Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim
Cinema Art + Science Chair
debate the merits
On February 15 — after citing a number of colonial, racist and misogynist propagations contained in the movie Skyfall — Columbia College President Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim declared that “there is no place for James Bond or his world at Columbia College Chicago.”
Standing a few feet away, the Chair of the school’s Cinema Art + Science Bruce Sheridan insinuated that the Doctor was committing to a “fallacy.”
Dozens of students, professionals and faculty members witnessed the exchange, which continued for several minutes. Then they cheered.
This was Round 50 of Columbia’s “Cinema Slapdown.”
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO
CINEMA SLAPDOWN | SKYFALL
Taking film to a different level
The Columbia Alumni Association describes the Cinema Slapdown as a “screening of a well known yet controversial film followed by a spirited debate between two brilliant but diametrically opposed combatants.”
The event takes place three to four times per semester (approximately once a month) at Columbia’s Film Row Cinema, a 122 year-old, steel-framed, terra cotta building in the South Loop’s Wabash Arts Corridor.
Assistant Professor Ron Falzone, who founded the Cinema Slapdown and acts as referee during the debates, describes the program as a way to “take it to a different level.”
Skyfall, the feature for February’s engagement, took it indeed.
In his opening remarks after the film, Dr Kim observed that, “minor villains in the Bond universe are always of color and they are always inept.” He went on to sarcastically compliment the film’s portrayal of “homosexual longing as an indicator of psychotic tendencies — not!” and concluded by reminding the audience about “the one black woman in the film” who “needs to spend some time on her knees before the white man and ends up (as) his secretary.”
The multi-cultural, mostly college-aged attendees responded with a round of applause.
Bruce Sheridan, Dr Kim’s combatant, had his work cut out for him.
“Movies must be evaluated by the terms upon which they present themselves,” he insisted. “‘Skyfall,’ like all Bond films, plays out the only way it can… Imperialists always win in their own stories, and to play it any other way would be to fail to tell a James Bond story.”
In the ensuing debate, Dr Kim and Chairman Sheridan investigated the geopolitical history of the British Empire — of which they agreed that Bond is an embodiment — and detailed its abuse toward non-English speaking cultures before ultimately questioning its existence.
When Professor Falzone opened the debate up to the room, the crowd echoed Dr Kim’s negative view of the franchise: the film repackages “all the same cliches;” the British Empire is “still the British Empire;” James Bond is “garbage… really sexy garbage.”
The popularity of Dr. Kim’s opinion was not only the result of his personal beliefs, but also the consequence of the event’s standard operating procedure. Before the evening began, he explained that, “they sort of gave me the privilege of determining my side first.” So he took a “Presidential, thinking-about-our-community position.”
This left Chairman Sheridan with the task of defending a rich, handsome, white Anglo Saxon Protestant who often kills non-whites for a living. The native born New Zealander held the position admirably throughout much of the debate. Then, the subject of the film’s finale set in Scotland gave him a chance to distinguish his professional professorial duty from his personal opinion.
Referencing his Scottish descent, he remarked that, “every empire is an artificial creation made from the bones of the cultures it assimilated or annihilated… It pleases me greatly” that “the landscape of my forefathers is more powerful in this film than the best the empire can muster in its London heart.”
Films that cause a fight
Cinema Slapdown’s founder, Professor Ron Falzone, deliberately chooses films that “cause a fight” because they “have very clear and distinct two sides to them.” While it may appear unfair to certain combatants onstage, he came up with the idea when he himself was stranded on the unpopular side of an argument about a film.
It happened nearly a decade ago when he took part in a debate at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“It was with a medical ethicist and it was about the movie Million Dollar Baby,” he explains. “It is considered a happy ending that (the main character) died after she’d been disabled. I was asked to come in and construct an argument for why that was a necessary action. Half the audience hated me because they were doctors and they thought I was a terrible person and I left the place so excited I couldn’t believe it.”
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