Movies can take us out of ourselves for a couple of hours, but they also can make us look inside ourselves and influence our beliefs about our role in society.
That idea was the inspiration for Dr. Chris McGee’s Citizen 110 course, Social Issues in Film, at Longwood University.
“I had this urge to talk about film as a story or as something reflective of what it means to be a good citizen,” said McGee, professor of children’s literature, whose course is one of many Citizen 110 courses for freshmen that are part of Longwood’s signature Civitae Core Curriculum.
We’re not looking at these issues from the perspective of what’s right and what’s wrong, but rather how people’s beliefs are shaped by the stories they watch.Dr. Chris McGee, professor of children’s literature Tweet This
Students watch a selection of thought-provoking films “reflecting the times” that touch on a variety of social issues, said McGee. “We’re not looking at these issues from the perspective of what’s right and what’s wrong, but rather how people’s beliefs are shaped by the stories they watch.”
In the fall semester, the syllabus included Black Widow, A Quiet Place II, Fast and Furious 9, The Conjuring, In the Heights and The Forever Purge.
“One of the themes we talk about, from the perspective of these films, is how individuals solve problems vs. how communities solve problems. That’s a good way to talk about citizenship,” said McGee. “These films also provide an opportunity to talk about social issues like immigration and the privilege of wealth [The Forever Purge] and feminism [Black Widow].
A lot of what college is about is unpacking the ideas in our heads.Dr. Chris McGee, professor of children’s literature Tweet This
“We discuss why some people are conservative and others liberal. One student I had was a Libertarian. He was so persuasive talking about why owning a gun was so important to him.”
McGee says every film is political—it’s just a matter of how overtly political it is. Take Fast and Furious 9, for example.
“It has a very diverse cast and brings up issues of family, and of the differences between good guys and bad guys. It’s reinforcing our ideas about how we see race and family,” he said.
These themes or stories portrayed in movies “get into our heads,” said McGee. “To be a citizen, we need to think about what stories we have in our head and what we are living by.
“A lot of what college is about is unpacking the ideas in our heads.”
Social Issues in Film is one of the courses under the umbrella of Citizen 110, taken by all freshmen as part of Longwood’s Civitae Core Curriculum. Taught from a variety of perspectives and a diverse range of disciplines, Citizen 110 encourages students to focus on the relationship between individual rights and responsibility to the common good while at the same time building skills in ethical reasoning, critical thinking and public speaking.