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Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Cinema

This course will train a series of scholarly lenses on commercial feature films produced or released around the world in the last three years. In highly diverse ways, all these movies work to unpack contemporary experiences of gender and sexuality, using teenage and college-age characters as a point of emphasis. As intellectual collaborators, we will have three main goals: 1) to learn skills and terms for "close reading" a movie in refined detail, understanding its images, edits, sounds, and style as crucially complicating its story; 2) to read academic texts, recent journalism, and other contextualizing documents, including some we identify through individual research, that help us to grasp the intricate stories and ideas in the movies we watch; and 3) to undertake the difficult but rewarding labors of achieving critical distance on our own present moment, without relying on "common sense," majority opinion, or points of view limited to one identity category or national context. We will pursue these goals through a series of writing and revision assignments, ranging from single, letter-graded sentences to full-length papers, and written for various public and academic audiences. Assigned films may include Moonlight, about a queer black man surviving a tough childhood in Miami; As I Open My Eyes, a Tunisian drama about a headstrong female student and vocalist, performing dissident songs that alarm government censors; Spa Night, about a Korean American man exploring new sexual longings while trying to get into a good college and help his struggling parents stay afloat; 20th Century Women, a 1970s-set dramedy that asks whether a small commune of free-thinking women can together raise a boy into manhood; The Fits, about a squad of young, female African American dancers who start coming down with mysterious seizures; Everybody Wants Some!!, an ensemble comedy about college baseball players sharing a house in early-80s Texas; La Jaula de oro, about young Guatemalan refugees seeking a safe haven in the U.S.; They, about a genderqueer Iranian American teen seeking transition amidst an already-complicated family situation; and American Honey, a daring drama about unchaperoned teens experimenting with sex, drugs, and crime while roving around the so-called “heartland.”  The pace and depth of film-watching will be ambitious, as will the expectations of intensive conversation and of frequent writing.  A willingness to treat movies as much more than casual entertainment is a strict prerequisite for this class, though we will retain the joy of watching and debating them.