Kathleen A. McHugh’s scholarly interests are generally located where film, media, gender and cultural studies critiques converge. She teaches in the Department of English and the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media. In her first book, American Domesticity: From How-to Manual to Hollywood Melodrama (1999), she considered American film melodrama’s intersectional representations of domestic labor, gender and race. She pursued the transnational implications of these interests in South Korean Golden Age Melodrama: Gender, Genre and National Cinema (2005), co-edited with Nancy Abelmann. Her subsequent essays, "One Cleans, the Other Doesn't" and "Women in Traffic," trace how white femininity functions to obfuscate other social differences — seen in filmic and cultural representations of cleaning in the first instance and automobility in the latter. In her second book, Jane Campion (2007), she explored how the art cinema auteur represented women’s affect, embodiment, agency and sexuality in extremis in colonial, postcolonial, literary and generic contexts.
Other interests include autobiographical and independent cinema, film feminisms, and neurodiversity and genre. In a series of essays published in journals and edited volumes, she used the work of filmmakers such as Cheryl Dunye, William Jones, James Luna, Lourdes Portillo and Rea Tajiri, among others, to rethink the meaning of filmic autobiographical expression in an age of identity politics; and filmmaker Miranda July to critique how independent cinema has been exclusively theorized through white male exemplars. With Vivian Sobchack, she co-edited a special issue of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, writing "Recent Approaches to Film Feminisms" (2004), which debated and updated a now plural approach to media studies. In 2008, she co-edited a special issue of Biography, titled Something Other Than Autobiography: Collaborative Life Narratives in the Americas, that considered filmic and literary texts that diffused the individuated self in politically trenchant and innovatively expressive practices. More recently, she co-edited, with Barbara Klinger, Lisa Coulthard and Tanya Horeck, a special issue of Television & New Media titled Broken Bodies/Inquiring Minds: Women in Contemporary Transnational TV Crime Dramas. She has published on transnational film feminisms, global melodrama, queer experimental and independent cinema, neurodiversity and genre in journals such as Camera Obscura, Cultural Studies, Jump Cut, Screen, South Atlantic Quarterly, Science Fiction Film and Television and Velvet Light Trap.
McHugh is currently researching the representation of disability and sexuality in Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis and the role of neurodiverse protagonists in contemporary media genres. From 2005-2014, she directed the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, expanding its mission, external funding, research and public programs. She has also been active in campus equity, climate and diversity issues as the School of Theater, Film and Television’s first associate dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (2014-16) and the chair of the Department Film, Television and Digital Media (2015-19).
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