Teaching Recognition, Representation, and Collaboration: A Critical Examination of Documentary Film

From the Series: Ethnocine

Photo by Zau Ring Salaw.

How can using podcasts, documentary film, and discussion encourage learners to understand storytelling’s power over our perceptions of the world and why representation in film matters for addressing injustice? This collaboration between Teaching Tools, Visual and New Media Review, and Ethnocine (a feminist filmmaking collective that produces and promotes innovative, intersectional, and decolonial initiatives) brings about the opportunity to contribute to these critically engaged conversations with students and members of the public alike.

Due to Ethnocine’s emphasis on decolonizing film and the documentary filmmaking industry, this Teaching Tools post offers an opportunity for learners to sharpen their critical thinking skills through analysis of podcasts and documentary films. The following activity pairs Ethnocine's and Rhiza's podcasts with different documentaries to create opportunities for students to think critically about the politics of storytelling through the topics of recognition, representation, and collaboration and to develop ways of applying these critical thinking skills in their everyday lives.

Bad Feminist Making Films is a podcast produced in collaboration with Rhiza Collective that features conversations with feminist filmmakers who are changing the industry. Bridging the academic and filmmaking worlds, our series embraces Roxane Gay’s (2014) idea of the “bad feminist” by acknowledging that we are flawed human beings doing work that is necessarily imperfect, collaborative, and processual. Rather than expecting to have all the answers, we build community with other filmmakers, lift up their personal stories, and reflect together on the mistakes and the hard-earned successes of our work. The BFMF episodes curated for this Screening Room series will focus on strategies for using the podcast as a teaching tool, outlining episode themes and teaching methods that instructors can use to foster dialogue about doing decolonial film work in educational settings.

Classroom Activity

Focused on creating space to discuss topics that contribute to a decolonizing approach, the following classroom activity will expose students to multiple documentary examples, paired with at least one Ethnocine podcast where moderators and filmmakers discuss decolonization movements in documentary film and the film industry. By listening to the perspectives of documentary filmmakers and then watching a select set of documentary features or trailers, students should be able to critically discuss ideas of recognition, representation, and collaboration as they are implemented in film and filmmaking, podcasts, and class discussions.

This classroom activity is framed for use in any undergraduate level course and is ideal for groups of one hundred students or less. Larger groups are possible, but adapting for a larger group requires more planning and managing for breakout groups. This activity is also ideal for members of the public interested in storytelling and decolonizing initiatives within documentary filmmaking.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this classroom activity, students should be able to:

  • Apply critical thinking skills to all documentary films
  • Define the terms recognition, representation, and collaboration and understand their importance within documentary filmmaking
  • Compare and contrast how the preselected documentary films do or do not demonstrate commitments to engaging ideas of recognition, representation, and collaboration

Before Class

Assign this reading:

Hall, Stuart. 2013. “The Work of Representation.” In Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans, and Sean Nixon, 1–47. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Assign one or more of the fifty-minute-long podcasts listed below:

1. Live from San José! (Hosted by Emily Hong, with Tricia Creason-Valencia, Elena Herminia Guzman, Laura Menchaca Ruiz, and Nadia Shihab)

Summary: Bad Feminists Making Films (BFMF) goes on the road for an evening of storytelling with emerging and seasoned feminist filmmakers from across the United States who break down the “how tos” of mounting a decolonial lens onto your camera. Whether it's challenging stereotypes, forging a space for alternative narratives, or digging into solidarity work, we hear from Tricia Creason-Valencia, Elena Herminia Guzman, Laura Menchaca Ruiz, and Nadia Shihab about filmmaking as an act of resilience, love and courage.

