The three C’s of cinema: Why college movie nights are our most important form of gathering

Zac Bentz, A&E Reporter

Remember when we used to watch movies with other people?

It feels like an eternity ago that community was still part of our cinematic vocabulary. Back when movie theaters brimmed with eager cinephiles and residence hall lounges served as venues for arthouse snobs to impose their cinematic pretensions on their hallmates, physically gathering around a piece of art was an act akin to taking a hot shower after a stroll on a snowy day. Think back to the smell of popcorn floating through the lounge finally drawing you out of an hours-long studying stupor. Or sitting down in a broken theater chair as the lights dim and the air cools to catch a showing of something mindless after a day of stress and bad news.

But when the hot water was abruptly shut off for a year, we realized just how much we took those hot showers for granted. This semester, as colleges reopened across the country in varying degrees of hybridity, some of us got a small taste of that community back. As an RA, I was able to put on a couple movie nights for my section. I was also able to meet up with friends in my room, setting up chairs six feet apart so we could squint at my laptop screen from a distance and watch something that was never meant to be watched on a fifteen-inch screen. But even with some semblance of normalcy, it obviously wasn’t the same in either instance.

As we enter this period of mass vaccination and begin to adapt to a post-pandemic future, at least here in the United States, movie nights are truly the most important form of gathering we as college students have at our disposal right now. We owe it to each other, and to ourselves, not to take them for granted. There are three main reasons for this — and without further ado, I present to you, “The Three C’s of Cinema.”


This one is perhaps the most obvious. Gathering with your hallmates or housemates for an evening of cinematic indulgence is a time-honored college tradition. It’s a great way to bond over shared interests and form lasting memories. I remember the first movie I watched when I got to college — Matthew Vaughn’s “Stardust.” A few friends and I set it up in the lounge, and I remember it being my first real taste of what it was like to live in a communal space. Folks would walk through the lounge and offer hushed expressions of excitement or recognition, and some even stopped to watch with us. It was the first moment I felt truly and completely here — the first of many rites of passage I would experience during my time as a Whittie.

Furthermore, what better way to reclaim that feeling of togetherness we lost to the pandemic than to gather around a work of collaborative art? As college students, we are blessed with the reality of existing in an inherently communal space. Though it’s also incumbent upon us to make sure we balance meaningful connection with a diligent commitment to public health. So let’s have more movie nights! Not only are they conducive to distancing, but they require neither unmasking nor extensive preparation.


As a predominantly white institution with an overwhelmingly white majority faculty, many classes at Whitman that ostensibly seek to offer nuanced perspectives on issues of intersectional injustice are generally filtered through a lens of privilege and externality. This year alone, I took classes about the intersection of gender, sexuality and race, and the rhetoric of social protest movements, taught by a white man and a white woman respectively. 

While I enjoyed the classes and found the assigned readings valuable, I did not need to pay for a liberal arts education to read beautiful works by queer Black and Latine scholars. Because that’s all those classes entailed. When a professor does not and cannot offer meaningful personal insight on vital aspects of the content and instead structures their class around anonymous breakout rooms that freely provide students with the choice not to engage, what has the potential to become radical remains frustratingly stuck in the realm of the theoretical.

So I turned to films like Agnes Varda’s “Black Panthers” (1968), Spike Lee’s “Get On the Bus” (1996) and other films that act in conversation with systems of power and the communities they oppress simply by virtue of their existence. They act as venues for these communities to tell their own stories on their own terms. They are anything but theoretical.

College is a place to converse, to be inspired, to disrupt and to engage meaningfully with art. And given the prevalence, allure and accessibility of film as a medium, hosting a screening is a great way to get a conversation started. A movie night doesn’t have to be a one-and-done ordeal, nor does it need to end when the credits roll and the lights come back on. Compile a list of films by queer, trans or disabled people of color and start an antiracist film club! Screen something controversial and host a discussion! Use film as a tool to break through the barriers of abstract theory.


Movies are also spaces for protest. Much like Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in 2020 or Berkeley’s People’s Park in 1969, they allow us to envision and construct utopian spaces that are outside the reach of systems of power, at least temporarily. Filmmakers are architects, rhetors, politicians, activists and philosophers of the worlds they create. They can create confrontational art which directly conveys the effects of oppression. They can build new worlds that mirror our own on the surface, but where agency is granted to those who are otherwise denied it. They engage in visibility politics through the most visible of media.

Movies, primarily those produced independent of the Hollywood studio system, are also invaluable tools of coalitional expression and organization. They have inspired social and political movements, they have served as vehicles for revolutionary representation, and they have disrupted the hegemonic reign of the straight, white, able-bodied male in popular media. 

Filmmakers like Gordon Parks and Spike Lee created worlds in which the presence of Blackness was valuable, honest, and kick-ass. Cheryl Dunye and Marlon Riggs explored the intersection of Blackness and queerness with tenderness, humor and heartrending honesty. Films like Jim Sharman’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) went on to become centerpieces of the movement for queer liberation, symbolizing sexual freedom and the tantalizing allure of androgyny. “Rocky Horror was a film that inspired so many people like me simply by existing,” writes Jessica Mason in an article for “The Mary Sue.”

If a film can inspire an ostracized community for generations simply by virtue of its existence, then let’s harness the power of cinema and run with it. As college students in 2021, we are the ones who have the strength to push the world over the edge. The world around us feels like it’s crumbling, but we are on the precipice of something truly revolutionary.

So fire up the projector. Let’s make some noise.