Graduate Programs

Our Graduate Programs are designed for students with research interests in the analysis, histories, and theories of moving image-based visual culture, from the 19th through the 21st centuries. Students work closely with faculty to extend their formal intellectual training and explore film and electronic media as evolving global phenomenon. Advanced training in Film and Media Studies will develop students' scholarly understanding of all forms of the moving image, as well as the artistic, cultural, industrial, philosophical, political, and social implications of these forms.

The Graduate Certificate and MA program emphasize multiple approaches to the academic study of film and media. Graduate alumni have gone on to pursue careers in curating, research, teaching, and other professional activities related to moving image media.

MA & BA/MA Programs


The Program in Film & Media Studies offers a Master’s degree in Film & Media Studies. This program is open to applicants with an undergraduate degree from institutions of higher learning who wish to earn a master’s degree. Students already enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis may wish to consider this program as part of an accelerated A.B./A.M. option. This pro- gram is designed to provide students who are interested in the history, criticism, and theories of moving image-based visual culture, from the 19th through the 21st centuries, an opportunity to extend their formal intellectual training and explore film and electronic media as evolving global phenomena. The degree will advance a student’s scholarly understanding of all forms of the moving image and their artistic, cultural, industrial, philosophical, political, and social implica- tions. In addition to providing knowledge, the degree will emphasize multiple approaches of ac- ademic study of the subject that may lead to curating, researching, teaching, and other profes- sional activities centered on film and other moving image media as key aspects of visual culture centrally implicated in debates about culture and commerce, art and technology, entertainment and ideology.

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MA Requirements

Students must fulfill the basic requirements for the A.M. degree as set forth in the Bulletin of the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences. In addition, A.M candidates must adhere to the course of study described below, which consists of 36 hours of credit (12 courses), and a comprehensive examination. Students entering the program from outside the university should expect to take two years to finish the Master’s degree if they take nine hours per semester, less time if they take more.

Area I: Required Courses (15 hours total)

Visual Analysis

FILM 5501: Advanced Moving Image Analysis and Criticism

Moving Image Theory

FILM 5419 Theories of Mass Media or FILM 5420 Film Theory or FILM 5502 Seminar in Film and Media Theory (rotating topics)

Historiography of the Moving Image

FILM 5421: Film Historiography or FILM 5423 Histories of Media Convergence

Television and Visual Studies

FILM 5503: Seminar in Television Studies (rotating topics) or FILM 5504: Seminar in Digital Studies (rotating topics) or any 5000 level FMS course in television or electronic media.

Cinema and Television beyond the United States

Any 5000 level national, regional, or transnational cinemas or television studies course offered in FMS.

Area II: Electives (18 hours)

In choosing electives, students may select any 5000 level FMS course not used for Area I. In addition, they can select up to six hours in FILM 5000: Independent Study that is in a study area of film and media not ordinarily covered by regular course offerings. Six hours of courses at the 5000 level offered through other departments or programs that are relevant to the degree’s intellectual focus may also be taken to satisfy this area with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies. Sample elective courses offered by FMS include:

FILM 5422: Film Stardom, Performance, and Fan Culture

FILM 5432: Global Art Cinema

FILM 5450: American Film Genres

FILM 5451: American Television Genres

FILM 5452: Advanced Screenwriting

FILM 5529: Seminar in Cultural Theory

FILM 5454: American Film Melodrama and the Gothic

FILM 5456: Soundtrack Studies: Music, Voices, Noise

FILM 5458: Major Film Directors (rotating)

FILM 5460: Taboo: Boundary and Transgression in American Cinema

FILM 5485: Visualizing Orientalism: Art, Cinema, and the Imaginary East, 1850-2000

FILM 5505: Travel in Space: Contemporary Cinemas of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China

Area III: Practicum in Film and Media Studies (3 hours)

