The Mediascape Q&A is a series of interviews designed to explore the work of UCLA faculty and graduate students beyond the classroom.
Dr. Stephen Mamber
Matthias Stork: Could you tell us about your academic background? Where did you go to school and what first drew you to studying media, specifically film?
Stephen Mamber: I was an undergraduate at Berkley, where I had a double major in Math and Drama because there wasn’t a film program there yet, but I took a class from Ernest Callenbach, who was the editor of Film Quarterly at the time, and that really affected me greatly. And it occurred to me somewhere in my junior year that film might be something to actually be able to study. I came down here to Los Angeles that summer and took a couple of classes from Howard Suber, and that really struck a chord with me. And from then on I knew I wanted to study film. My timing was good, I guess. This was the late ’60s, early ’70s, and I came down here for my master’s degree and fell in with some interesting people. One of my best friends while I was a graduate student was Paul Schrader, who was a year ahead of me. We went to the American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies. He was in the first-year group of fellows. It was a different kind of place back then. It was at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills and they took 10 people every year. In the second year, partly through his encouragement, I applied and got in. So I was in the group that included Terry Malick and David Lynch and various other people who turned out to be very talented filmmakers. It was an amazing experience then too because they were bringing in every great filmmaker you could imagine. One week it would be Rossellini and the next week it would be Jack Benny, the week after it’d be Alfred Hitchcock, it was like every major name. So I just thought this was heaven and this was what I wanted to do. Continue reading →
The titular planes that tear across the skies in Red Tails (2012), financed and executive produced by George Lucas, were piloted by none other than the Tuskegee Airmen. I once met a Tuskegee Airman. An alumnus of Morehouse College, my alma mater, he was one of a number of luminaries set to receive a lifetime achievement award for his years of service in the community. He was a man whose then-enfeebled condition belied the amazing contribution he and his brethren made during the Second World War.
In our era of ever-present cynicism, it is refreshing to look back at a time when young men were drafted into military service and defended America with a sense of duty. With that being said, it’s difficult to glamorize the theatrical reproduction of these war films behind the guise of a dramatic shift in race relations on the big screen. Incorporating African Americans into the greater American jingoistic narrative does nothing to reconcile our history of institutionalized segregation on film. The war films that are typically thought of as great pictures—Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Saving Private Ryan, just to name a few—manage to display the action and spectacle of war while still recognizing its terribly destructive effect on human beings, but often they fail to examine race in a truly significant way. Despite having an all-black cast, Red Tails shies away from making any sort of real statement about race—or war, for that matter—and instead focuses on delivering an adrenaline-pumping journey through the skies.
The major narrative surrounding the film is George Lucas’s personal struggle to produce the film over the past 23 years. Continue reading →