fictional) English town in County Durham. He lives with his older brother, Tony (Jamie Draven), his father, Jackie (Gary Lewis, in a tremendously controlled performance that I think deserves awards), and his maternal grandmother (Jean Heywood). Billy’s mother passed away about three years prior to the film. Tony and Jackie both work as coal miners, and the story takes place during the United Kingdom Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985.


The strike, led by Arthur Scargill, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was against the National Coal Board (NCB), a government agency that had managed the coal industry since 1947, when it was nationalized. It was a major industrial action to shut down the British coal industry in an attempt to prevent coal pit closures. The union had previously gone on strike in 1972 and 1974, both times over wages. During the 1974 strike, Prime Minister Edward Heath declared a state of emergency and instituted a three-day workweek in order to conserve energy. At the time, Britain got most of its energy from coal, and Heath hoped that the public would blame the union for the blackouts and massive disruptions that occurred from the shortened workweek. (The 1974 NUM strike and its repercussions are depicted in “Imbroglio,” episode 9 of The Crown’s third season). Instead, the public grew frustrated with Heath and a general election was held. Heath and the Conservative Party were voted out, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the Labour Party (who had been PM before Heath) was voted back in. Under the Labour Party, the NUM flourished, and eventually became one of the most powerful unions in Britain.

In light of Heath and the Conservative Party’s defeat, Nicholas Ridley, a right-wing member of Parliament, came up with a plan for the next time their party was in power. He advocated buying and stocking foreign coal and oil resources so that if the coal miners went on strike again, the public would not feel the effects. He also suggested that the country train and arm a large mobile police force, ready to employ riot tactics in order to combat violence on picket lines.


By 1984, only 173 mines were still operating, and employment had dropped to 231,000. The richest seams of coal had been mined and the remaining coal was more expensive to reach. The industry had been restructured between 1958 and 1967, with the cooperation of the NUM: halving the workforce, along with government and industry initiatives and subsidies, to provide alternate employment for laid-off miners. However, Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, and then Prime Minister in 1979, and she agreed with “The Ridley Plan,” as it came to be known, quietly setting into motion the suggestions that Ridley had advised. She began to push harder for mines to be shut down, regardless of union cooperation. She wanted to reduce the political influence of trade unions overall. Her ideology and economic outlook was based on privatizing industries that had been previously subsidized by the government. Her plan to shut down the mines also did not include any provisions to assist out-of-work miners in finding new jobs.

In March of 1984, the NCB announced that 20 coal mines would close with a loss of 20,000 jobs, leaving many communities in Northern England, Scotland, and Wales without a primary source of employment. Arthur Scargill claimed that the government had a long-term strategy to close more than 70 mines and called on the NUM to strike. The strike was universally observed in North England, South Wales, and Scotland. Now, many historians look back at this strike as the most bitter industrial dispute in British history.


Everington, where Billy Elliot lives, is an example of one of the towns and communities that would be destroyed if the mines closed permanently. Tony and Jackie are both mineworkers and heavily involved in the strike, showing up to the picket line every morning to shout and taunt and throw eggs at the private busses that bring strikebreakers to the mines. They accost a former friend and strikebreaker in a grocery store, threatening assault: “Scabs eat well, do they?” Jackie says as Tony flings his cart into the strikebreaker’s chest.


It is within this hyper-masculine world that Billy grows up. Masculinity can even be seen in casual physicality – both Jackie and Tony walk with their backs ramrod straight, their arms swinging, their eyes front, and their chests pushed forward, as if to provide a shield with their own corporeality. Billy is not like this – he fidgets, he taps his toes, he loves listening to Tony’s T.Rex records and jumping on the bed. He is gentle and caring towards his grandmother, who has dementia. The men Billy is exposed to all do hard manual labor, take pride in their work and in their working class bona fides; they are passionate about their rights, and tend to show emotion only in the form of anger and sometimes violence.

