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November 6, 2023
Crystal Marshall Headshot

Crystal Marshall ('24), a Communication major, conducted an independent study on the inclusion of BIPOC and female filmmakers in the film canon and how to better educate young filmmakers. This research was supported through a College Alumni Society Research Grant.

Supervised by Dr. Perry Johnson and funded by CURF, my independent study investigated the content of the film canon from which young filmmakers are educated to gauge its inclusion of BIPOC and female filmmakers. With these findings, I pushed for a change in how and who we teach in introductory cinema studies courses to build a more inclusive film community and broaden the possibilities of what creative works we can make as our points of reference expand. In addition to a final paper, I created Anti Canon, a communally-curated (with the help of students, scholars, and film fans) online curriculum to be implemented by educators or film newcomers that offers guidelines on how to diversify the material they teach, how to properly attend to the materials they do not have time to teach, and how to differentiate between the films they genuinely enjoy and those they are told they should enjoy.

Over the course of the semester, I was introduced to new films by Black directors that I was not previously aware of, took my first ever research trip, and grew more confident in the questions I was asking as a researcher. As part of my research, I reviewed introductory cinema studies course syllabi from USC, Columbia, and UCLA. In order to do this, I contacted professors at these universities. Although these interactions were brief, it was still an opportunity to interact with other academics who supported my research. I was also able to meet (at least virtually) a friend of my advisor who shares similar research interests to my own from whom I was able to get advice on how to conduct my research and film recommendations that were ultimately included in Anti Canon. Additionally, in the process of curating Anti Canon, I posted an open call for film recommendations that many of my friends and classmates responded to. I was surprised to realize that so many people in my circles share a similar desire for more diverse cinema studies education. Discussing their film recommendations with them was one of the most engaging parts of my research.

Crystal presenting her poster at the Black Doctoral Network's Annual Conference

Take advantage of any opportunities that exist to explore your own curiosities, no matter how strange, because it can be one of the most fulfilling and impactful experiences you have in college and beyond.

On October 20th and 21st, I attended the Black Doctoral Network's 11th annual conference in Atlanta, GA. The theme of this year's conference was "Setting a Legacy: The Impact of Successful Scholarship." The organization is dedicated to supporting and uplifting Black academics across the country, and this conference brought together scholars of various disciplines and years of experience to present their research. I presented my research titled "Race, Gender, and the Contemporary Film Canon" as part of the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition. As my work particularly troubles questions around diversity and education, presenting my work at the conference was an amazing opportunity to receive feedback from educators and fellow students (as well as a surprise Penn alum!).

My independent study transformed the way I viewed myself as a person, a student, and an academic. I previously hesitated to call myself a “researcher” or to refer to the things I produce as my “work,” but, over the course of the semester, I increasingly felt capable of filling these shoes. This project has pushed me further down the path of academia and allowed me to hone in on my areas of interest. So many new questions popped up over the course of the semester that I anticipate exploring in the future, including in my upcoming senior thesis. I have realized that I have greater interest in understanding people’s relationships to film than analyzing the content of films themselves. With this particular insight, I have been better able to identify post-grad plans that actually suit me. - Crystal Marshall

Interested in reading more first-hand accounts about undergraduate research? Check out the other experiences featured on our Student News Page and Social Media!

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