Category Archives: Humanities

When Women Have a Seat at the Table

“I have always understood women to be leaders, to be creative, to be committed, to be problem-solvers, to be diplomats and to be fierce advocates for the well-being of entire communities …. I trust that things are better when women are at the table, and quite frankly, if there are no women at your table, I’m not coming,” says feminist scholar and author Brittney Cooper.

At this year’s Women in Leadership event, the virtual table was full of extraordinary women. Seated with Cooper were astronaut and scientist Kathy Sullivan, news anchor and reporter Maria Hinojosa, and author and journalist Lynn Sherr. Sharing stories of childhood dreams, career challenges, social justice and more, the panel gave insight not just into their own journeys but what they hope for the future of women and girls everywhere. Their messages are inspiring and urge all of us to look at the world through a new lens.

Pull up a chair and watch “Women in Leadership 2021” and be part of the conversation.

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Of Faith and Resilience

Commercial filmmaking often follows promising trends, whether consciously or not, and the result may be a spate of similarly themed movies appearing on the market at roughly the same time. For example, in the 1980s one such trend was the so-called “save the farm” films, in which Hollywood stars struggled valiantly to hold onto scenic family farms. Another short-lived but important trend was “border cinema” that dealt with tensions at the U.S.-Mexico border. When studio-funded these stories were told mostly from the American point of view; The Border (1982) with Jack Nicholson is emblematic of this approach.

Something of an outlier among border movies was Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1983) which, though not a box office hit, was a critical success and has proven to be immensely influential in the decades since its release. Nava tells the story of two siblings who flee Guatemala after the murders of their parents and journey to the north (el norte) along the length of Mexico. Like so many before and after them, Enrique and Rosa dream of finding a new home in the United States free of political violence and persecution. However, their faith and their resilience are tested at every step as challenges mount, leading to what must seem in hindsight an inevitable conclusion.

In interviews co-writer and director Gregory Nava traced the origins of El Norte to his experiences growing up in San Diego in a border family with relatives in Tijuana, Baja California. The young Nava crossed the border several times a week, often wondering who lived in all those cardboard shacks on the Mexican side:

“The border is unique—the only place in the world where an industrialized first-world nation shares the border with a third-world country…on one side are the Tijuana slums, on the other side—San Diego. It’s so graphic! This was the germ of the story.”

In his review Roger Ebert called El Norte “the Grapes of Wrath for our times,” and its impact is undiminished. The film is frequently shown and discussed in high school and college courses that touch on border issues, immigration, indigenous rights, and multiculturalism. In this program moderator Ross Melnick and guests Colin Gunckel and Mirasol Enríquez reflect on the genesis, production, reception, and legacy of the film in the context of both the “border cinema” of the 80s and newly emerging Chicanx filmmaking.

No matter how culturally insightful, no film can linger in the memory unless it speaks directly to audiences. El Norte is first and foremost a profoundly moving story, elevated above mere melodrama by its unblinking devotion to realism, its visual beauty, and the mesmerizing performances of the two leads, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando.

Watch Borders: El Norte.

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Big Tech Critic

With Amazon’s Alexa spying on her owners, a massive data breach masterminded by Cambridge Analytica, and evidence of election interference promulgated by Facebook, tech policy has never had more significant implications for our society and democracy. Goldman School of Public Policy Dean Henry Brady talks with Roger McNamee—noted tech venture capitalist, early mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, and Facebook investor—about how he came to realize the serious damage that Facebook and other social media giants are doing and how he has committed to try to stop them.

Roger McNamee spent a 34-year career investing in Silicon Valley, co-founding Integral Capital Partners, Silver Lake Partners, and Elevation Partners. He was an early investor in Facebook and an advisor to Mark Zuckerberg from 2006 to 2009. Since 2016, Roger has worked to reform the tech industry. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Zucked, Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.

Watch Facebook, Privacy, and Creating Better Tech Policy with Roger McNamee.

