Ecocinema involves the human gaze looking at cinema through the lens of the environment, in a manner analogous to the way feminists provided the cinematic lens of gender in the 1970s. However, as with feminism, enormous differences pertain in regard to how the ecocinema lens is mobilized. In analyzing films from the late 1800s to the early 21st century, ecocinema studies has evolved to include critical lines of inquiry from perspectives of psychology, feminism, socioeconomics, science, and activism. Research frames used in these inquiries include: setting and landscape in films, ecological analyses of mainstream and independent fictional films, posthuman cinematic representations, transnational and regional, and more recently, trauma in speculative dystopian films. Ecocinema critics analyze films of various types, including Hollywood, independent, transnational, documentary, animated, art cinema, and especially climate fiction (“cli-fi”) films. Ramachandra Guha’s transnational typology of environmental ideologies will provide a useful starting place for the mapping of different perspectives in ecocinema. Guha distinguished utopian wilderness environmentalism, pervasive in the United States, from the agrarian focus typical in India. Meanwhile, most developed nations utilize scientific industrial methods to exploit the environment. Oftentimes, these latter approaches are grounded in growth economies and are thus in conflict with the unrealistic ideals of so-called neo-primitivism (NP). Neo-primitivism involves returning to simple, sustainable lifestyles within or close to the natural world—lifestyles that do no environmental damage. NP is beloved by many, but the consensus is that it is idealistic to consider going back to this way of life. A film such as Avatar (produced and directed by James Cameron in 2009) addresses the complexity of diverse constructions of nature by providing examples of utopian wilderness ideology that compete with, and are opposed to, the destructive scientific industrialism that disregards and dominates nature without compunction. Other films, such as Amazon Sisters (Sweeny, 1992), Elemental (Koch, Roshan, & Vaughan-Lee, 2012), Into the Wild (Blocker, Hildebrand, Kelly, & Penn, 2007), or Grizzly Man (Beggs & Herzog, 2005), act as simultaneous celebrations and critiques of wilderness ideologies and deal with gender and racial identities, and thus they have been a central focus of ecocinema scholarship. Although films from all genres have historically engaged environmental issues, it was rarely in a way that made a self-conscious or critical statement about the human impact on the natural world from the perspective of ecological concerns—this is the focus of ecocinema. See for example, Birt Acres’s Rough Sea at Dover (1895), the Lumiere Brothers’ Oil Wells of Baku (1896), Thomas Edison’s Sorting Refuse at Incinerating Plant, NYC (1903), and the British South Africa Company’s Rhodesia To-Day (1912). In the early 21st century, the genre that most often engages with the contemporary politics of climate change is the documentary. Documentaries, such as An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim, 2006), Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal, 2006), Into Eternity (Eskilsson & Madsen, 2010), Chasing Ice (Ahrens & Orlowski, 2012), E-Waste Tragedy (Esteve, Popp, Úbeda, & Dannoritzer, 2014), This Changes Everything (Cuarón & Lewis, 2015), among others, critique human damage to the planet and thus position viewers as ethical witnesses. Such works hope to influence the outcome of our shared anthropocentric future. The analyses of ecocinema are addressed using two distinct methods—the macro and the micro. The macro method studies how films represent the large-scale processes of earth-based climate systems, and its lens evaluates how films represent climate and environmental dilemmas facing humans as a species. The micro-lens provides enhanced analyses that explore how gender, race, and class figure into the cultural work climate fantasies perform. This lens indexes the ways in which various cultures are often disproportionately impacted by climate systems.1 Oftentimes the macro and micro levels are both incorporated in a single film and reveal the intersection between climate and culture, as seen in Taklub (Trap, Castillo & Mendoza, 2015), a film that portrays Super-typhoon Haiyan and its impact on residents in Tacloban, Philippines. As background to mapping the texts, evolving science discourses will be emphasized as evidence for global warming but with the understanding that this evidence relies on modeling. Although our main concern with this cultural work in ecocinema is how climate change impacts across gender, race, and class, the inequalities revealed also speak to the politics of climate change evident in cinematic treatments of the issue.
Sophie Christman Lavin and E. Ann Kaplan
Mark Pedelty and Elja Roy
This article is about making media as a method for studying media, specifically focusing on film. Production-based methodologies can be particularly revelatory, especially when it comes to better understanding aspects of media production that might not be accessible via textual methods and audience ethnography alone. Scholars in communication studies, media sociology, media anthropology, media literacy pedagogy, and film studies have argued that a praxis combining media production and reflexive analysis can help us to better understand “backstage” realities that are less accessible to textual analysis and audience research methodologies. Who or what “authors” a film? Working as a scholar–producer can usefully complicate notions of authorship in the field of media studies, moving the field from an implicit auteur model (the media “text” as “authored”) to more complex understandings of the collective and institutional processes involved in most filmmaking, and in media production more broadly. Production-oriented methods are advancing as new media scholars, accustomed to making media, enter the academy.
