Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings, for excellent food, and for thoughtful celebration of the passing year. It’s also about American camaraderie, as we join one another at the table or on the couch, proud of our national independence and freedom. But Thanksgiving is also riddled with an uncomfortable historical truth. Our land was stolen from Native Americans, who were forced into lives of poverty and separation so that the European influence could flourish. That’s a hard thing to reconcile with, especially during the holiday season as we surround ourselves with loved ones and comfort.
Strangely enough, of all the seasonal media in the world, it’s a piece of kid’s home entertainment that has endured as a token of this complicated American identity: Addams Family Values. (It is the 1993 sequel to Paramount’s first live-action Addams Family film.) Based on Charles Addams’ iconic New Yorker cartoons about a bizarre and frightening aristocratic American family, Addams Family Values prods at and dissects cultural norms. It’s confrontational, keeping us informed and culpable as viewers and consumers.
The film’s most famous scene comes during a summer camp play. The Addams’ children—Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman)—have to participate in it to their chagrin. Pugsley hams it up as the Thanksgiving Day turkey. But Wednesday, playing Pocahontas, disrupts the play to give a rousing, matter-of-fact speech about the darker side of Thanksgiving cheer. Goth girls of the ’90s have a long-standing love for the droll, insensitive eldest Addams child. But this Thanksgiving speech moment laced Wednesday Addams’ more visceral appeal with some biting social commentary.
“We cannot break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now, my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the roadsides. You will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts.”
The scene is full of the Addams’ trademark dark humor and played for laughs. Wednesday and the other kids dressed like Native Americans—who happen to be the camp’s offbeat kids—tie up the pilgrims and set the camp on fire. But her speech still looms large as perhaps the most biting social commentary we’ve seen about Thanksgiving in any piece of American media, let alone a family movie. The moment has become iconic, with gifs of Wednesday’s words shared with fervor every Thanksgiving. But even beyond its weird-girl credibility, it remains an important reminder of what the holiday means. And it is especially apt to revisit as we collectively grow more culturally aware.
In an era of frequent protests and social awareness, American youth are ready for conversations like these. To witness it through the eyes of one of pop culture’s most salient and worshipped young female characters makes it even more empowering and towering. Feeling moved by the scene doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Thanksgiving. Nor does it mean we cannot feel proud of our identities, or need to steer clear of stuffing and pie. But reflecting on Wednesday Addams and her Thanksgiving speech is a nice way of remaining conscious of our cultural identity. We cannot forget the history of our country and those who met pain throughout its creation.
Originally published November 21, 2018.