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McGillicuddy Humanities Center explores colonization and decolonization in cinema

Named after University of Maine alumni, the Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center works to advance and promote teaching, research and knowledge of the humanities. The center is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and prides itself on helping educate the community to produce more well-rounded members of society. Part of that initiative this year is a new film series with a particular focus on “Cinema of Colonization and Decolonization.” 

A flourishing society requires citizens who are literate, historically informed, ethically engaged, and socially aware. The skills and knowledge developed through research and participation in the humanities are foundational to the economic, cultural, and political strength of our communities,” says the center’s Facebook page. 

Over the course of the academic school year, The McGillicuddy Humanities Center will show six films, two of which have already taken place. Each film is introduced by a presenter of a humanities discipline to provide context and further understanding. The selected films come from France, Africa, Canada, Argentina and the United States. They are shown in the Hill Auditorium in Barrows Hall at 6 p.m. on specific Monday dates.

“Zama” (2017) was the first of the series, played on Oct. 21. Directed by Argentine film director, screenwriter and producer Lucrecia Martel, “Zama” examines life in a late 18th century South American city run over by Spanish colonists. Martel based the film off of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel but adapted it to highlight the voices of marginalized groups such as women and natives.

“Embroiled in a culture of corruption, where nepotism prevails … and favours can be bought and sold with little concern for human welfare, “Zama” is the embittered manifestation of a warped colonialist mentality,” said Maria Delgado’s in her review of “Zama” on the British Film Institute.

The second film showing took place on Nov. 4. “Carol,” directed by American independent film director Todd Haynes, is a modern classic about forbidden love. Released in 2015, the movie explores the cloested lesbian subculture of the 1950s. In a world where evidence of romantic relations with someone of the same sex can be held against a person in court, “Carol” displays the aching reality of being queer in an unforgiving time.

Haynes is well known as a pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement that came to life in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His film “Carol, like “Zama, is a story adapted from its original novel form. The premise of “Carol” lies in the best selling 1952 book “The Price of Salt,” written by Patricia Highsmith, who originally went by the pen name Claire Morgan.

The film does it’s best work in the conveying of emotions while no words are being spoken.

“Haynes allows the gleaming surfaces, meaningful looks and subliminal cigarette smoking do the talking,” said Ann Hornaday in her Washington Post review. “Their outer selves express all that goes unspoken, silenced by the conformist culture that engulfs them.”

“Carol” begins with a scene where two women are seated together in a restaurant. With no prior context, the scenario does not appear in any way out of the ordinary. The audience is then shot back into the past, where a secret love affair blossoms between these two women. A deep understanding of their complex relationship is formed throughout the film, and when the last scene bookends the first, the audience sees it from a whole new perspective. This contrast emphasizes the societal blindness to what can exist between two women before there was any hint of queer acceptance in America.

The last film to be shown during the fall semester is “Before Tomorrow” (2008), scheduled for Nov. 18. Co-directed by native filmmakers and writers Marie-Helene Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu, “Before Tomorrow” follows an Inuit tribe in 1840 as white explorers begin to impose on their isolated way of life. The majority of the tribe gets wiped out by bacterias and viruses brought by the explorers, leaving an elderly woman, her grandson and her longtime friend to fend for themselves.

The New York Times writer Steven Holden describes the film as, “a mystical evocation of the power of Inuit mythology, and how the passing down of ancient wisdom can sustain the human spirit in the direst circumstances.”

The McGillicuddy Humanities Center puts on a number of events throughout the year, including the weekly “Human Beans” supper series that takes place on Tuesdays, as well more presentations, speakers, and performances that aim to widen perspectives and deepen knowledge about the world we live in. To find more information on events and the Center itself, visit their website at


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