Billy is a sensitive child; one night, remembering his late mother, he asks Tony if he ever thinks about death – to which Tony replies, “Fuck off!” Another night, Jackie discovers Tony about to leave the house at 4 am with a hammer, on his way to a planned action connected to the strike. Jackie demands to know why Tony is taking the hammer when the police are already after him for other acts of violent picketing, which leads to a fist fight between father and son, with Billy helplessly watching and crying, begging them to stop. Tony tells Jackie that he’s been “fucking useless ever since Mum died,” and he leaves with the hammer. Jackie then screams at Billy to go back to bed.


Tony does have a point, although he makes it in a cruel way; Jackie has been struggling mightily with grief and depression ever since his wife died. But Jackie has no outlet for his grief, not in the town where he lives in, the men with whom he is friends, or in the society in which he was raised. He occasionally looks to be on the verge of tears, only to shout instead, or swallow them down and light a cigarette.

Jackie sends Billy for boxing lessons, but Billy learns very quickly that he is terrible at boxing. On the other side of the boxing hall, Mrs. Wilkinson (played fantastically by Dame Julie Walters) teaches a ballet class. Billy is curious about the class and joins in on a whim, only to have Mrs. Wilkinson notice that he has a knack for it, as well as natural grace and fluidity in his movement. Billy continues to go to ballet for months, even going so far as to steal a book from the local library about ballet so that he can practice at home secretly in the bathroom, until Jackie finds out and yanks him out of Mrs. Wilkinson’s class, forbidding him to return. “Ballet is for girls,” Jackie says, “not for lads.” No matter how much Billy tries to explain to him how dancing isn’t necessarily feminine, and how much athletic strength and stamina is needed for dancing, Jackie is terrified that the Everington community will think Billy is gay – “a poof” – if he learns ballet.

Mrs. Wilkinson doesn’t give up, though, and thinks that Billy has a chance at earning a spot at the Royal Ballet School in London. She offers to train him for free and take him to an audition in Newcastle in a few weeks. Mrs. Wilkinson is in an unhappy marriage: her husband had a middle class job but was recently laid off. He also had been cheating on her with a secretary – so teaching ballet is a creative outlet and a welcome distraction for her, even if it’s only the local school girls in Everington. But Billy is the first student she has ever had that she believes has a chance for a future as a professional dancer. Mrs. Wilkinson can be kind, yet often cutting and sarcastic, and her teaching methods are decidedly in the “tough love” zone. One day when Billy lashes out at her after she scolds him for not practicing, telling her that: “just because you fucked up your life don’t take it out on me!” she strikes him across the face, and then immediately gets upset with herself, putting her face in her hands. Billy doesn’t get angry at her for the slap; somehow, it causes him to realize how much she truly does care for him. They hug, and resume their training. Another day they take a drive together and listen to a recording of Swan Lake while she explains to him the story of the music; it’s a sweet moment that shows just how much Mrs. Wilkinson is the closest thing to a mother Billy has at this time.


*


In many ways, Billy Elliot can be viewed as a meditation on grief. Tony seems to have dealt with his grief over his mother’s illness by plowing forward and throwing himself into his work – even when his work involves violent picketing. Jackie, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t seem to have dealt with his grief at all, except to push it away or shout. Billy, on the other hand, seems to think of his mother a lot, and has imaginary conversations with her. When he goes to meet Mrs. Wilkinson for his first day of one-on-one dance training, she asks him to bring some personal items that are important to him. One of the items is a letter Billy’s mother wrote for him to read when he turned 18, but he has already opened it years ago and has it memorized. He lets Mrs. Wilkinson read it. The last lines of the letter are: “I’m proud to have known you. I’m proud that you were mine. I love you forever, Billy. Always be yourself.”

That sentence in his mother’s letter, “always be yourself,” is in essence, the thesis of the movie. Through dancing, with Mrs. Wilkinson’s help, Billy remains true to himself. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. He doesn’t fake being a boxer, or try to force himself to be the type of boy who will grow up to work in a mine. He finds a way to express himself through dance in a way he never could before, and certainly was never allowed to while growing up in a house raised by two proud working-class mineworkers with very rigid ideas of what constitutes masculinity. Mrs. Wilkinson helps Billy come up with a dance routine to “I Love to Boogie” (one of Tony’s beloved T.Rex songs) and they dance together, both happy for the first time in years. Dance allows Billy to transcend the doom and gloom of life in Everington during the strike, and dancing with Mrs. Wilkinson also gives him an avenue to process his grief over the loss of his mother.


