White leads women at the forefront of film studies

White leads women at the forefront of film

When asked about the onset of her career, Professor Patricia White responded, “I went to grad school because I loved two things: women and film.”

White is a Eugene Lang Research Professor and teaches in Film and Media Studies. Some courses she has taught in the past include Feminist Film and Media Studies, Queer Media, and Women and Popular Culture. White earned her Bachelor’s at Yale, and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a PhD in The History of Consciousness. The History of Consciousness at Santa Cruz is an interdisciplinary PhD program that focuses on diversity in academia.  For White, the intersections between feminism and academia are palpable, “I’m really encouraged by feminist campus activism.” She added that it was particularly innate on Swarthmore’s campus.

White is also an active board member of the organization, Women Make Movies — a non-profit network that promotes the work of women in the film industry. She started with Women Make Movies as a programmer, and she has been working with them since. Women Make Movies was established in 1972 to combat the underrepresentation of women in media and originally began as a training program. It currently focuses on promoting and distributing films by women and women of color in particularly.  Women Make Movies has also sponsored the work of Swarthmore alumni like Dawn Porter ’88, a documentarian who recently made Trapped, a documentary which focuses on the legal fight to keep reproductive clinics open.

Access is a topic that White focuses on in many of her classes. Addressing the underrepresentation of women in the production of films motivates White’s work both as a teacher and with Women Make Movies.

“That kind of work is very interesting to me,” White noted. “Creating a network of support for an independent documentary which is amazing but didn’t have enough public funding to be sustainable.”

“There are many points of entry,” White said. “The ones that are the most strongly guarded are the one’s with the most prestige, like director for example.” White added that a way to challenge this structure would be to open up more networks devoted to women. “We need to infiltrate the decision making places, and I think young people have that vigilance. My advice would be to call in all the connections you have because men have been doing it for years.”

White believes the landscape of production is changing. At one point in her teaching career, she would begin a class by asking students how many films by women they had seen, and more often than not, students would be silent. Now because of the increase of women in film, White has amended that question to ask what was the last film they had seen. White stressed that there is still a huge imbalance.

She also mentioned that there are changes in feminism, especially in conglomeration with the Internet. White noted that there is a huge difference between first wave feminism and the more inclusive feminism of today. Through all of this White says it is important to recognize the distinction between critical analysis and what she calls a “thumbs up, thumbs down” analysis. A new question White is excited to explore with her students has been: Is there a Feminist Internet, and what does it look like?

Last fall, in her course called Feminist Film and Media Studies, White assigned a Wikipedia editing project to her students.  Each of them was asked to select one or two Wikipedia pages — ones that related to a feminist film, a woman in the industry, some feminist theory on film and media, or anything else related to the course — and to edit or add to the page.  The assignment was part of a larger effort by the Wikipedia community to increase the representation of women within the online encyclopedia. White uses her curriculum to learn about the current landscape of feminism from her students points of view.

“Thankfully, I have a steady supply of 18 to 22 year olds,” she smiled.

White describes herself as a second generation feminist and remembers the technological media she used to interpret feminist art.

“In college, I would have weekly screenings, and I mean this was pre-VHS. We would watch movies all by women directors — It was really fun,” White remembered.

One of White’s favorite movies to teach is Jeanne Dielman directed by the recently deceased Chantal Akerman. Jeanne Dielman is a four-hour long movie showing a woman’s life as she does housework. The film was highly celebrated by feminist film critics and theorists for the way it intimately and carefully portrayed the life of a woman within her home.

“I can’t seperate watching it from teaching it,” White said of the movie, “It is always so meaningful, and I think there’s something about it everyone can identify with. The movie shows what the form of cinema can tell us about how an experience feels– that to me is perfect. It moves people.”

White has authored several books including Women’s Cinema/World Cinema: Projecting Contemporary Feminisms as well as Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability.

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