ASTK18294U Political Cinema

Volume 2019/2020

Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 10 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Personal politics, institutional politics, and international politics are popularly represented and understood through the medium of cinema. Analysing the production and construction of political cinema involves studying the cinema aesthetic, political representation, and emotional impact of film.


The course uses the medium of political cinema to study nine central dimensions of contemporary politics: ideology, the environment, the postcolonial, society, political economy, conflict, gender, international politics, and the state. For each dimension political cinema will be interrogated to understand how films act as factually-accurate empirical representations, theoretically-revealing analogous representations, and intellectually-heuristic metaphorical representations.  Using this approach, the course encourages participants to understand how films represent reality (e.g. Gregg, IR on Film, 1998), represent theory (e.g. Weber, IR Theory, 2013), and represent ideas (e.g. Sachleben, World Politics on Screen, 2018). In this respect film does not simply reflect contemporary politics but also constructs them.


The course begins by using Plato’s allegory of the cave to introduce how political cinema helps construct and reinforce ideological ‘common sense’ focusing on films such as The Truman Show, The Matrix, and City of Ember. Environmental politics and the absence of a precautionary approach to climate change examines Tomorrowland, The Day After Tomorrow, and Promised Land. Postcolonial Politics and its repression in western societies is studied through the film series Westworld, The Constant Gardener, and Black Panther. Cosmopolitical society and the culture shifts of local, global, and reactionary politics is approached through Sense8, Babel, and Traffic. International political economy and the financialisation of both the public and the private is looked at through In Time, Margin Call, and The International. Global conflict and the interplay between hegemony, injustice, and violence is explored through Syriana, Lord of War, and Blood Diamonds. Gender politics, the subjugation and exploitation of women, and misogyny is realised through analysing the film series The Handmaid’s Tale, The Whistleblower, and North Country. International Politics, the forgetting of the past, denial of the future, and conservative essentialisation of nation states is interrogated through Arrival, Contact, and Blade Runner. Finally the course concludes by drawing all of these dimensions together to understand how ideology, leadership, and state politics are legitimated through V for Vendetta, 1984, and The Great Dictator.


Preliminary plan:

1.            Plato’s Cave as Political Cinema

2.            Tomorrowland: Critical Social Theory of Planetary Politics

3.            Westworld as Postcolonial Politics

4.            Sense8 Cosmopolitical Society

5.            In Time: International Political Economy

6.            A Syriana of Conflict

7.            Handmaid’s Tale of Gender Relations

8.            Arrival of Normative Power in Planetary Politics

9.            The State of Political Cinema

Learning Outcome

[1] Knowledge and understanding of the discipline of political science

The elective course in ‘Political Cinema’ encourages students to know and understand why political cinema both represents and constructs personal, institutional, and international politics. Students studying this course will become knowledgeable with the concept of ‘The Political’, critical political theories, and interdisciplinary approaches in order to understand how the medium of cinema reflects and represents the discipline of political science.


[2] Practical competence in employment-related activities in political science

The elective course in ‘Political Cinema’ enables students to become competent in employment-related activities that interrogate the extent to which popular culture acts as (i) factually-accurate empirical representations; (ii) theoretically-revealing analogous representations; and (iii) intellectually-heuristic metaphorical representations of politics.


[3] Intellectual and transferable skills in political and social sciences

The elective course in ‘Political Cinema’ helps students develop critical thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration, and communication skills through group-based Active Learning activities.

A detailed list of required readings will be provided during the course.


Beasley, Chris, and Heather Brook (2019) The Cultural Politics of Contemporary Hollywood Film: Power, Culture and Society (MUP).


Cox, Damian, and Michael Levine (2012) Thinking Through Film: Doing Philosophy, Watching Movies (Wiley Blackwell).  


Dodds, Klaus, and Sean Carter (2014), International Politics and Film: Space, Vision, Power (Wallflower Press).


Fraser, Ian (2016) Political Theory and Film (Rowman and Littlefield).


Hamenstädt, Ulrich (2018) The Interplay Between Political Theory and Movies: Bridging Two Worlds (Springer).


Holtmeier, Matthew (2018) Contemporary Political Cinema (Edinburgh University Press).


Kaklamanidou, Betty (2018) The "Disguised" Political Film in Contemporary Hollywood: A Genre's Construction (Bloomsbury).


Kolker, Robert (2018) Politics Goes to the Movies: Hollywood, Europe, and Beyond (Routledge).


Mayer, Sophie (2015) Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema (I. B. Tauris).


Rushton, Richard (2016) The Politics of Hollywood Cinema: Popular Film and Contemporary Political Theory (Palgrave).  


Sachleben, Mark (2018), World Politics on Screen: Understanding International Relations through Popular Culture (University Press of Kentucky).


Saunders, Robert, and Vlad Strukov (eds.) (2018) Popular Geopolitics: Plotting an Evolving Interdiscipline (Routledge).


Shepard, Jim (2017) The Tunnel at the End of the Light: Essays on Movies and Politics (Tin House Books,).


Tzanelli, Rodanthi (2007) The Cinematic Tourist: Explorations in Globalization, Culture and Resistance (Routledge).


Zaniello, Tom (2008) The Cinema of Globalization: a Guide to Films about the New Economic Order (Cornell University Press).


Weber, Cynthia (2013) International Relations Theory: A Critical Introduction, 4th edn. (Routledge).


White, Patricia (2015) Women’s Cinema, World Cinema, Projecting Contemporary Feminisms (Duke University Press).

This elective is mostly aimed at Master’s students, a BA level in political science is therefore highly recommended. International relations, or similar competence, and an interest in understanding political cinema.
This Active Learning elective course highly recommends:
Preparation, Participation, Positive attitude, and Portfolio exam:

Preparation means that the course uses Active Learning pedagogy with a constructive alignment between learning goals, learning activities, and assessment. Students is encouraged to participate in weekly learning activities designed to ensure constructive alignment and must prepare accordingly.

Participation means that students is encouraged to be participating in course-long learning activities and draft assignment writing activities.

Positive attitude means that students is encouraged to constructively participate in the weekly group learning activities which form the core of the course.

Portfolio exam means that the course is passed by submitting two compulsory assignments during the course. The extend of each assignment is as follows:

The extent of the assignment may not exceed: 7.5 ECTS
For one student: 19.200 keystrokes
(8 standard pages)
For two students: 24.000 keystrokes
(10 standard pages)
For three students: 28.800 keystrokes
(12 standard pages)

Students who do not wish to learn through a constructive alignment of learning goals, learning activities, and assessment is not recommended to take this course.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Portfolio exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- For the semester in which the course takes place: Free written assignment

- For the following semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner