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Mr Peter Kirkpatrick

Research project: Revisiting the Past to Convey Messages About Today: Engagement with Social and Political Issues in British and American Cinema of the 2010s

Abstract

The 2010s – an era where social and political issues have been especially prominent, while British and American cinema in particular have been increasingly political, and this has been most prevalent in biopics and historical films. The decade has seen considerable increases in both the number of biopics and historical films produced by these countries, and in the number to engage with relevant social and political issues. For example, depictions of the slavery era and Civil Rights Movement have engaged with debates about the social status of African-Americans, while biopics of impactful women of the 20th Century have explored issues of gender equality within the workplace. Depictions of the Cold War era have reflected contemporary political concerns in America, while conflict-driven narratives portraying mental health issues were released in an era where mental health awareness became a societal discussion point following Robin Williams's suicide and post-Iraq War discussions of PTSD. The recent prevalence of socio-political engagement in these genres merits study as it reflects a new point of development for them which could shape them formally and shape perspectives of them going forward into the 2020s.

Today we live in the digital age, where technology plays its biggest role to date in both day-to-day life and film marketing. Trailers are shared all over social media within hours of going on YouTube, interviews with cast and crew members are on websites within minutes, and thousands of strangers discuss film-related news and content via Twitter trends. All of this can be accessed in a matter of seconds via our smartphones. As well as looking at how British and American biopics and historical films have engaged with political and social issues of the past decade, this PhD thesis will explore how the agendas and intentions of the filmmakers and studios have impacted their use of marketing and promotional tools in an era where technology has created a plethora of new ways in which people can examine marketing materials and engage with online discussions about them. Through this research, this thesis would build upon existing scholarship on biopics and historical films by providing an original contribution to knowledge regarding their social relevance, form and direction through an era-specific focus, while also providing a genre-specific understanding of the impact which social media has had upon the marketing and promotion of film in the digital age.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Revisiting the Past to Convey Messages About Today: Engagement with Social and Political Issues in British and American Cinema of the 2010s
  • Research supervisor: Dr Simon Brown
  • Other research supervisor: Dr Patrick O'Neill

Biography

I studied BA (Hons) Film Studies at the University of Portsmouth, which was where my interest in the social and political relevance of cinema really began to flourish. I wrote on this subject area in relation to a variety of topics, including Mexican cinema, 1950s' science-fiction and contemporary fantasy cinema. When I studied MA Film Studies at Kingston University this subject area became especially prevalent in my work. During my MA, I wrote on it in relation to a plethora of topics, including Italian Neorealism, British cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, contemporary science-fiction, and (as part of my dissertation) the Best Picture nominees at the 89th Academy Awards. My dissertation research shaped my PhD idea the most, as three case studies were biopics or historical films, while my research into how social and political relevance could shape Oscar campaigns helped to shape the marketing angle of my PhD.

Areas of research interest

  • Social and political engagement in cinema
  • Contemporary British and American cinema
  • Biopics and historical films
  • Film history
  • Film marketing in the digital age
  • The Academy Awards

Qualifications

  • MA Film Studies, Kingston University
  • BA (Hons) Film Studies, University of Portsmouth
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