*


Alas, the events of the strike catch up with Billy’s dreams in a terrible way. The day before Billy is set to meet Mrs. Wilkinson and go to Newcastle for the Royal Ballet School audition, Tony gets into an altercation with the police over violent picketing behavior, leading to his injury and arrest. This scene seems to be a direct reference to a real-life event that occurred during the 1984-85 miners’ strike: the “Battle of Orgreave,” which took place in June 1984 at a mining pit in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, where striking miners were attempting to blockade. About 5,000 miners came into confrontation with 5,000 police officers and all hell broke loose after police on horseback charged, striking miners with batons and injuring many – a direct result of Ridley’s position to prepare police in riot combat.

Billy must go to Tony’s arraignment with his father the next day, causing him to miss the audition. Mrs. Wilkinson arrives at their house to explain the gravity of Billy missing his audition, which devolves into a fight between her, Jackie, and Tony about whether it is appropriate for Billy to be studying ballet as a boy. Tony, fresh out of a jail cell and always looking for a fight, insults her for putting crazy ideas in a little boy’s head, and takes issue with her “oblivious” middle class ways, insinuating that she has no idea how hard life has been on the Elliot family since the strike. Jackie agrees with Tony that he will not stand for Billy learning ballet while Mrs. Wilkinson screams at them for being small-minded and insulting her while knowing nothing about her life.


This chaotic scene then transforms into one of the most amazing sequences of the film: a moment of magical realism, where the fight between the adults in his life dissolves into Billy dancing outside of his house. Coming up against all of the literal bricks and metal grills that keep him pinned into his life, Billy tries to push against them. This sequence ends on a solemn note, as we realize while Billy has been dancing nonstop, a lot of time has passed. It is Christmas, and Billy hasn’t seen Mrs. Wilkinson in months. The strike is still ongoing, and the lack of coal means that there is no way to heat the house except to chop up Billy’s mother’s beloved piano into firewood. Billy watches as Jackie takes an axe to the piano, and asks his father: “Do you think she’ll mind?” Jackie turns to Billy, eyes filled with tears, but then shouts: “She’s dead, Billy!” However, the question seems to have hurt him, as he chops up the rest of the piano choking back sobs, finally letting loose over Christmas dinner - openly weeping while they sit by the fire created with the remnants of the piano.

Chopping up his wife’s piano for firewood seems to be the first real crack in Jackie’s armor regarding his grief and the strike. Later that evening, while Billy hangs out with his school friend Michael, Jackie goes to the Everington Miners’ Social Club and gets Christmas drunk with his mining pals. Michael, who knows about Billy’s passion for dance, admits that he has a crush on Billy. Billy responds by explaining that just because he likes dance, “that doesn’t make me a poof.” But he doesn’t shun Michael – he brings him into the boxing hall, hands him a tutu, and starts giving him a mini-ballet lesson, which then devolves into the two of them running around the hall laughing while jaunty orchestral music plays overhead. Finally, Michael asks Billy to dance the way he would have at the missed audition. Billy enthusiastically does so until Jackie walks in. Turns out, one of the lads at the Social Club noticed the boxing hall lights were on. After a brief stare-down, Billy continues his dance in front of his father, and over the course of the performance, Jackie comes to see how gifted his son really is. Jackie runs to visit Mrs. Wilkinson at home, asking how much it would cost for Billy to audition. She offers to pay for their bus fare, but he refuses, thanking her for all that she’s done for Billy, but says he’ll take over now, as he is Billy’s father.



This leads to perhaps the most heartbreaking moment in the film: the next morning. Jackie crosses the picket line and boards the private bus taking strikebreakers to work in the pit. He is visibly upset and anguished over this decision, but he cannot see any other way to raise the money to get himself and Billy to London for the audition. Tony, at the picket line, sees Jackie on the bus and takes a shortcut to the pit, stopping him from officially returning to work, begging him not to do this after all they’ve been through. But Jackie knows, in his heart, based on how the strike has been progressing, that it’s going to be a lost cause. At this point in real life, many of the striking miners in the UK were forced to cross picket lines because they were in danger of losing their houses or they were unable to feed their families. Jackie knows it won’t be long before they see other friends of theirs turned scabs. “We’re finished,” he tells Tony. “The boy could be a fucking genius for all we know! Let’s give him a fucking chance!” For all of Tony’s macho posturing, he loves Billy. He hears his dad and understands. “Not like this,” he says, begging his dad not to be a scab. “We’ll find the money some other way.”

