How teaching film inspired a UChicago scholar to bridge media and legal studies

From George Floyd to Laquan McDonald, video evidence has galvanized public reaction to recent cases of police brutality. For University of Chicago researcher Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky, representations of the police have also become an important subject of interdisciplinary study. As part of her new book project, she will explore how resources specific to the discipline of film and media studies can also inform case law.

As a scholar of film and media, Skvirsky thinks a great deal about the evidentiary status of lens-based photographic recordings and the nature of point of view in moving image media. She hopes to bring some of the considerable theoretical knowledge that has been developed in film and media studies on the subject of point of view to legal discourses on body and dash cams, as well as on the practices of citizen-based filming.

“My hope is to develop a scholarship that can act as a bridge between film and media studies and legal studies,” she said.

His efforts resulted in a Mellon New Directions Scholarship, which seeks scholars whose research interests include formal training in a different discipline. Each year, only a dozen researchers across the country receive this prestigious scholarship. As part of this award, Skvirsky will receive $291,000 from the Mellon Foundation over the next four years or so.

“I wanted a systematic understanding of how the legal system handles audio-visual evidence, both historically and now, with the vastly increased importance of the media in indictments, prosecutions and plea deals,” Skvirsky said, associate professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies. “I need formal legal training to make my scholarship more specific and thorough.”


For her law studies, she plans to take courses at the University of Chicago Law School; enroll in the “Visual Persuasion in the Law” course taught by Professor Richard K. Sherwin at New York Law School; and participate in Visual Law Project workshops and lectures at Yale Law School, which trains students in visual advocacy.

“At the heart of Salomé’s proposal is a study of the multiple forms of moving image media around the police today,” said Professor Daniel Morgan, director of the Department of Film and Media Studies. . “Gaining a background in legal studies will allow Salomé to speak to jurists, show them how to think carefully and critically about images, while introducing an important body of discussion of evidence into debates within film studies. and the media.

“The legal training she is acquiring will make her work absolutely central to today’s political world.”

In addition to the Mellon Fellowship, Skvirsky also recently received the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Fellowship of $35,000 in support of the “Filming the Police Project.” Howard Fellowship recipients are selected from applicants who are early-career faculty.

A UChicago faculty member since 2015, Skvirsky shared that her colleagues and students have pushed her to be the best version of herself and encouraged her to rethink the taken-for-granted premises on which many scholarships depend.

Its 2020 publication, The process genre: cinema and the aesthetics of work, received the 2021 “Best First Book” award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies; it was also a finalist in the “Media and Cultural Studies” category of the 2021 PROSE Book Awards presented by the Association of American Publishers, and it was shortlisted for the 2021 Krasna-Krausz Moving Image Book Award.

“What marks the work of Salomé, particularly in The kind of process, that’s how she takes an initial observation or argument and then tackles it with the utmost seriousness and intellectual integrity,” said Morgan, who also serves as her mentor. “This book began with his astute observation of many key film sequences of new Latin American cinema that show the working process, the step-by-step assembly or construction of objects, whether artisanal or industrial. From there, Salomé expanded to make sense of the widespread fascination filmmakers, critics, and viewers had with such process imagery. The result is an extraordinary study that deftly oscillates between aesthetics and politics, materiality and form, cultural theory and visual analysis. It is a unique and vital book.

“The Mellon New Directions Fellowship will help me deepen my understanding of case law and how to do legal research,” Skvirsky said.

About Debra D. Johnson

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