Students must complete one course (3 hours) in professional development that brings to bear academic knowledge and skills associated with the study of Film and Media Studies. Every student will present a written proposal/plan to the Director of Graduate Studies and to the faculty mentor/advisor they select for their practicum. Both faculty members must give permission to the plan. The practicum may take a number of forms, but in every case, the experience must be planned in a way that contributes to the student’s professional development. It might consist of work curating films for a screening or mini-festival accompanied by screening notes, a website, or other forms of writing that enhance the academic value of the event. The student might organize a scholarly symposium or lecture to further the understanding of a particular aspect of the moving image at Washington University in St. Louis. The practicum may also consist of archival or curatorial work in film, television, or other forms of the moving image (such as digital art) at an archive, museum, or other non-profit organization (such as a film festival), in which the student will have an on-site supervisor. Students interested in combining primary research with their development as a “public intellectual” might write a book proposal and develop a bibliography in anticipation of writing a book, or they may develop a website with consistent and significant critical, historical, or theoretical usefulness to those interested in film and media studies, such as one that offers critical analyses of current films, bibliographic information addressing one area of research in the field, etc. The practicum student might practice grant application writing. Or, the practicum may be oriented towards teaching, with the creation of a course syllabus and sample lectures delivered by the graduate student in a venue organized by faculty. Students may initiate other projects, but any practicum requires a faculty mentor and in circumstances in which there is a collaborating organization, a letter of endorsement of the practicum from the student’s on-site supervisor at the organization. This supervisor will also provide a letter upon completion of the practicum detailing the student’s work and its quality. The faculty advisor will award the grade for the practicum.

Area IV: Comprehensive Exams

During their final semester of course work, the student takes a comprehensive written examination and meets with the examining committee for an oral defense. The examining committee will consist of the Director of Graduate Studies, and two other faculty members, core or affiliated in FMS. These exams are based on reading and screening lists as well as on coursework. The student must meet expectations for knowledge of the field appropriate for a Master’s degree student in the humanities. Normally, if the student expects a May graduation date, then they must complete their examinations by April 7 of the Spring semester. All coursework should be completed by the end of the semester in which the examination is scheduled. The student should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies in the program to obtain the Master’s degree reading and screening lists.

BA/MA Requirements

Students who are currently seniors at Washington University may apply for this program as a combined BA/MA degree until August 1, 2023 for a Fall 2023 start. Until January 15, 2023, we will be accepting applications from students from other colleges and universities who wish to start the MA in Fall semester 2023. Washington University students who are admitted in the combined BA/MA program may have up to sixteen hours of course credit in film and media studies at the 400 level considered for application to A.M. degree requirements. Students who are not seniors but are interested in considering the combined degree should consult with the Director of FMS, Prof. Ian Bogost or Prof. Colin Burnett, Director of Graduate Studies.

Applied Learning Experiences

The Film & Media Studies Program is committed to preparing graduate students for a wide range of career opportunities through applied learning experiences.  We believe that graduate education should foster a range of skills, including verbal communication, critical judgment, and leadership.  We also believe that a graduate degree in film and media should expand the academic, pedagogical, and media production knowledge acquired in FMS coursework and bring that knowledge to bear on other aspects of film and media culture which interest the student. The graduate practicum encourages our master’s students to become contributing members of the Washington University community as well as of broader film and media communities.  Our master’s students are required to complete a practicum (one course, or 3 credit hours) that may take many forms but which should be relevant to their interests and plans for the future. FMS-based applied learning experiences are intended to provide our master’s students with the skills needed to pursue careers in such fields as academia, education, film curating and programming, publishing, the media industry, and law, among others.

Graduate Certificate

The Program in Film & Media Studies offers a Graduate Certificate for which it is now accepting applications.   This program is designed to provide PhD students with interests in the theories and history of “visual culture” an opportunity to extend their formal intellectual training into one of the 20th and 21st century’s most influential artistic and cultural arenas.   The Graduate Certificate Program in Film & Media Studies assures that graduate students accepted into this program acquire appropriate graduate level knowledge in film and media studies approaches to criticism, history, and theory.  While providing substantial knowledge in the discipline of Film & Media Studies, completion of this program also gives a student a secondary research and instructional specialty and enhances the ability to do interdisciplinary research.  

Fifteen units are required for the Graduate Certificate in Film & Media Studies.  Six of those hours may also count towards the PhD requirements. In employing this overlap, students who earn the Graduate Certificate in Film & Media Studies with their PhD may complete a total of eighty-one units rather than the seventy-two units required for the PhD alone.  Students should check with their doctoral home unit.  Students in the Graduate Certificate Program must fulfill all requirements of the PhD expected by their respective home departments and the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences in order to receive the Certificate.  Students interested in applying for the Graduate Certificate in Film and Media Studies should contact Prof. Gaylyn Studlar.

Selection of Candidates and Admission Criteria

It is recommended that students apply to the Film and Media Studies Certificate Program before the end of their second year of Ph.D. study. Entering Ph.D. students in Graduate Arts & Sciences departments will follow the standard application and advising procedures of their major departments. A student interested in the certificate should discuss that interest with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) of their home unit. FMS recommends that this discussion occur in the first or second year of doctoral study and after at least one course in FMS has been taken. Students should use the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences Application to indicate their interest in the certificate if they wish to be considered for acceptance in the program simultaneous with their entry into graduate school.