Between Jackie, Tony, and several of their mining friends, they raise almost all of the money needed to pay for the bus fare to London, with Jackie obtaining the rest of it by pawning his late wife’s jewelry. This is a heart-warming moment: a community rallying together to help a young boy attain his dreams; but it’s also bitterly sad on another level. Everyone seems to have put away their homophobic fears about whether it’s appropriate for Billy to study ballet as a boy, and the subtext seems all too clear: it no longer matters, because there’s no future in mining. Billy has a better shot in life as a dancer than he’ll ever have in a mining town like Everington, especially given how dire life under the strike has become. Does it really matter if people think he’s a poof?


Billy and Jackie travel to the Royal Ballet School in London. On the way, Billy is shocked to hear that his father has never visited the capital city of England. (“I’ve never made it out of Durham… there are no mines in London, Billy!” “Jesus Christ, is that all you think about?”) And although he is so nervous that he almost backs out of the audition, (Jackie has to literally push him back into the waiting room and stand in front of the door) Billy does well, despite getting into a fight in the locker room with another of the boys auditioning. They return to Everington and try to resume life as normal – Billy goes to school, Tony and Jackie show up at the picket line everyday – waiting to hear back from the Royal Ballet School. Eventually, Billy gets a letter that he has been accepted. Overjoyed, Jackie runs to the Everington Miners’ Social Club and shouts to everyone in the room that Billy got in… only to be met with stone silence. “Didn’t you hear, Jackie?” one of them says, “We’re all going back to work. The union caved.”

*


There are a number of factors that doomed the 1984-1985 NUM strike from the start, the first and most obvious one being that Thatcher and the Conservative government had learned a lesson from what happened to Heath in 1974 and had a plan – the Ridley Plan – in place should the miners strike again. But there were many other flaws: NUM President Arthur Scargill called for the strike in March 1984 – springtime, when the country’s need for coal was nearly non-existent, and so, the impacts of having no one working the pits were not felt at all by the public. He also never took a ballot of NUM members to call the strike, which caused much controversy and led to the strike being inconsistently observed, with many strikebreakers in the north, and workers in the Midlands, not striking at all. The lack of a ballot was seen as an erosion of democracy within the NUM; it hurt the reputation of the NUM in British public opinion, damaged Scargill’s standing with other trade unions, and led to violence along the picket lines. The strike was the most violent industrial dispute in Britain of the 20th century.


Billy goes to Mrs. Wilkinson’s house for dinner one night and her husband, upon confirming that Billy’s father and brother are on the picket line, explains yet another flaw in the strike: “When it costs more to mine the coal and pay the people who mine the coal than the coal is actually worth, that should tell you something.” Scargill’s demands for no more pit closures on economic grounds, even if the coal in the pit had been exhausted, were unrealistic. Because of the success of the Ridley Plan in reducing Britain’s reliance on coal mining (by importing it from overseas more cheaply than it could be produced in Britain) the strike only ended up emboldening the National Coal Board to accelerate the closure of mines on economic grounds.


In the aftermath of the strike, after the union’s official return to work, there was still tension between the strikers and the strikebreakers. The latter, were shunned and attacked by other miners, in some cases seeing attacks on their homes. The NCB was accused of deserting the strikebreakers as the violence continued and requests for transfers to other pits were declined. Many of these miners were demoralized and eventually sought work in other industries.

In the end, the coal industry was privatized in December 1994, and is now known as UK Coal. Between the end of the strike and privatization, pit closures continued. While there were 173 operational mines in 1984 at the start of the strike, at the time of privatization, there were only 15 left in production. By 2009, there were only six. As of today, only three remain. The closure of the mines left the affected communities economically devastated and unlikely to recover.


