How do stories influence our understanding of politics? What role do state actors play in shaping the cinematic narratives we see on screen? This course will introduce students to the field of political science by placing American and international films in conversation with scholarship on power, politics, and storytelling. Each week we will study a film, read related research, and analyze how one informs our understanding of the other.

For example, to illuminate social science on political machines in urban politics we might watch Street Fight (dir. Marshall Curry, 2005), a documentary about the 2002 mayoral race in Newark between incumbent Sharpe James and challenger Cory Booker (now a Senator representing New Jersey). To shed light on issues of political violence we might watch The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012), a documentary about mass killings in Indonesia.

The course will cover ethnic politics, broadly conceived with a particular focus on social movements, protests, civil disobedience and political violence. Related topics may include immigration, crime and the state, and urban politics. We will consider a range of questions including, how do stories influence our sense of self, community and nation? How do filmmaking techniques (e.g. cinematography, casting, sound design) influence which people and issues become salient? How do aesthetic and narrative choices affect attitudes about the social order and who is deserving of power? Through close readings of films, social science, and media studies scholarship, this course will enable students to study key political science concepts, the institution of media, and how stories make meaning. In particular, the following themes will be addressed: