<< Front page Arts March 12, 2004

Conversation with Professor Monti

Cuckoo: Professor Monti's popular bird poses.

DeShaun and I entered Gloria Monti’s office not knowing what to expect. We had wanted to interview female professers in celebration of Women’s History Month, but had neglected to prepare any questions ahead of time. Monti, in addition to being Italian, is a Cinema Studies professor who specializes in feminist film theory, and we thought she would make an interesting first subject. As DeShaun set up the tape recorder I began a series of bumbling attempts to take a picture of Professor Monti’s cockatoo, Alba, who was curiously ambling toward me. I was about to trustingly let the bird mount my arm when Prof. Monti warned that he might be motivated by my earrings, which I promptly removed. She assured us that Alba was friendly, and DeShaun, whose accessories were apparently less appetizing to the bird, was quick to agree.

Gloria Monti: So tell me about this article. This is a series on Women’s Faculty at Oberlin?

Review: The idea was that this was Women’s History Month and Monday was International Women’s Day...

Gloria Monti: All over the world it’s big, and I teach Feminist Film Theory this year...

R: Right, we thought that had to do with the Arts Section.

G: ...So I walked in [to class] and said “It’s International Woman’s Day” and everyone gave me this look, because they didn’t know what it was. In Italy, for example, that is the day that all the guilty males buy this flower called mimosa, (nothing to do with the drink, it’s this yellow flower), so the guilty males for that one day give this flower to the females (I’m using male and female polemically here) and come March 9 it’s all forgotten. And then some men say, “When is Men’s Day?”

R: That’s every day, right?

G: Right.

R: What do you think about people who say that the cause of feminism is dead and we already have equal rights?

G: Do you remember what Malcolm said? I love this quote of his. He said, “We can’t talk about civil rights when you don’t have human rights.” So what kind of rights are we fighting for? For example, in Feminist Film Theory I only have four students. I think that’s a sign.

R: Maybe if it were offered under Women’s Studies more people who are interested in the subject matter would have known about the class.

G: It wasn’t cross-listed. There was one student from Women’s Studies, a senior, but she left because it was too much cinema. In other words, you really need the knowledge in film [in order to take the class]. So, only four students, one of whom is a male and very brave. But I was very surprised that in 2004 I only get four students. I offered it first at another school about ten years ago and I had about 20, 25 [students]. So, I don’t know if that answers your question but do people now think that we don’t need classes about feminist film criticism because gender-wise we’re equal, so they’re not coming? Or do they not care now because feminism is dead? I don’t know.

R: What do you think about Sophia Coppola being nomiated for an Oscar?

G: Well, Lena (as in Lena Horne) said, “Nepotism never hurt anybody.” But I think that I’m speaking out of terrible envy here. She is a first, right? First [woman] nominated for best director, which she didn’t get. But I’m happy to see her work. I think she does a better job as a director than as an actor in Godfather Part III. But, nepotism or not, I am happy to see her work.

R: Do you think that cinema is a male-dominated field?

G: I would say gender-wise it’s about equal, in terms of sheer math. Now, it’s interesting that in the industry [as opposed to academia] it’s dominated by males. I would say that Hollywood is dominated by males. The independent industry is more of an equal-opportunity field, but see, nobody sees those things. And I don’t consider Sophia Coppola to be an independent at all. She is in the heart of Hollywood. So when I teach Feminist Film Theory the second module is all about independent women filmmakers. And each title costs, in VHS format, about $195, average, because those films are never shown outside of film festivals or university classrooms. They never make it into the mainstream. So these women have to make their money somewhere.

Also, I think that one cannot talk about feminism without talking about race. So my feminist film theory class is really a race class in disguise. And the way I taught it ten years ago it wasn’t at all the way I teach it now. I think towards the mid-’80s feminism and feminist film theory in particular got to a dead end. And then, race came to save the day. Because all the theorizing that was done in academia where there were all these binary oppositions between men and women, you know “men bad, women good,” and there was nowhere to go [from there]. I say that race saved the day because race showed that not all women are created equal. [Because] oppression is not just gender based. Oppression can be based on sexual orientation, class, race... And we never discussed this when I was in college. There were bad men who oppressed good women. Well, it’s not that simple. So I think that the discourse in feminism can no longer be what it was in the ’70s, but it has to branch out into other kinds of oppression. I feel like I’m lecturing.

R: It’s like what Audre Lorde said about how “women” could be used to discuss white women and also mean to encompass all women, but when the problems of black women were discussed they had to talk about “black women” specifically, in a way that they never said “white women.”

G: Well they used to say “Woman” as [if it were] some kind of essence. At least now they say “women.” So I think that there is a future for feminism if feminism can get out of that binary. But, I don’t know, have we reached equality in gender relations so that we can move onto other kinds of inequality? I don’t even think that is the case.

R: Do you think we need to address them all at once?

G: I think there is still a lot of work to be done.



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