If the DGS gives permission for the student to apply, then they should send to the FMS Director of Graduate Studies the following: (1) a letter of interest detailing their reason for applying to the certificate, their qualifications, and how the certificate will enhance their doctoral studies; (2) a writing sample, preferably dealing with a film/media topic of no longer than 25 pages; and (3) a note from the DGS of the home unit indicating approval of the student's application.

If recommended for entrance by FMS, the student is notified to prepare and submit to the Office of Graduate Studies a formed signed by FMS and the home unit that includes a list of courses that the student plans to count in the certificate. When the Office of Graduate Studies gives its approval, the student is formally accepted into the FMS Certificate Program.  When filing their degree plan before graduation, the student also will need to notify the Office of Graduate Studies that they have completed all FMS certificate requirements.

Teaching Opportunities

Graduate certificate students in Film & Media Studies are encouraged but not required to complete at least one semester as a teaching assistant to an undergraduate course within the FMS Program. Advanced FMS graduate certificate students, especially those who are writing a dissertation with film or electronic media content, have the intention of teaching film and media studies in their academic career, and already have significant teaching experience, will be encouraged to develop a lower level undergraduate course in the Program in Film and Media Studies that they might teach on their own during the regular or summer terms. We would encourage the development of a course that might be crosslisted between their home unit and FMS, and all graduate certificate students who teach in film and media studies will be under the mentorship of a FMS faculty member.

Graduate Certificate Requirements

Required courses for the Film and Media Studies Graduate Certificate:

Core Courses (9 credits):

  • Film 5501    Advanced Moving Image Analysis and Criticism  3 credits
  • Film 5421    Film Historiography 3 credits OR
  • Film 5502    Seminar in History of Film and/or Electronic Media (rotating topics)  3 credits

One of the following theory courses is required as part of the core:   

  • L53 5419 Theories of Mass Media  3 credits
  • L53 5420 Film Theory  3 credits
  • L53 5450 American Film Genres (genre theory)  3 credits
  • Any 5000 level course in film or electronic media theory.

FMS Certificate students also have two electives (six units) that may be taken at the 5000 level and developed in an advising plan subject to approval of the FMS advisor and of the Director of Graduate Studies of the student’s home unit:

Two Electives (6 credits):

  • Elective in Film & Media L53 5000 level or higher  3 credits
  • Elective in Film & Media L53 5000 level or higher  3 credits

ELECTIVE:  Courses originating in FMS or crosslisted with FMS, or offered in another unit and approved by the student’s FMS advisor.

A student may choose to take one Independent Study of three credits (L53 500) with an FMS faculty member as an elective.  This study should relate to a specialized topic mutually agreed upon by the student, his/her FMS study advisor and the Chair of the Graduate Certificate Program.  Although students are expected to benefit from elective courses offered by Film & Media Studies core and affiliated faculty, they may take other, film-related courses as may be offered by other departments and by faculty not affiliated with FMS.  To be included in the graduate certificate coursework, classes that fall within this category require approval by the student’s advisor in Film & Media Studies and her their home unit Director of Graduate Studies.

the faculty bookshelf

Technology and the Making of Experimental Film Culture
Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz
Powers of the Real Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan
Hymns for the Fallen; Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam
The Invention of Robert Bresson: the Auteur and his Market
When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film
Have Gun – Will Travel
Who Should Sing 'Ol' Man River'?: The Lives of an American Song
Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema
John Ford Made Westerns
Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster
Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film
This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age
Laughing Screaming : Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy
Reflections in a Male Eye
In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic
Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy

Technology and the Making of Experimental Film Culture

The Bolex camera, 16mm reversal film stocks, commercial film laboratories, and low-budget optical printers were the small-gauge media technologies that provided the infrastructure for experimental filmmaking at the height of its cultural impact. Technology and the Making of Experimental Film Culture examines how the avant-garde embraced these material resources and invested them with meanings and values adjacent to those of semiprofessional film culture.

Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz

Fred Astaire: one of the great jazz artists of the twentieth century? Astaire is best known for his brilliant dancing in the movie musicals of the 1930s, but in Music Makes Me, Todd Decker argues that Astaire’s work as a dancer and choreographer —particularly in the realm of tap dancing—made a significant contribution to the art of jazz. Decker examines the full range of Astaire’s work in filmed and recorded media, from a 1926 recording with George Gershwin to his 1970 blues stylings on television, and analyzes Astaire’s creative relationships with the greats, including George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer. He also highlights Astaire’s collaborations with African American musicians and his work with lesser known professionals—arrangers, musicians, dance directors, and performers.

