Spotlight On: Professor Rashna Richards
What words or phrases do you most overuse? I tend to add “crazy” in front of everything like, “that was crazy good.”
What are your favorite movies? My all-time favorite is Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Mulholland Drive is a recent favorite. I also love film noir, especially The Maltese Falcon.
What’s your guilty pleasure reading? I don’t know about books, but in movies it would have to be cheesy comedies, like Tropic Thunder.
Film Studies Professor Rashna Richards’ academic history encompasses two countries, three fields, and a number of concentrations. Growing up in Bombay, India--“the most westernized and Americanized city in the country”--she became familiar with American culture from afar. English was Professor Richards’ first language, though by the time she entered college, she spoke five languages in all. In high school she studied British and American literature and spent much of her childhood watching old Hollywood films with her father.
As an undergraduate, Professor Richards majored in business and picked up an English minor. Later, she pursued an M.A. in English at the University of Mumbai. The next step for her was to continue her education in the United States. “I knew before I came here that I would spend the rest of my life here,” she says. Once in the States, she got her second M.A. from West Virginia University and began to look for Ph.D. programs. To this point she had been concentrating in the areas of feminism and postcolonialism and planned to earn a Ph.D. in critical theory. When she arrived at the University of Florida, though, she enrolled in a film theory class and fell in love with the field immediately. From there, her path to becoming a film studies professor was clear.
Her work in film centers on the concept of cinephilia, which concerns independent visual aspects of film and explores their relationship to the narrative of a film. Cinephilia as an idea in film theory has been lost, but Professor Richards’ work uses it as a way to create a film history. Curiously, her business major has actually enriched her work in film studies. “[Film] is a lot more contingent than other art forms,” she says. Financial issues can add or take away from the finished product of a movie, creating what she calls “chance moments” in a film, moments of spontaneity that become those visually independent parts of a movie which her work focuses on.
The long and varied career path Professor Richards has undertaken gives her a unique combination of viewpoints. “I see myself as a historian,” she says. With experience in the fields of postcolonialist and feminist literature and 1930s, 40s, and 50s film, not to mention her own transcontinental background, she has become an expert on 20th and 21st century American film, literature, and culture. Her diverse history gives her an interesting perspective on contemporary films like “The Namesake,” which comment on communities of Indian families living in the United States, while also allowing her to reach further into the past and explore the old films she loved as a child. Though she ended up in the field of film, Professor Richards is still greatly influenced by her work in English. She has always been an avid reader, but her extensive study in English gave her a context for the things she was reading. “It gave me a framework in which to look at everything I was already looking at,” she says. That is really the culmination of everything Professor Richards has done – she has become an authoritative voice on what she has lived through and the things she enjoys.