Seeing Film Textually

When students think of text in a classroom, they tend to think of pages of paper filled with words that intertwine together to make a story. Many teachers stick to the traditional way of providing students with novels to teach a unit on a particular topic and then use a film as a complimentary piece to add visualization to the text that the students already read. Instead of using it as complimentary pieces, teachers should begin using film as a non-traditional base text in the classroom. Film not only helps students focus on the writing of text, but it allows teachers to instruct students on cultural representations, visual aspects that play into a textual analysis of a film, and it allows complimentary texts that relate to the film connect to real world events.

            Film portrays cultural representations in many ways. It uses sounds, acting, and visual settings to show the audience time period, social class, and other aspects of the particular culture seen in the film. The popular film The Hunger Games portrayed a future society in which different cultures were broken down by certain divisions. Using this film as a text, a teacher could inform students of how the society in the film has divided the various peoples which forces students to think about their own world and how today’s culture is broken down or separated. Though a traditional text does include dialogue in its pages, film is able to use dialogue to represent social structures. The speech of a character in a film can be heard and students can critically think about where these characters come from. Is he or she from a high class or low class? Is this person educated? A character’s speech is not heard through a traditional text, so students are not able to determine what cultural or social background a character derives from without being directly told.

            Visuals can be broken down and analyzed just as any text can be. Many may think that the method in which a traditional and non-traditional text is analyzed is vastly different but looking deeper into the methods used, it can be seen that the methods are quite similar. In both books and films, a student can analyze the representation of characters, the meaning of the setting, and the theme in which the author/director is trying to portray throughout the text or in a particular moment within a chapter. Just like a novel, films contain conflicts, rising action, and an overall plot. These traits, which are traditionally linked to traditional texts used in the classroom, are also present and able to be analyzed within a specific unit or lesson. The background knowledge that will be used to analyze a film is definitely different but if a teacher effectively teaches students about the aspects, such as camera angle, acting, and sound, students will become well equipped to watch a movie and break down the specific parts of it just as he or she would a traditional text.

            Many teachers use complimentary texts to support the main text of a unit. Typically film is used as a supporting text to show students how a director has adapted a novel into a visual representation. When using film as a base text, teachers can also find complimentary texts to provide students with a critical analysis of what he or she just saw. Using The Hunger Games as a base film of a unit, a teacher may be able to find articles linked to the movie and how the director portrayed it. Just as a critic would write a journal article on a novel, he or should could write one for a film. When The Hunger Games was first released in theatres, there was a controversy over the representation of a character. Amanda Stenberg, the African American teen who played the character Rue, was openly criticized for her role in the movie as soon as the movie was released into theatres. She was not criticized for her acting skills or her portrayal of the character; she was criticized because she was a black female playing the role. The controversy originated on Twitter with various account holders stating in limited characters, “Call me a racist, but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”(@JashPerparas), “Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie” (@maggie_mcd11), and “Cinna and Rue weren’t supposed to be black” (@mari).  The use of modern media along with the film can help to teach a lesson on diversity to the students. By seeing a real-life modern representation of diversity within society will help students to relate back to a film that he or she may have enjoyed. Many traditional texts do not have these resources readily available such as this film and other films do have.

            As a current college student and future teacher, I have witnessed the use of many traditional texts to teach a lesson/unit, and I have also observed teachers using film as the base text for a different type of lesson. In these observations, it became apparent that students seemed more intrigued in the analysis of a film than they were a traditional text. Going forward after these film based lessons, students seemed to enter into another lesson that was novel based with more enthusiasm and background knowledge to analyze the traditional text. Though film requires different background knowledge for its analysis, the benefits that come from using a film as the base text for a lesson are quite unique. Teachers will be able to instruct cultural representations and how they are portrayed within a film, visual analysis in connection to cultural analysis, and how complimentary texts that parallel the film connect to real world issues.


Iesha T.

English Teacher Against the Red Pen

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