African American queer cinema was born as a reaction to the AIDS/HIV epidemic as well as the blatant homophobia that existed within the Black community in the 1980s. It began with the pioneering works of queer directors Isaac Julien and Marlon Riggs and continued during the new queer cinema movement in the 1990s, particularly including the works of lesbian queer director Cheryl Dunye. However, these works were infinitesimal compared to the queer works featuring primarily White lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) protagonists during that time. That trend continues today as evidenced by looking at the highest-grossing LGBTQ films of all times: very few included any African American characters in significant roles. However, from the 1980s to the 2020s, there have been a few Black queer films that have penetrated the mainstream market and received critical acclaim, such as The Color Purple (Spielberg, 1982), Set It Off (Gary, 1996), and Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016), which won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture. The documentary film genre has been the most influential in exposing audiences to the experiences and voices within the African American queer communities. Since many of these films are not available for viewing at mainstream theaters, Black queer cinema is primarily accessed via various cable, video streaming, and on-demand services, like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.
The relationship between queer memory and cinema is a complex one. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) histories have often been and continue to be systematically and deliberately excluded from the “official” memory narratives of nation-states, whether it be within the context of education or other commemorative projects. In order to counter this erasure, activists and artists have worked to preserve and reimagine LGBTQ pasts, creating archives, undertaking historiographic work, and, finally, reimagining queer histories in film and television. While memory remains an underutilized concept in queer studies, authors working in this nascent area of the field have nonetheless examined how the queer past is being commemorated through national, educational, and cinematic technologies of memory. For example, Scott McKinnon’s work has focused on gay male memories of cinema-going, therein highlighting the role of audience studies for the understanding of gay memory. Like McKinnon, Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed have also focused on the gay male community, emphasizing the ways in which film and television can combat the effects of conservative and homonormative politics on how the past is remembered. While Castiglia, Reed, and McKinnon’s work focuses on the memories of gay men, a monograph by the author of this article has analyzed how contemporary film and television represent LGBTQ histories, therein interrogating the role these mediums play in the creation of what can be termed specifically queer memory. Furthermore, while monographs dealing with queer memory are only beginning to appear, a number of single case studies and book chapters have focused on specific cinematic works, and have looked at how they present the LGBTQ past, particularly with respect to activist histories. Authors like Dagmar Brunow have also emphasized the link between queer memory and film preservation, exhibition and distribution, therein pointing toward the ways in which practices of curation shape one’s perception of the past. Taken together, these different approaches to queer filmic memory not only illuminate the relevance of cinema to the ways in which LGBTQ people recall and imagine the past of their own community, but also to the unfixed and continually evolving nature of queer memory itself.
Queer melodrama utilizes and reimagines the conventions of melodrama to tell stories by, for, and/or about queer people. Melodrama has been studied by scholars of communication, especially scholars of media and rhetoric. Itis also a transdisciplinary area of study with scholars in film, literature, media studies, cultural studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies as well as disciplines associated with specific languages, cultures, geographies, and identities. The scholarship of queer melodrama coalesces around two primary areas of inquiry and research. First, queer melodrama scholarship engages substantially with the taxonomization and theorization of the genre. As a storytelling genre, melodrama appears in various types of media and rhetoric including film, television, literature, theater, and music. Scholars conceptualize the genre of queer melodrama in three main ways: generically in terms of characteristics, formulaically in terms of plot, and stylistically in terms of affect and aesthetic. Most definitions of melodrama focus on the portrayal of extreme emotions paired with a tragic climax—one ultimately resolved with a sudden, simple happy ending. Second, queer melodrama scholarship regularly grapples with the purposes, impacts, and weaknesses of the genre. Queer melodrama’s central purposes are storytelling, disruption, and critique. The genre has the potential to impact audiences by facilitating or encouraging emotional responses, awareness, empathy, hope, and imagination. While much queer melodrama scholarship focuses on defending the genre against dismissive, sexist criticism, scholars also critically examine the potentially negative and harmful political work of certain aspects or examples of queer melodrama. These scholarly critiques have established various problems with queer melodrama including exclusion, normativity, and assimilationism. Taken together, these areas of inquiry attest to the richness of queer melodrama for scholarly inquiry, audience consumption, and political work. Queer melodramas are vital sources for queer communication and rhetoric scholarship about media, affect, aesthetics, and genre.