2. Embracing Abundance in Business with Reaa Puri (Hosted by Miasarah Lai, with Reaa Puri)

Summary: In this episode, we talk to bad feminist filmmaker Reaa Puri, an award-winning filmmaker, TEDx speaker, and co-founder of Breaktide Productions. Reaa talks about her journey of overcoming imposter syndrome and understanding her worth and value as a filmmaker. She shares how a twist of fate pushed her to overcome a mindset of scarcity and embrace one of abundance both individually and collectively through the work she does with the collective she co-founded, Breaktide. Reaa gets into the nitty-gritty of filmmaking collectives such as deciding on projects, creating a sustainable model, and finding clients that align with collective visions. She ends with practical advice for women filmmakers to embrace their value and empower themselves through collectivity.

3. A Case Study in Decolonial Documentary: Call Her Ganda (Hosted by Emily Hong and Maggie Lemere, with PJ Raval)

Summary: What does it mean to decolonize film not just in theory, but in practice? In episode 2, Maggie and Emily speak with filmmaker PJ Raval, who recently led an all-Filipino directing and producing team to create Call Her Ganda, which tells the story of three women intimately invested in justice for Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman who was brutally murdered by a U.S. Marine; together they galvanize a political uprising, pursue justice and take on hardened histories of U.S. imperialism. We speak with PJ about how he came to realize his responsibility to work on this project, the process of creating a transnational production team with the depth of experience and sensitivity necessary to execute it across borders, and what he learned about U.S.–Philippine colonial history and himself along the way.

Ask students to think about and construct short answers for the following question sets as they listen to the podcast(s) and read the assigned article:

1. Voice and Positionality: Who made the film(s) mentioned in the podcast(s)? What connection does the documentary filmmaker have with the subject matter, and why does it matter?

2. Recognition: Does the filmmaker engage in different perspectives? What are these perspectives and why are they important for the story the filmmaker is telling?

3. Representation: How do the filmmakers discuss their thinking around the representation of diverse perspectives within their films and within the process of making their films?

4. Collaboration: How does the filmmaker approach collaboration? Why does the filmmaker believe collaboration to be important?

During Class

This discussion and sharing section can be adapted in the form of short individual writing reflections, which may be better in larger class sizes, or group discussion boards for students in an asynchronous, online format.

1. Place students into small groups and ask them to share their thoughts on the assigned podcast(s) with one another. What are their first impressions? How did the podcast make you rethink films and documentaries? Take up answers together as a class (10–15 minutes).

2. View at least two documentary trailers, shorts, or full-length features. A list of suggested titles is provided at the end of this activity.

  • Depending on the size of the class and the amount of class time, you may ask students to come to class already having watched the assigned documentaries.
  • Ask each small group to discuss the following questions in relation to each documentary (15–20 minutes)
    • Approaching issues of recognition in the assigned documentary film(s), through what lens does the film approach the subject (e.g., personal, historical, socioeconomic, or others)? From what point of view is the documentary speaking and who is the documentary’s intended audience?
    • Why is this story being told? How are the subjects in the film used to further the story’s message?
    • Reflecting back on the importance of representation in decolonizing documentary film, think about who the dominant voices are in the assigned documentary film(s). What is their connection to the documentary’s subject? How do the main voices influence how you think about the documentary’s subject?
    • Collaboration in documentary filmmaking is important for addressing concerns around voice and perspective. Who made the documentary? What connection does the documentary filmmaker have with the subject matter and why does it matter? How does their relationship with the subject matter impact your viewing of the documentary?
  • Take up answers together as a class (15–20 minutes).

Documentary Resources

List of documentaries of filmmakers within each podcast episode

  • If you assigned “Live from San Jose!,” consider including trailers or full documentaries from podcast guests:
    • Jaddoland (Nadia Shihab): Trailer (1 minute, 4 seconds)
    • Amal’s Garden (Nadia Shihab): Trailer (2 minutes)
    • Changing Boundaries: The History of San Jose (Tricia Creason-Valencia): Trailer (1 minute, 24 seconds) OR Full Feature (1 hour, 18 minutes, 13 seconds)
  • If you assigned “Embracing Abundance in Business,” consider including one trailer from podcast guest:
    • K for Kashmir (Reaa Puri): Full Feature (7 minutes, 56 seconds)
    • Nike—Until We All Win (Reaa Puri): Full Docuseries (4 videos: 59 seconds; 51 seconds; 55 seconds; 56 seconds)
  • If you assigned “A Case Study in Decolonial Documentary: Call Her Ganda,” consider including the trailer from podcast guest:
    • Call Her Ganda (PJ Raval): Trailer (2 minutes, 10 seconds)

