Student Spotlight: Sora Hong

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Name: Sora Hong
Major: Cinema & Media Studies and English Class of 2020
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Favorite Film: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

When did you know that you wanted to major in CMS?

It was all serendipity. My first quarter at UW, I crash-landed in Yuta Kaminishi’s class on post-1945 Japanese documentary. I’d never studied film before. There were about thirty of us crammed into that tiny classroom with these decrepit little chair-desks, and the weather that quarter was dreadful. We’d march in all soggy and drip all over those terrible desks until Kaminishi Sensei put on our film for the day. The films would completely transform the atmosphere of the room. The simple act of projection would make the space seem huge and the desks feel plush. We’d watch Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), or Goodbye CP (1972), or footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and my clothes would take two hours to dry and I wouldn’t even notice, I was so sucked into the films, the discussions, and the history lessons. I wanted to major in CMS after that, but I wasn’t brave enough to declare until junior year, when I’d finished most of my English classes and knew I could pull another major off.

What do you like most about the program?

I love how our program is an interdisciplinary jamboree. Like, you can’t study the origins of film without studying D.W. Griffith, but you can’t study his work without studying Birth of a Nation, and you can’t even begin to approach that movie without extensively studying the history of American slavery. Plus, you can’t talk effectively about any of that without getting into philosophy of ethics and representation — like, is it even ethical to uphold Griffith as a “founding father” of film? Why don’t we spend more time on filmmakers of color from the silent era instead, like Oscar Micheaux? Is it responsible to show Birth of a Nation in our current political climate? To what extent does showing a film influence and indoctrinate the viewer? And so on, so on, so on…

That’s my favorite part of the program: that interdisciplinary rabbit hole you go down every time you view something new. All of my professors work very hard to present films in multiple contexts and give us an interdisciplinary approach. They continuously push us down those rabbit holes. I’m immensely grateful for that.

As a double major of CMS and English, how do you see the two majors relating with one another? Do you have a particular focus you want to pursue with both majors?

Literature and film feed on each other. You need one to understand and appreciate the other. Film borrows archetypes and narratives from literature, and literature borrows archetypes and symbolism from film. For example, last quarter I had to analyze Brian's Song (1971), which is a horrendous made-for-TV movie about two dudes in an epic interracial football bromance. I applied Leslie Fiedler’s theory about frontier literature (the “Sacred Marriage of Males”) to Brian's Song, and it let me peel back all the shoulder pads, the helmets, and the slow-mo workout scenes to reveal the homoerotic race politics underneath. That was a terrible example, and Brian’s Song is a dumpster fire of a movie, but literature and film need each other. They’re totally codependent.

My focus in both majors is racial surrealism: surrealism used to expose and deconstruct facets of race otherwise hard to articulate. Some examples are Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, or Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (2018). Race as a concept is surreal; it manifests as irrational acts of juxtaposition, shows up in bizarre places, and has real-life consequences even though it’s entirely socially constructed. As a person of color, and especially as a biracial person, I have a lot of surreal racial experiences I need to unpack. Film and literature give me the space and the tools to pick bewildering racial realities apart.

With all classes going online this quarter, how have you been managing course work? Do you see any benefits of classes being online? What are some aspects of the classroom/campus that you miss?

I have a pretty rigid study routine, so I’m managing course work the same as I always do. One benefit of online classes is the ability to snack and lounge unimpeded. It makes it easier to take care of myself. When I’m hungry, I can turn off my mic and eat. I don’t have to worry if the food-smells are bothering my neighbor, or if my bag of chips is crinkling too loud. When I’m tired, I can take my laptop to my bed and listen to lectures horizontally. I have the freedom to listen to my body and do whatever it needs, without missing a minute of class.  It’s ironic, but I’m healthier than ever this quarter.

I really miss walking around campus. For the past four years, I’ve been plotting my route to class according to the seasonal scenery. If this were a normal quarter, I’d be taking a detour past Savery Hall every morning to smell the jasmine bushes, since they’re in bloom right now. I’m bummed that I’m graduating without smelling that jasmine again.

Picked up any new hobbies with all this time at home? New films you have seen or books you have read that you would recommend?

Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been making tiny creatures out of clay. Modernity has been excruciating lately and it’s nice to get a little prehistoric. I’ve also been making huge pots of stew for my friends, baking sugar cookies, playing Animal Crossing, and reading comic books.

For a film recommendation, I recommend Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942), which is a horror-noir about a beautiful Serbian werepanther named Irena who wants to eat her human fiancé. A book recommendation would have to be Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy. It’s an anti-imperialist space opera starring the artificial intelligence of a thousand-year-old spaceship.

Do you have any plans for after graduation?

I’m moving into a lovely house with some dear friends, and I’m applying to grad school this winter. I want to study allegorical mixed-race narratives in literature and film. I also want to make a surrealist film about being biracial in America. My long-term goal is to get into the publishing industry and become an editor. I want to be paid to rearrange commas.

Advice for new CMS majors?

Take English classes. Ask grad students about their research. Don’t be afraid to double major. Arrive at SIFF screenings early, because the seats fill up fast. If you want to blend into a crowd full of film students, wear a tight black turtleneck.