November 22, 2022

DAUS Faculty Spotlight: Clinical Professor of Media Studies Chyng-Feng Sun

Chyng-Feng Sun, PhD, a clinical professor of media studies at the NYU SPS Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies (DAUS), has taught and conducted research on popular media representations of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and their cultural and social impacts. The empirical research projects she has designed include large-scale international surveys, qualitative studies of focus groups, and individual interviews. One representative example is a project in which she led a group of international scholars who surveyed 8,000 subjects in nine countries (in the US, Asia, and Europe). So far, 17 peer-reviewed journal articles related to this multilingual survey have been published. She also makes documentary films, which are extensions of her research on media representations and effects. Recently, the Connecticut State Education Resource Center approved plans to move forward with the dissemination of her 2012 documentary film Latinos Beyond Reel to the state’s 250 public high schools.

How did you get involved in Latinos Beyond Reel?
“Latinos” commonly refers to people in the US who were born in, or whose ancestors came from, Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Although they comprise 19% of the US population and are our largest minority group, Latinos have been largely invisible in the media—in both news and entertainment—and when they have been represented, they were mostly negatively portrayed.

I decided to make Latinos Beyond Reel because I needed media materials addressing the problem for my teaching curricula, but I could not find anything appropriate. It is my fourth documentary film and I wrote, co-produced, and co-directed it with Miguel Picker, a Chilean-American filmmaker. My films have always been created by multiracial and multicultural teams. I would not have made the film if I had not been able to work with a co-director of Latin American descent.

Even though the term “Latinx” is now commonly used in higher education settings and has the advantage of including all genders, the Pew Research Center reported that only 23% of the adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term, and a mere 3% say they use it to describe themselves.

How did you connect with the Connecticut school system?
I have no personal connection with the Connecticut school system. In December 2020, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced that beginning in the fall of 2022, the state would require high schools to offer African American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies, becoming the first state in the nation to do so. The Connecticut State Education Resource Center assembled an advisory group and expert review panel to recommend instructional materials for the curriculum. I was informed when the decision was made.

Are you planning the documentary’s dissemination in other states?
Since its release and distribution by Media Education Foundation, Latinos Beyond Reel has appeared on the distributor’s bestselling lists and has been viewed by audiences (particularly college students and teachers) across the country. As an educator, it is particularly exciting to conduct professional development workshops for Connecticut high school teachers on how to use the film to engage students in discussion. At a time when public school curricula are so politicized, and critical race theory is so vilified and misunderstood, I do hope that more states will follow Connecticut’s example to offer similar courses to public school students.

Why is it relevant to our society?
Media help shape our world view and identities. Vilification of Latinos in both entertainment and news media has real-life consequences. I think my film can facilitate open dialogue regardless of one’s race and ethnicity, and it is important to examine one’s identity in relation to others.

What has been the response of audiences who have seen it thus far?
I also heard Latino audiences saying that they always knew about media stereotypes, but my film helped them see the patterns in an objective and “scientific” way. Audiences of other races, particularly Blacks, remarked that they did not realize that Latinos also suffer media racism just like themselves.

From my observations and reports from professors who showed the film in class, the self-identified Latino children in the film (ages 5 to 12) seemed to elicit the strongest emotional impact from the audience. For example, children pinpointed negative Latino characters in cartoons (“bad guys,” stealing cars, etc.), could not remember seeing any heroes/heroines in films that look like them, and expressed hurt and anger when they saw free or popular video games or YouTube videos that depict killing or capturing “illegal aliens.”

What are other projects are you working on?
I am currently working on a project that explores frontline workers’ perceptions of the connection between child sexual abuse and sexual media.

Related Articles