Since the earliest years of the film industry, journalists and journalism have played a leading role in popular culture. Scholars debate whether journalism films—and by extension television programs, plays, cartoons, comics, commercials, and online and interactive stories and games—are a distinct genre, or whether journalists are featured in a variety of genres from dramas to comedies and satires to film noir. They also debate whether a film needs to feature a journalist doing journalism as a primary character or whether having a journalist as a secondary character still counts as a “journalism” film. Regardless, research into depictions of journalists in popular culture is important because the depictions influence public opinion about real-world journalists, as well as the credibility and public trust of the journalism field. Indeed, the influence might be greater even than the actual work performed by real-world journalists. Popular culture cultivates legend and myth, and this cultivation is especially true for a field such as journalism because the majority of the public will never see the inside of an actual newsroom. Popular culture myths about journalism focus on its normative role. Journalistic heroes are the foreign correspondents and investigative reporters who stand for community and progress. Journalistic villains are the lovable rogues, remorseful sinners, and unrepentant scoundrels who break journalistic norms and roles. A wide range of heroes and villains have been depicted on the big and small screen. For every Woodward and Bernstein working tirelessly to expose a corrupt presidential administration in All the President’s Men, there is a Chuck Tatum hiding an injured man in order to keep an exclusive in Ace in the Hole. For every Murphy Brown, a prominent and award-winning investigative journalist and anchor, there is a Zoe Barnes in House of Cards who has sex with sources and knowingly publishes false information. Many of the most interesting depictions, however, feature a character who has aspects of heroism and villainy. For example, Megan Carter in Absence in Malice attempts to be a watchdog reporter but destroys lives with her mistakes. Viewers ultimately are left with the idea that Carter will become a better journalist because of the lessons she has learned during the course of the film. Due to the potential impact of these depictions, entertainers must hold themselves to a higher standard to fulfill their discursive role within the broader republic. Entertainment programming needs a positive ethical code because it helps inform citizens by raising questions, offering incisive observations, and voicing marginalized perspectives. The code is in its nascent stages, but it is past time for media ethicists to develop a social responsibility theory for entertainment and amusement, the dominant role of almost all media.
Paris S. Cameron-Gardos
The rejection of coming out as a linear narrative must be accompanied by an alternative to the formulas of confession, disclosure, and identity adoption that have pervaded the current representations of coming out in the West. The appearance of coming out in film narratives provides important opportunities to observe how elements such as repetition, rehearsal, and, above all, contrasts are incorporated into the stories that are recounted. Conventional coming-out films have relied so heavily on the restrictive nature of the genre’s narrative structure that the potential for alternative, or queered, realities of coming out is erased. The continual reappearance and adaptations of coming out will enable a better understanding of the ways in which the act is presented as a moment that is never finished and that often evades a final, perfected, and polished performance. Four specific narratives from queer film—Beautiful Thing (1996), Summer Storm(2004), Brotherhood (2009), and North Sea Texas (2011)—will be presented to offer counter models for coming out. In Beautiful Thing, the visual narrative demonstrates the importance of the reiterative, adaptable, and unanticipated representation of the act in visual media. In Summer Storm, the audience witnesses how coming out occurs in a world of competitive sports and where the teenage athletes reveal secrets that everyone already knows. In Brotherhood, the act of coming out is transformed into a moment when identities are instantaneously accepted and rejected within a homophobic, neo-Nazi subculture. In North Sea Texas, the script of coming out is reimagined by two characters who ambiguously decline any opportunity to define their identities. Coming out in visual narratives must be understood through an elaboration of Janet Harbord’s belief that the audience gravitates toward particular visual narratives where a comfort zone is created. These films have authored reiterative and adaptable approaches to the act of coming out that both comfort and challenge the audience.
Lori Kido Lopez
When investigating the structures that support Asian American media, previous scholars have centered the role of Asian American media arts organizations and their yearly film festivals. Longstanding institutions such as Visual Communications, the Center for Asian American Media, and Asian CineVision have played an important role in shaping the rise of Asian American cinema through providing exhibition opportunities, funding, education, preservation, and advocacy. At a broader level, they have also created and maintained connections between Asian American media organizations and communities, facilitating the flow of Asian American media texts, resources, and communication within maker communities and outward to wider participants. But it has been less clear how these organizations and their events now fit into a broader Asian American media system. In analyzing participants such as filmmakers, media professionals, staff, and media audiences, but also components such as funding programs, distribution systems, and digital platforms, research has charted the evolution of these networks over time.