Film Literacy In The 21st Century: Introducing The Importance Of Minorities And Sharing Their Voice Of Struggles


Author: Emili Ema Sedlar

When presenting the term film literacy in the 21st century, many perceive this concept as an activity of only watching films that have been great blockbuster hits in the past and in the present. However, when looking deeper at this study, it is not only an activity of watching a film, it is introducing, analyzing, and debating a motif, themes, character(s), setting and story-line that carry a political, cultural and sociological meaning in a specific culture or institution. Hence, in order to specifically analyze the political, cultural and sociological aspects, it is crucial to understand today’s social climate we are currently living under, especially if the audience wants to grasp the deeper understanding of a film and its context.

With that included, one of today’s most hot topics is representing minorities in films. So far, some extraordinary TV shows have done an incredible job in shining a light on minority groups. One example can be the TV show Transparent and how it represents the lives of trans people in the United States. However, when it comes to feature films, there is still a struggle in representing the lives of women and other minorities. According to a 2017 study performed by Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, there is still not enough of representation of minority groups in film, even though every day in the media, many artists out there call out for a change.

Many students and active filmmakers are working hard to introduce new storylines that will depict the lives of minorities, thus want to create an educational space to inform young students (whether in film studies courses or not) how important it is to acknowledge the arts when it comes to creating colorful characters that are today, unfortunately underestimated. Some of them today are graduating from colleges and are even making documentary films about the horrendous parent-child separation or even writing a story of how Planned Parenthood is being stigmatized because they want to help women that are uninsured and lost. It is time to finally put attention to those artists that seek hope through the visual arts.

Raj Yagnik recently introduced to the Croatian public his short animated film called „Exam Stress: Syrian Style“ at this year’s Animafest, which has received enormous praise and positive reviews. For years, Yagnic has made films for NGOs and has worked with many young people. To Yagnik, he believes that today it is important to show the audience the world we live in today, whether or not if it is a positive or negative side. „People need to see themselves represented to feel part of society, but films should be about humans first. Humans are amazing creatures and in films are all too often reduced to being the embodiment of problems. If you make people see the person, then they will care about the problem”, elaborated Yagnik.

Moreover, when talking about the concept of film literacy, Yagnik states how he thinks that there are more and more young people that are curious to learn about the tools that are able to be handled when making a film and producing a story. “I think it is exciting to see how easily people can now tell their own stories. I think young people are more and more film literate – but the language is becoming more compressed, and changing”, concluded Yagnik.
Pete Boyle recently graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in screenwriting. When looking at the roles of minority groups in film, Boyle considers how necessary it is today to show their lives through their own perspectives and surroundings, in a way the audience will understand their state they’re living under, whether talking about the social, economical or political concepts.

„When people watch movies, they are entering another world through someone else’s point of view. When this is the case for minority characters, audiences get to experience how the public perceives them because we unfortunately live in a world where minorities are often seen as a representative of their ethnic background and are judged more harshly for their actions than whites are. The more we see minority characters on the screen, the less likely they are to get categorized and labeled by the masses“, described Boyle.

In addition to this, Boyle explained how screenwriters play an enormous role when writing a character for their story, thus they carry a responsibility on how to shape their characters. „Something I’ve noticed recently is that people on the right will often criticize mainstream movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi for what they perceive as forced diversity because they think that Hollywood is practicing affirmative action and is choosing an actor’s ethnic background over their talent. I believe that actors of color are motivated by this criticism to perform their asses off and disprove the naysayers and would be a lot more effective if screenwriters wrote more roles for minority groups“, included Boyle.

Boyle illustrated how he loves to watch foreign films and discovered interesting insights each director has to offer to its audience, thus it is amazing to have wide access to different kinds of interviews and talks moderated by directors and actors from across the world.

„When I first watched an episode of the last season of Black Mirror entitled «Crocodiles», which is set in Scotland and features a hijab-wearing female police detective of Pakistani descent yet had a Scottish accent like every other character in the episode, it made me really happy to see that because I can imagine that Scottish Muslims don’t really get to see themselves in a positive role like that yet alone see themselves at all on television and film“, said Boyle.

As someone who has been a huge film fan for years Boyle has thought about how his film curriculum would look like when teaching about directing and screenwriting. „I would assign each student an ethnic background (Mexican, Chinese, Indian etc.) and have them compile a list of films and television shows that feature characters of the background they were each assigned. They should list as many sources as possible and should even include films and shows where the character of their assigned background is played by white actor. Then they should split all the movies and shows they could find these characters in and analyze the positive and negative ways they are portrayed“, highlighted Boyle, thus added how this is a challenging activity since many today still believe that many minorities are represented rightfully, but are not.

While in school, Boyle revealed some of the technique he has acquired by his professors when connecting human rights and visual arts, especially when gathering together screenwriting and ways how to visually depict characters. „In my screenwriting classes, many of my professors wanted us to use the Bechdel Test when it came to writing female characters because male writers with minimal screenwriting experience tend to do it pretty poorly (myself included when I started out.) I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent test when it comes to minority characters but I think that teachers and professors of writing should promote this test so that writing students can write well-rounded, multidimensional characters of many backgrounds“.

Daniel Bribiesca recently graduated from the New York Film Academy and shared his own experience of what it would be best like to talk about film literacy in schools. „I once worked as a volunteer at a film-making after school program at a middle school in Los Angeles. The best way to introduce these kids to film literacy was by talking about things that interested them, then by introducing them to concepts that had a link to personal experiences, and finally by allowing them to share their own personal stories through the format of story in films“, described Bribiesca.

In his view, Bribiesca believes that a way to represent minorities is to provide elements that connects us all and shows how we are not different from one another. In order to prove his point, he noted the film „Call Me By Your Name“, a story that represents love and the struggles of it, something each individual has gone through in its own way. „I believe there’s no better way to help students learn about minority groups than to have them sit down and share a class with people of different backgrounds. Having a diverse group of people sitting and working together makes a whole world of difference. It includes everyone in the conversation, and allows people to share their own and unique perspectives“, ended Bribiesca.

From the Author: 

Hi there lovely people! 

My name is Emili Ema Sedlar and I am a journalist from Croatia. It is such an honor to be volunteering for Women’s Rights News and bringing out new ideas about today’s issues in society. I am a college student, majoring in journalism and communications. In the past few years, I have been an activist in the fields of education, HIV, immigrants’ rights and women’s rights, focusing mostly on stories that are unique and different. I have published my journalistic works on many Croatian news sites and for over a year, I’ve been a writer for Positive Women’s Network-USA.