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Taming the Beast: Toward an Ecofeminist Film Studies

2011 June 25
by Shared by Steve Rust

This summer I am teaching a 4-week 400-level Women’s and Gender Studies Course titled ‘Taming the Beast: Nature, Gender, and Technology in Hollywood Cinema’. Here is a description.

This course examines representations nature, gender, and technology in popular Hollywood cinema and introduces students to the the theoretical, historical, and aesthetic applications of ecofeminist media studies. Ecocriticism and feminist media studies share particular interest in questions about the ways which audio-visual media have simultaneously constructed and deconstructed patriarchy’s historical domination over women and the environment. To consider how “gender” and “nature” operate as social constructs in cinematic texts we begin with key readings in the developing field of ecofeminist media studies and delves into the insights of Donna Haraway, who has heavily influenced scholarship science, media, and ecotheory.

Week 1: Taming the Beast: Toward an Ecofeminist Film Studies
M Screen: King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, 1933)
T Discuss: Kenneth Bernard, Cynthia Erb, and Paul Wells on King Kong
W Screen: Duel in the Sun (King Vidor, 1946)
Th Discuss: Laura Mulvey, “Narrative Cinema and Visual Pleasure” and “Afterthoughts on
Narrative Cinema and Visual Pleasure” & Annette Kolodny, from Lay of the Land

Week 2: Cyborg Ecology
M Screen: Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973)
T Discuss: Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto” Stacey Alaimo, “Cyborg and Ecofeminism”
W Screen: Bladerunner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
Th Discuss: Pat Brereton, from Hollywood Utopia

Week 3: Crossing Borders
M Screen: Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
T Discuss: Pat Brereton, from Hollywood Utopia and Time magazine “Gender Bender”
W Screen: Gorillas in the Mist (Michael Apted, 1988), Critical Essay Due
Th Discuss: Fossey, from Gorillas in the Mist & Haraway, from Primate Visions

Week 4: Companion Species
M Screen: The Secret Life of Bees (Gina Prince Bythewood, 2008)
T Discuss: Vandana Shiva, from Staying Alive & Schacker, from A Spring Without Bees
W Screen: Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
& Discuss: Haraway, “From Cyborgs to Companion Species”
Th In-Class Final Exam: Bring a “green book” and pencil. Annotated Bibliography Due.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011

    Great theme for your class. I taught a women auteurs class last semester that highlighted the work of women filmmakers from the silent era forward and emphasized ecocritical readings, so I enjoyed seeing one of the same films we tackled included in your syllabus: *The Secret Life of Bees*. Did your students also screen other films directed by women filmmakers? Or was your class more masculinist in its approach?

  2. srust permalink*
    July 16, 2011

    If the class has a masculinist bent, it’s only because Hollywood films are nearly exclusively directed by men. That said, most of the class readings are by women and I specifically chose films in which female actors/writers/editors/costume designers/ and-or casting agents played important roles. I was hesitant about SLEEPER, for example, but given Diane Keaton’s central role in the film and the very important role that Allen’s casting agent Juliet Taylor have in reviving his career I figured it was useful.
    While I hope to teach a class in the future focusing on women filmmakers, this class is ultimately concerned with popular Hollywood films and so I decided that having 7 of 8 films directed by men was appropriate for the class. Although films directed by men might be considered inherently masculinist, I’d like to push on that idea as well. When we focus on the auteurs as the only voice of a film we risk doing so at the expense of discussing these films as collaborative efforts.
    What I should have said first was – thanks Robin and I’d love to see your syllabus. Every class is a work in progress and I’ll be keen to revise the selections if I’m lucky enough to teach this again in the future.

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