This makes one of the final scenes of Billy Elliot extremely haunting. Tony and Jackie have put Billy on the bus to London to start his adventure at the Royal Ballet School, and then they return to work. One by one, they enter the mine elevator with their miner friends, grim-faced, and are lowered into the pit, knowing that no matter how hard they fought, no matter how much they believed in their working-class pride, the strike had failed. This pit would probably close soon, more pits will close, and this is the beginning of the end of the mining industry. Yes, everyone had their jobs back, but for how long? Everington would inevitably fall into deep decline.

Billy was able to escape. For him, dancing wasn’t just a hobby – it saved him.

*

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu had a theory about “cultural capital” – that is, one’s clothing, mannerisms, style of speech, and taste not only demonstrate one’s competence, but their social position in society. Billy Elliot is a film not just about a union strike or ballet, but about how class operates in English society. Though Mrs. Wilkinson also speaks with the same thick Northern accent that Billy and his family does, she lives in a nicer neighborhood, and has had the opportunity in life to receive enough dance training that she can teach others; she can easily retell the story of Swan Lake to Billy, who had never heard it before. On the other hand, during Billy’s audition at the Royal Ballet School, the interview panel asks Jackie if he supports his son’s dream, and if he himself is a fan of the ballet. “Well,” Jackie says sheepishly, “I wouldn’t call myself an expert.”

This concept is further elucidated during the final question Billy is asked by one of the interview panelists: what does he feel while he is dancing? At first, Billy doesn’t know how to answer the question. Unlike the upper middle class boy with whom he fought in the locker room, he has never given much thought as to why he has a passion for dancing; it’s not something that anyone has ever asked him before, not even Mrs. Wilkinson. He quite literally says, “Dunno,” to the panelists at first, which disappoints them. But then he starts speaking, slowly, trying to sort through what happens in his body when he dances. He continues, haltingly, explaining himself, and it’s far from eloquent or well-thought out until the end, when he finally finds the word he was looking for: electricity. “Yeah,” he finishes by saying. “It’s like electricity.” This speech is like a little miracle in an already gorgeous film. In that one stumbling monologue while trying to explain why he loves dancing, Billy comes to understand something about himself, he moves the panelists, and he also ends up explaining to his father what brought the two of them there to this room in London. In a very real sense, that speech is more for Jackie than for the panelists.


Which is what makes the coda of Billy Elliot so lovely: 13 years later, Tony and Jackie travel to London to see Billy perform the lead role in a production of Matthew Bourne’s adaptation of Swan Lake. Jackie and Tony arrive at the theater and meet Billy’s old friend, Michael, who is there with his boyfriend, saying he wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We see 25-year-old Billy (now played by Adam Cooper) in the wings. A production assistant tells him his family is here. Billy warms up his muscles, stretches, and then leaps onto the stage as the camera cuts to Jackie, visibly moved, holding back a sob. Jackie is experiencing a catharsis, witnessing the power of Billy’s electricity, allowing it to activate his own self-expression – his grief over his wife, his anger and disappointment over what became of his life, and his pride in his son.

But this coda leaves me with a few questions – questions that are not necessary to enjoying Billy Elliot as a film-watching experience, but questions nonetheless, especially given the political climate we live in now. We know what happened to Billy: he succeeded. He is a professional ballet dancer, and a very good one at that, it seems. But I want to know what happened to Jackie and Tony.


In 1998, when Jackie and Tony went to see Billy in Swan Lake, the coal industry had been privatized for four years and many pits had closed for good. Was the pit in Everington one of them? And if so, how did Jackie and Tony survive? Tony was young enough to learn another trade and perhaps start a new career, but Jackie would have been done; if the Everington pit had closed, he’d have to take retirement and live on his pension. And, if the Everington pit closed, what happened to Everington as a town? What happens when an industry dies? What happens when you lose a community?

One of the ironies of this film is that the moral status of coal mining is time specific. In the 1980s, coal, and the NUM, were considered progressive, left-wing causes, related to labor rights and fighting against the economic agenda of Thatcher and her Conservative Party. But today, coal has a different meaning. Coal is a fossil fuel, and the method of obtaining it for use classifies it as an “extractive industry,” both of which make it anti-environmental, and so to support the industry means one is aligning themselves with a right-wing cause.

