Film and Discussion: A Series to Share Perspectives

By Tanya Thompson ’14, graduate student, SUNY Empire State College

April 29, 2015

Layla Abdullah-Polous fields questions during a film screening at Long Island CenterEngaging in dialogue and generating connections with fellow students is essential to enhancing one’s collegiate experience. The main objective of SUNY Empire State College student groups is to facilitate discussion and support between independent learning students, who are often isolated from one another. In an effort to foster appreciation for and stimulate conversations about the diverse experiences of the college’s students, Forty Plus and Fabulous, Minority Students in Action, ESC Education for All, and The Black Male Initiative, collaborated and developed a series of films. After each film screening, the audience will engage in discussions meant to stimulate interaction.

The series was developed by Forty Plus and Fabulous president Tanya Thompson and Minority Students in Action president Layla Abdullah-Poulos. Each cited a need for students to converge and share experiences and perspectives as the reason for the series. “We initiated the series to open students up to multicultural aspects of life and history that they might not have previously been exposed to. Film is a great way to do this,” Thompson said. “It is so easy for independent learners to isolate themselves from their fellow students,” explains Abdullah-Poulos. “These films give us all an opportunity to become more familiar with one another and realize our commonalities.”

The first film presented was Django Unchained at the Manhattan Location during Black History Month. Participants were treated to popcorn, candy and a light dinner to enjoy during the screening. After the film, Abdullah-Poulos led an analytical discussion. The audience provided a variety of socio-cultural, economic and political interpretations of the film’s content. “There was an amazing amount of energy in the room,” Abdullah-Poulos explained. “Students, faculty and staff all contributed thought-provoking analyses. No one wanted the conversation to end.”

The after-film discussion at the second screening had similar vibrancy. In honor of Women’s History Month, the next film in the series was Daughters of the Dust. The film was the first theatrical release written and directed by an African-American woman. Student Marie Bellanton mentioned her ability to identify the film with her own cultural roots. “It was all about family, choices and sacrifices” said Bellanton.

Omar Richards, vice president of the Black Male Initiative and co-chair of ESC Education for All, said, “The movie and discussion were thought-provoking.”

The student groups are planning to have more films and discussions. “It is a great way for students to socialize and hone the analytical skills they learn during their studies here at SUNY Empire,” Abdullah-Poulos said. Future films will include both documentaries and theatrical works that convey varied social experiences. Thompson anticipates further successful execution of future events. “Students learn and are entertained at the same time. The series is starting off well and I expect it to be embraced even more over time.”

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