On Movie Nights

Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi gave me an epiphany when I read about “arranging informal cross-group conversations” in Chapter 9, on reducing identity and stereotype threat.

I have a hunch that some of the interventions described in the chapter may have a broader effect on reversing underperformance than mitigation of stereotype threat.

As a student club advisor, I have encouraged clubs to hold movie nights, which include a post-movie discussion.  The most memorable of these was a showing of Spike Lee’s “School Daze.” Several students (and one faculty member) of different racial and cultural backgrounds contributed to a stimulating 30-minute discussion after the movie.   My aim with the movie nights is to promote engineering identity formation by giving the group a common emotional experience in which they may identify with protagonists dealing with various challenges.  School Daze is not about engineers, but it is about college students, and it provides many poignant situations for movie night participants to identify with the characters and their struggles, which in our case, led to a rich discussion.

The epiphany is that movie nights can precipitate interventions similar to those described by Steele.  So the movie does not have to be about “engineers,” just stimulating for cross-group conversations.  Perhaps the movie night intervention is one small measure to help level the playing field for many students, regardless of the origin of their underperformance.  The student who led the movie night discussion arranged a themed student-faculty forum about a different issue a month later.   I think he is onto something.

For more information:

Check out my post before spring break: Savor the Emotions

Steele, C. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do (issues of our time). WW Norton & Company.

Lee, S. (1988). School daze [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

5 Replies to “On Movie Nights”

  1. I like your idea to use movie nights precipitate interventions similar to those described by Steele. Your description of the former experience of movie nights is attractive. I agree that people try to identify with the characters and their struggles after watching the movies can lead to a rich discussion. I remember that I watched videos about people from diverse backgrounds sit down to have a discussion about a topic they were all interested in, that led to a very stimulating discussion. So if we can use movies to further inspire the conversation, that will really help with interventions. After reading theories, I like to see how people use practical ways to apply them. Thank you for providing such a great suggestion about applying our reading.

  2. I wonder how mush of “a common emotional experience” would watching a movie be for a culturally diverse group of people. Moreover, I think “stereotype threat” is linguistically framed as a negative phenomenon. Changing attitude and behavior due to consciousness of stereotypes is neither bad nor good. It is simplification and also, more information should lead to new assessment (as in “whistling Vivaldi”). Unfortunately, when people feel that the norm of their surrounding social behavior is unwelcoming to them, then their social integration with that surrounding social environment is threatened. Thus, the stereotype factor can be a threat. Threats alert us the most!

    1. Participant feedback has given me some clues that the group shares an emotional experience, particularly for the movie “Three Idiots,” which we have shown multiple times to engineering student audiences. The initial reaction is dismay when viewers realize that the movie is in Hindi with English subtitles. By the end of the movie, the audience is weeping, and some of our students have called it “the best movie for engineers” and will watch it again on their own. “School Daze” generated the richest discussion by provoking viewers to reflect on and share their own experiences. I am encouraged and fascinated by the way a movie can forge a bond among viewers, and I’d like to explore this more, especially in the classroom. Our diverse audiences have at times included non-engineers, and that type of diversity also made for an enjoyable discussion. Maybe it’s not just smarter that diversity makes us; the potential rewards appear to be diverse.

  3. As an obsessive movie watcher and collector, I thank you for encouraging people to use movies in the way you have described. They can have such a wonderful power and influence if brought into the correct light. There is more than one way to fuel a dialogue between people, and movies can serve as a safe space even for those who might feel vulnerable in a general discussion-based environment. Also, nice job using Lee.

  4. Something I learned recently at a conference regarding the use of pop culture in the classroom is that we have to make sure we are providing the proper framework before and after its use. In international relations, we tend to use movies like 13 Days to engage students in the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, unless we “deconstruct” the movie along the lines of the politics and biases that were present in the historical event and the politics and biases present in the time the film was mode, we leave students with a “false reality” of how the events actually occurred. If you just show the movie 13 Days without this “deconstruction,” there is a significant chance that when students think about the Cuban Missile Crisis, they will first and foremost remember Kevin Costner doing a bad Bostonian-Irish accent. They will not remember that the lesson from the movie is about diplomacy between two starkly contrasted ideologies during the Cold War.

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