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The Future of Cinema

Since its inception in 1885 with the Lumiere Brothers’ public screening of La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon), cinema has been a collective experience, the modern equivalent of gathering around the campfire for storytelling. It continues to shape our perceptions, our attitudes, and the larger culture by providing a sort of shared mythology. However, the COVID-19 pandemic with its social restrictions has altered the ways in which films are delivered to the audience and how we process them, just as the 1918 influenza epidemic affected the nascent film industry of that era.

Scholars believe that there is much to learn by comparing and contrasting the effects of these and other outbreaks on cinema worldwide. In this roundtable discussion by six of those scholars, UC Santa Barbara professors Stephen Groening, Maggie Hennefeld, Brian Jacobson, and Jocelyn Szcepaniak-Gillece examine how the study of pandemics past – most especially the 1918 epidemic – sheds new light on how the current health crisis is reshaping the world of cinema, and whether or not those changes are likely to become permanent. Moderated by Patrice Petro, the conversation addresses such topics as questions of financial risk and exposure in the media industries as the balance of revenue sources shifts; the challenges to the movie theater’s traditional role as public space; and how reliance on streaming services has changed our fundamental understanding of cinema. The participants also explore how fears of viral infection are reshaping the literal and figurative “atmosphere” of moviegoing, since it remains to be seen if audiences (particularly older segments) will return to movie theaters in pre-pandemic numbers.

Finally, the panelists describe various strategies employed by the major studios and film distributors to adapt to changing circumstances. The consensus is that while there will always be a substantial audience of hardcore moviegoers who insist on seeing films on the big screen, the burgeoning popularity of services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney Plus, and others will continue. A pattern has already developed whereby many new releases have a brief theatrical run, after which (and in some cases during the run) they appear on digital platforms. Though initially confined to independent films this release pattern has become increasingly the pandemic-induced norm, and may eventually be limited solely to big budget blockbuster titles as marketing and distribution costs continue to skyrocket.

The specifics of the long-term future of cinema are as yet undetermined, but a close study of historical antecedents may help us to discern its outlines.

Watch Roundtable 1920/2020 – How COVID-19 is Reshaping Cinema.

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Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II

In the midst of World War II ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovsky led a group of scholars who discovered songs written by Jewish Red Army soldiers, refugees, victims, and survivors of Ukrainian ghettos and camps. These were people whose voices are rarely heard in reconstructing history; none were professional writers, poets, or musicians, but nevertheless all were unwillingly at the center of the most important historical event of the 20th century and attempted to make sense of the horrors through music.

The researchers were arrested during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge following the war. The songs they’d collected were thought to be destroyed until discovered in unmarked boxes stored in the archives of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine in the 1990s. On a trip to Ukraine in the early 2000s Yiddish Professor Anna Shternshis first encountered these fragile documents and recognized them as some of the most poignant and historically significant documents of World War II. Many were first-hand, grassroots testimonies of Nazi atrocities against Jews, detailing brutal massacres at Babi Yar and others places in Ukraine. These raw emotional ballads convey pain, despair, hope, humor, courage, resistance, and revenge.

Artist Psoy Korolenko and Professor Shternshis subsequently undertook a remarkable collaboration that aimed to bring the songs to life for the first time in decades. Few of the archival documents had their melodies preserved; most were simply lyrics written on small scraps of paper. Korolenko engaged in “musical archaeology” by analyzing the scarce supplementary notes, contextualizing the lyrics, and employing his prodigious imagination to create or adapt music for the texts. In the UCSD-TV program Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II, Korolenko performs several songs while Professor Shternshis describes the grim context in which they were created.

To help gain wider recognition for the songs a distinguished ensemble of soloists from the worlds of classical, folk and jazz joined with five vocalists and five conservatory-trained instrumentalists to record Korolenko’s adaptations. The result of this three-year long process was the album Yiddish Glory, released in 2018. The album is not just a remarkable musical achievement but also a work of historical and sociological importance. It is a time capsule that reveals how Jewish men, women, and children fought against fascism, strove against all odds to save their families, and in their final moments chose to reveal their hopes and dreams through music.

For the first time since the war the public could hear the voices of Soviet Jews who would otherwise have been lost to history, silenced by Hitler and Stalin.

Watch Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II with Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko.

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