Non-exhaustive list of other documentaries to consider

  • 13th (Ava Duvernay): Trailer (2 minutes, 19 seconds) OR Full Feature (1 hour, 40 minutes)
  • A Walk to Beautiful (Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher): Trailer (8 minutes, 43 seconds) OR Full Feature (51 minutes, 40 seconds)
  • American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert): Trailer (2 minutes, 41 seconds)
  • Amussu (Nadir Bouhmouch): Trailer (3 minutes, 25 seconds)
  • Angry Inuk (Alethea Arnaquq-Baril): Trailer (1 minute, 47 seconds) OR Full Feature (44 minutes, 18 seconds)
  • Fire in the Blood (Dylan Mohan Gray): Trailer (2 minutes, 43 seconds)
  • Human Flow (Ai Weiwei): Trailer (2 minutes, 42 seconds)
  • India’s Daughter (Leslee Udwin): Trailer (2 minutes, 54 seconds)
  • Nimmikaage (Michelle Latimer): Full Feature (3 minutes)
  • Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi): Trailer (1 minute, 21 seconds) OR Full Feature (25 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Race: The Power of An Illusion; Episode 3: "The House We Live In" (Llewellyn M. Smith): Trailer (6 minutes, 4 seconds)
  • Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty (Patty Berne): Trailer (1 minute, 27 seconds).
  • The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and an anonymous Indonesian filmmaker): Trailer (2 minutes, 12 seconds)
  • The Great White Hoax (Jeremy Earp): Trailer (3 minutes, 57 seconds)
  • The Work (Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous): Trailer (2 minutes, 1 second)


Through listening, watching, and commenting on decolonizing initiatives within the documentary filmmaking industry, students will learn the importance of creating space to highlight voices of those who continue to be marginalized and discriminated against in academia, the film industry, and everyday life.

Further Reading, Listening, and Watching

Bejarano, Carolina Alonso, Lucia López Juárez, Mirian A. Mijangos García, and Daniel M. Goldstein. 2019. Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social Science. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Ethnocine Collective and Rhiza Collective. "Bad Feminists Making Films: Podcasts and Film Panels." (Various speakers and moderators)

Hall, Stuart. 2013. “The Work of Representation.” In Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans, and Sean Nixon, 1–47. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Hong, Emily, Tricia Creason-Valencia, Elena Herminia Guzman, Laura Menchaca Ruiz, and Nadia Shihab. 2019. “Live from San José!.” Ethnocine Collective and Rhiza Collective (podcast). January 7.

Hong, Emily, Maggie Lemere, and PJ Raval. 2018. “A Case Study in Decolonial Documentary: Call Her Ganda.” Ethnocine Collective and Rhiza Collective (podcast). November 7.

Lai, Miasarah, and Reaa Puri. 2020. “Embracing Abundance in Business with Reaa Puri.” Ethnocine Collective and Rhiza Collective (podcast). January 14.

Parikh, Anar. 2018. "Teaching Podcasts in the Anthropology Classroom." Teaching Tools, Fieldsights, January 16.

Parikh, Anar. 2018. "Podcasts and Pedagogy: Audio in the Anthropology Classroom." AnthroPod, Fieldsights, January 16.

O'Sullivan, Sarah. 2019. "Decolonizing the Classroom: A Conversation with Girish Daswani." Teaching Tools, Fieldsights, April 10.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Weiss, Margot. 2016. "Collaboration." Correspondences, Fieldsights, September 23.


Gay, Roxane. 2014. Bad Feminist: Essays. New York: Harper.