Which brings me back to Jackie and Tony. In spite of Scargill’s mismanagement of the strike, he became the president of the NUM for life in 1985 (although accusations of financial impropriety and legal disputes complicated this going forward). In 1996, he founded the Socialist Labour Party. This was right after the Labour Party abandoned the original wording of Clause IV from their constitution (Clause IV advocates the public democratic ownership of key industries and utilities). He eventually stepped down from the NUM and became active in the UK's Stalin Society, claiming that the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin explain the real world. And in 2016, he became a vocal supporter of Brexit, stating that he believed that British manufacturing could be rebuilt after Britain leaves the European Union. He said that under EU rule, the government could not subsidize coal mines, but the Brexit vote presented an opportunity to re-open coal mines. This is ridiculous on face value – the mines closed because they were no longer economically viable, and there was no more coal to be found in them. But still, in spite of this truth, the cities and regions at the forefront of the dispute that led to the United Kingdom Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985 voted overwhelmingly in favor of Brexit.

It’s hard not to see the parallels between the former mining towns that voted for Brexit and the Americans who voted for Trump in 2016; Trump promised to bring coal jobs back. And so, I wonder about Jackie and Tony. I wonder how they voted. I wonder if they believed that there was a way to rebuild their community based on unrealistic promises – somehow – and so voted to leave the EU. I wonder if two men who fought tooth-and-nail for workers’ rights – maybe one of the leftist of left wing causes – ended up voting for on odious, racist, xenophobic referendum. As I said before, it really doesn’t have a lot to do with whether or not I enjoy the film, but especially in these times, in 2020, during a pandemic and an economic crisis, with state-sanctioned shootings of Black and Brown people continuing to happen with no justice served, with a massively important presidential election coming up… I keep wondering about what happened to Jackie and Tony after Billy left Everington for London. What happens when an industry dies? What happens when you lose a community? What state of mind does that put you in when you are standing in a voting booth?


*

Billy Elliot is one of my all-time favorite movies because it explores the feeling of what it’s like to really, really want something, to spend your life pursuing it and in the end, through family support and mentorship, succeed. It is the very definition of a feel-good story. I come from a very privileged background. There’s no point in trying to conceal it. I am fortunate enough to have grown up with the kind of “cultural capital” that Billy lacked that day at his Royal Ballet School audition. But unlike him, I was never able to express to my mother what playing the bass would have meant to me. I never had the chance to show my mother that her ideas about gender norms in music performance were outdated and nonsensical. I never had the chance to prove my potential to her, to explain how the bass makes me feel - the way Billy is able to do so for his father. I never had the opportunity to push up against the walls that pinned me into my life: performative piano femininity, unfettered strength in fighting my mother’s cancer, stoic acceptance of her death. I knew how to be a certain kind of brave in the face of my own family struggle, but not the kind of brave that Billy Elliot is in the face of his. He pushed on; I gave up.


I squandered two decades after my mom passed, not playing music at all. Instead of standing firm like Billy and continuing to dance even when no one was paying attention; I only finally picked up the bass five years ago. I’m decent, but at 35 years old, I’m a bit too old to be a musical genius at this point. But Billy Elliot is a movie that reminds me of the importance of always being myself, and never giving up on pursuing what I really, really want, even if it feels like it might be too late. It’s a story of hope, for anyone who ever felt like an outsider, for anyone struggling to move on after losing a loved one far too early, for anyone who wants to be an artist. It’s a story of hope, and so I hope – I want to believe – that much like Jackie watching Billy in Swan Lake, if my mother had been around to see me play the bass guitar, she would have been just as moved. But I will never know.

Billy was lucky to escape the brick walls around him. We can all only hope to be as lucky as him.




Reeya Banerjee


Reeya is a Hudson Valley-based musician and writer. In her other life, she works as a hospitality finance associate, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU reruns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use. She can frequently be found in various coffee shops and bars drinking IPAs while reading pop culture news on her phone.


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