Reversing the Lens: Ethnicity, Race, Gender, and Sexuality through Film

By Crutchfield, Susan | Ethnic Studies Review, October 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Reversing the Lens: Ethnicity, Race, Gender, and Sexuality through Film


Crutchfield, Susan, Ethnic Studies Review


Jun Xing and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, eds. Reversing the Lens: Ethnicity, Race, Gender, and Sexuality Through Film. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2003). xv, 270 pp., $19.95 paper.

The fourteen essays collected in Xing and Hirabayashi's new volume make a strong argument for serious intellectual work involved not only in the college-level study of moving images for their messages about minority groups but also in pedagogical approaches that take film and video as their primary texts. Written by a collection of scholars who work in ethnic and racial studies and various allied fields, the essays share a concern with pedagogy and with showing "how visual media can be used to facilitate cross-cultural understanding and communications, particularly with respect to the thorny topics of ethnicity and race" (3). Indeed, despite the book's title, film/video's treatments of minority races and ethnicities are the collection's main focus; gender and sexuality are broached in their intersection with ethnic and racial categories (Elisa Facio's chapter on "The Queering of Chicana Studies" and Marilyn C. Alquizola and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi's piece on teaching stereotypes of Asian American women, for example), and global/international identities are discussed when they can illuminate a United States context. An eclectic range of Hollywood, avant-garde, independent, and documentary film and video is examined in essays of a likewise broad range of rhetorical styles and methodologies-some firmly grounded in academic theory, others more accessible to the lay-people addressed in the introduction as potential readers.

The volume's unique focus on pedagogy is attributable to its origins in a regional academic conference that drew participants from post-secondary institutions in Colorado "that focused on the use of video and film in studying multiple dimensions of ethnicity and race" (xiii). While a few essays quickly gloss over pedagogy, most devote significant attention to this theme. Readers/instructors are repeatedly impressed with the need for extreme care in choosing a video/film and its place on the syllabus, then maximizing its effectiveness as a teaching tool: "Film should not be used merely as a supplement, but it should be an integral part of the thematic and pedagogical focus of a course" (12). Brett Stockdill, Lisa Sun-Hee Park, and David N. Fellow provide detailed, bulleted guidelines on how to achieve these ends in their essay "Beyond the Hollywood Hype: Unmasking State Oppression Against People of Color," which also includes excerpts from student responses to the documentary, The Panama Deception. Similarly other essays describe syllabi or lesson plans, analyzing their success in real- sometimes diverse, sometimes not-classroom settings, such as Malcolm Collier and Hirabayashi's piece on teaching the documentary Monterey's Boat People, Brenda J. Alien's work on using the documentary Skin Deep to teach race and critical thinking,, and Jeffrey B. Ho's unusual chapter on using The Matrix to teach concepts of eastern mysticism. Ward Churchill and Lee Bernstein offer surveys of ethnocentricity and racism in, respectively, the history of Hollywood's representations of Native Americans and the historical racialization of popular crime films. …

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