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MTU launches film series on race

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com The controversial film Dark Girls explores the prejudices dark-skinned women face throughout the world. It explores the roots of classism, racism and the lack of self-esteem within a segment of cultures. A sociology class at Michigan Tech chose the film as part of “The Film Festival on Reckoning with Race,” which they are hosting.

HOUGHTON — A new film series hosted by a sociology class at Michigan Technological University is giving people a forum to discuss a variety of racial issues in America.

The Film Festival on Reckoning with Race began this week and continues through Dec. 13.

The 11 films were picked by students in the “Introduction to Sociology” class taught by Richelle Winkler, professor of sociology and demography at Tech.

Given the renewed attention on racial tensions after a summer of high-visibility protests, Winkler had been looking for ways to integrate discussions of race into her class. Looking at other classes around the country, she found the idea of a film festival. She adapted it for what she thought would work with her students at Tech and in a way that could be done with no budget.

Students met in groups to choose films to host Zoom discussions about with the public.

Winkler sees it as a way to offer perspectives and experiences that differ from those of her students.

“A film is a good way to put yourself in somebody’s shoes by starting to get involved in their story,” she said. “That’s why I think film is a good way to start to address issues that are often challenging to talk about, or even think about, in a critical way.”

Winkler gave students several criteria. It had to be a film that spoke to them. It had to make them think about race in different ways. They were also encouraged to find films where people of color were involved in writing or directing.

Groups picked two films to consider, and had to write justifications for their choices.

The 11 films come from genres from horror to documentary. The subjects span everything from coming of age during Jim Crow to racial disparities in health care. And the films are widely accessible through YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

“There are a lot of great films out there that are expensive to get, or just hard to get,” she said.

Third-year mechanical engineering student Kate Bridges’a group picked “Dark Girls,” a 2011 documentary about issues of beauty, colorism, gender and self-image. The group members each chose two films that stood out to them, then came together to narrow it down. They chose it over more popular movies such as the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” or another film discussed Wednesday, “Life of Pi.”

“It’s not produced by a big company, so it’s more under-the-radar,” Bridges said. “We thought it would be a great way to highlight an important topic with a film that’s not really known.”

Bridges’ group held their discussion Wednesday. Though it didn’t have the public involvement of subsequent discussions, Bridges said the talk among students was a valuable experience.

“Some people shared things they said that they wouldn’t usually share, and then you feed off of each other,” she said. We had a lot of good conversation. And I learned a lot of things.”

Winkler said students and community members had been engaged and sharing their stories with each other.

With the pandemic limiting face-to-face instruction, it also gave Winkler a new way to interact with students. Several of the students have been online-only. And the students in the group had only interacted in a scattered way online, Winkler said.

“it was really great for me to just see their faces and get to know them a little bit,” he said. “And I felt like we all formed some connections that we otherwise might not have had. And also to hear from people from the community as well.”

More discussions will be held after Thanksgiving break.

Upcoming films are: “Selma,” 5 p.m. Dec. 1; “Get Out,” 6:30 p.m. Dec. 2; “42: The Jackie Robinson Story,” 6 p.m. Dec. 3; “Hidden Figures,” 8 p.m. Dec. 3; “Just Mercy,” 7 p.m. Dec. 4; “13th,” 2 p.m. Dec. 5; “Death by Delivery,” 7 p.m. Dec. 6; “American Son,” 7 p.m. Dec. 6.

To learn more about the films, see potential discussion questions and find links to the Zoom discussion, go to mtu.instructure.com/courses/1346435.

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