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    Still from Fem Crit: Experimental Works for Educational Environments (Lisa Hayes, et al., 2005). Used with permission from Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.


  issue 3.2 |  

Journal Issue 3.2
Fall 2011
Edited by Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, Agatha Beins, Karen Alexander and Deanna Utroske
Editorial Assistants: A.J. Barks and Anna Zailik


A Touch of Greatness. Leslie Sullivan. New York: First Run Features, 2004.
Fem Crit: Experimental Works for Educational Environments. Directed by Lisa Hayes, Dawn Wilkinson, Sara Halprin, Kay Armatage, Helen Lee, Lisa Morse, and Melissa Levin. Toronto: Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, 2005.

Reviewed by Mel Michelle Lewis


Critical performative pedagogies use the body as a medium for teaching and learning in ways that emphasize action and imagine new ways to bring research to life with media and performance.1 Both films reviewed here present opportunities to observe and practice performative pedagogical projects.
          With limitless expectations for his students, Albert Cullum's pedagogical project employed performance and active learning. A Touch of Greatness (54 min.) presents original 1960s footage of Cullum's classes and is narrated, in part, by the young students themselves.
          As viewers of this deeply engaging film, we become one of the students on the playground, "swimming" down the Mississippi River, and we imagine our fifth-grade selves as Julius Caesar, Lady Macbeth, Hamlet, and St. Joan. We become witness to the true curiosity, comprehension, and greatness of students as they authentically and honestly portray deeply emotional Shakespearean characters and consider literary classics from a fifth-grade perspective.
     In addition to interview clips of Cullum, segments from a class reunion are interwoven into the film. As adults, former students reminisce about the impact of feeling loved by their classmates and teacher and about the ways in which performance and play inspired feelings of empowerment, revealing how deeply Cullum's pedagogical practices influenced his students.
        A Touch of Greatness has multiple classroom applications: It can be analyzed as a case study of feminist pedagogies that value the development of classroom community and reject conceptions of the mind/body split in the classroom.2 It may complement feminist texts that explore ways of knowing and feminist epistemologies. It is also appropriate for graduate-level courses in feminist pedagogy; instructors could likewise adapt some of Cullum's projects and performative practices for undergraduate women's and gender studies students. Because performance studies examines what happens to the bodies of teachers and students in the classroom and explores how getting to know others as human beings "necessarily involves an embodied response to the human condition,"3 this film is a useful complement to feminist inquiries into performance studies pedagogies and their emphasis on enactment and experiential learning.
     Fem Crit: Experimental Works for Educational Environments (60 min.) is a collection of seven short films with diverse narratives drawn together thematically by perspectives on bodies and identities. Using multiple methods, including storytelling, paint-on-glass animation, and performance, this film inspires creative critical thinking and templates for imaginative projects. I have identified two pedagogical approaches instructors can pair with a showing of this film: "performing the text" and the "performance of critique."
     First, by highlighting the multiple modes of production and inquiry shown in Fem Crit, instructors could direct students to conceive of their own film-based, visual, or performance-based projects. Through dramatic reading and archival footage, Women Are Not Little Men (1998) critiques and "performs the text" of a 1950s training manual that lays out the accommodations necessary for integrating frail, emotional, and inexperienced women into the factory work force. Dandelions (1995) also performs an inquiry into identity and nation, as a Black woman troubles the boundaries between national identity, whiteness, and belonging. Furthermore, the film Pustulations (2002) uses painting and animation to bring skin blemishes to life. These films may motivate students to think about how to perform or illustrate course texts and ideas, moving them off the written page.
     Fem Crit also illustrates multiple "performances of critique," providing examples of oral, visual, and musical responses to a myriad of issues. The artfully crafted Sally's Beauty Spot (1999) is a very personal narrative about beauty, shame, and imperfection that analyzes the role of racialization in constructing sexual tropes. I Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses (2002) contests the idea of visibility, as we see dykes in varying states of camera focus play with their eyeglasses for the camera. Similarly, Keltie's Beard (1983) and Speakbody (1980) utilize story telling and personal narrative to examine beauty standards, pregnancy, and abortion. These shorts allow students to engage with experiential knowledge and model the practice of performing personal narrative as a political act. When paired with readings about the body, issues of racialization, beauty myths, and sexuality, this film serves as a model for finding voice as a mode of analysis, and provides a framework for considering and articulating multiple perspectives on a particular issue.


Mel Michelle Lewis ( is a doctoral candidate in Women's Studies at the University of Maryland and the author of "Body of Knowledge: Black Queer Feminist Pedagogy, Praxis, and Embodied Text" Journal of Lesbian Studies 15, no. 1 (2011) and "Pedagogy and the Sista' Professor': Teaching Black Queer Feminist Studies," in Sexualities in Education: A Reader, ed. Erica Meiners and Therese Quinn (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).

1 Elyse Lamm Pineau, "Critical Performative Pedagogy: Fleshing Out the Politics of Liberatory Educaiton," in Teaching Performance Studies, ed. Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), 41-54.

2 bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress (Boston: South End Press, 2000), 193.

3 Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer, "Introduction: The Power of Transformation in Performance Studies Pedagogy," in Teaching Performance Studies (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), 3.

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