Powers of the Real Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan

Powers of the Real analyzes the cultural politics of cinema’s persuasive sensory realism in interwar Japan. Examining cultural criticism, art, news media, literature, and film, Diane Wei Lewis shows how representations of women and signifiers of femininity were used to characterize new forms of pleasure and fantasy enabled by consumer culture and technological media. Drawing on a rich variety of sources, she analyzes the role that images of women played in articulating the new expressions of identity, behavior, and affiliation produced by cinema and consumer capitalism. In the process, Lewis traces new discourses on the technological mediation of emotion to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and postquake mass media boom. The earthquake transformed the Japanese film industry and lent urgency to debates surrounding cinema’s ability to reach a mass audience and shape public sentiment, while the rise of consumer culture contributed to alarm over rampant materialism and “feminization.”

Demonstrating how ideas about emotion and sexual difference played a crucial role in popular discourse on cinema’s reach and its sensory-affective powers, Powers of the Real offers new perspectives on media history, the commodification of intimacy and emotion, film realism, and gender politics in the “age of the mass society” in Japan.

Hymns for the Fallen; Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam

In Hymns for the Fallen, Todd Decker listens closely to forty years of Hollywood combat films produced after Vietnam. Ever a noisy genre, post-Vietnam war films have deployed music and sound to place the audience in the midst of battle and to provoke reflection on the experience of combat. Considering landmark movies—such as Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, and American Sniper—as well as lesser-known films, Decker shows how the domain of sound, an experientially rich and culturally resonant aspect of cinema, not only invokes the realities of war, but also shapes the American audience’s engagement with soldiers and veterans as flesh-and-blood representatives of the nation. Hymns for the Fallen explores all three elements of film sound—dialogue, sound effects, music—and considers how expressive and formal choices in the soundtrack have turned the serious war film into a patriotic ritual enacted in the commercial space of the cinema.

The Invention of Robert Bresson: the Auteur and his Market

Challenging the prevailing notion among cinephiles that the auteur is an isolated genius interested primarily in individualism, Colin Burnett positions Robert Bresson as one whose life's work confronts the cultural forces that helped shape it. Regarded as one of film history's most elusive figures, Bresson (1901–1999) carried himself as an auteur long before cultural magazines, like the famed Cahiers du cinéma, advanced the term to describe such directors as Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jean-Luc Godard. In this groundbreaking study, Burnett combines biography with cultural history to uncover the roots of the auteur in the alternative cultural marketplace of midcentury France.

When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film

There was a time when seeing a movie meant more than seeing a film. The theater itself shaped the very perception of events on screen. This multilayered history tells the story of American film through the evolution of theater architecture and the surprisingly varied ways movies were shown, ranging from Edison's 1896 projections to the 1968 Cinerama premiere of Stanley Kubrick's 2001. William Paul matches distinct architectural forms to movie styles, showing how cinema's roots in theater influenced business practices, exhibition strategies, and film technologies.

Have Gun – Will Travel

One of the most successful series of its time, Have Gun—Will Travel became a cultural phenomenon in the late 1950s and made its star, Richard Boone, a nationwide celebrity. The series offered viewers an unusual hero in the mysterious, Shakespeare-spouting gunfighter known only as "Paladin" and garnered a loyal fan base, including a large female following. In Have Gun—Will Travel, film scholar Gaylyn Studlar draws on a remarkably wide range of episodes from the series’ six seasons to show its sophisticated experimentation with many established conventions of the Western.

Who Should Sing 'Ol' Man River'?: The Lives of an American Song

This book tells the almost eighty-year performance history of a great popular song. Examining more than two hundred recorded and filmed versions of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic tune, the book reveals the power of performers to remake one popular song into many different guises. Written for the African American singer Paul Robeson, “Ol’ Man River” enjoyed instant success in the 1927 Broadway musical Show Boat and became a signature song for Robeson, who turned the tune toward his own goals as an activist. Beyond Robeson and Show Boat, “Ol’ Man River” also had a long and rich life in the world of popular music. An astonishing variety of singers and musicians—from pop to jazz, opera to doo‐wop, rhythm and blues to gospel to reggae—all chose to perform or record it. These included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Cher, and Rod Stewart. At the heart of Hammerstein’s lyric is a clear-eyed vision of the black experience in the United States, and performers—black or white—have had to deal with the song’s charged racial content. The book traces this aspect of “Ol’ Man River” through American history, an at-times high-stakes journey where the African American struggle for dignity and equality came down to the lyrics of a popular song.

Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema

In Precocious Charms, Gaylyn Studlar examines how Hollywood presented female stars as young girls or girls on the verge of becoming women. Child stars are part of this study but so too are adult actresses who created motion picture masquerades of youthfulness. Studlar details how Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Jones, and Audrey Hepburn performed girlhood in their films. She charts the multifaceted processes that linked their juvenated star personas to a wide variety of cultural influences, ranging from Victorian sentimental art to New Look fashion, from nineteenth-century children’s literature to post-World War II sexology, and from grand opera to 1930s radio comedy. By moving beyond the general category of “woman,” Precocious Charms leads to a new understanding of the complex pleasures Hollywood created for its audience during the half century when film stars were a major influence on America’s cultural imagination.

John Ford Made Westerns

In John Ford Made Westerns, nine major essays by prominent scholars of Hollywood film situate the sound-era Westerns of John Ford within contemporary critical contexts and regard them from fresh perspectives. These range from examining Ford’s relation to other art forms (most notably literature, painting, and music) to exploring the development of the director’s reputation as a director of Westerns. While giving attention to film style and structure, the volume also treats the ways in which these much-loved films engage with notions of masculinity and gender roles, capitalism and community, as well as racial, sexual, and national identity.

Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster

In 1997, James Cameron’s Titanic, the most expensive and technologically advanced movie ever made, hit theaters. In 13 weeks, it became the highest-grossing film in North America, and shortly thereafter, the first motion picture to earn a billion dollars worldwide.

The cultural studies and film scholars who have contributed 13 essays to this collection ask the key question—Why? What made Titanic such a popular movie? Why has this film become a cultural and film phenomenon? What makes it so fascinating to the film-going public?

Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film

The Sheik. Pépé le Moko. Casablanca. Aladdin. Some of the most popular and frequently discussed titles in movie history are imbued with orientalism, the politically-charged way in which western artists have represented gender, race, and ethnicity in the cultures of North Africa and Asia. This is the first anthology to address and highlight orientalism in film from pre-cinema fascinations with Egyptian culture through the "Whole New World" of Aladdin. Eleven illuminating and well-illustrated essays utilize the insights of interdisciplinary cultural studies, psychoanalysis, feminism, and genre criticism.

This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age

Studlar looks at four major Hollywood male stars of the silent era – Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, and Lon Chaney – to illuminate the cultural, ideological, and historical implications of these stars in relation to contemporary debates over changing sexual and social norms.

Laughing Screaming : Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy

William Paul's exploration of an extremely popular box office genre - the gross-out movie - is the first book to take this lowbrow product seriously. Writing about "movies that embraced the lowest common denominator as an aesthetic principle, movies that critics constantly griped about having to sit through, " Paul examines their unique place in our culture. He focuses on gross-out horror and comedy films of the seventies and eighties - film cycles set in motion by the extraordinary successes of The Exorcist and Animal House. What links these genres together, Paul argues, is their concern with the human body - and all its scatological and sexual aspects. These "films of license, " as Paul calls them, embrace "explicitness as part of their aesthetic." Tracing both of these culturally disreputable subgenres back to older traditions of festive comedy and Grand Guignol, Paul finds their precursors in horror films like The Birds and Night of the Living Dead as well as comedies such as M*A*S*H and Blazing Saddles that were produced under Hollywood's then recently liberalized censorship code. Moving on to mass tastes, Paul asserts that American audiences are "not without powers of discrimination." He argues that gross-out movies challenge social tastes and values, but without the self-consciousness of avant-garde art. Through interpretations of classics by Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, blaxploitation movies, horror films by David Cronenburg and Stanley Kubrick, and comedies starring John Belushi and Bill Murray, Paul establishes gross-out as a true genre - one that "speaks in the voice of festive freedom, uncorrected and unconstrained by the reality principle... aggressive, seeminglyimprovised, and always ambivalent."

Reflections in a Male Eye

In a career that spanned six decades, the legendary John Huston directed 38 films, including The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, Prizzi's Honor, and The Dead, as well as three documentaries on the experience of World War II combat and its aftereffects.

Despite his achievements, Huston's work has often been spurned by movie critics and film scholars. This anthology, the first in-depth study of Huston's films since his death in 1987, challenges the conventional wisdom through a vigorous reassessment of the director's work. Bringing together recent essays, classic pieces by Andrew Sarris and James Agee, as well as two Huston short stories and an interview with the filmmaker, Reflections in a Male Eye explores the ideology of Huston's films, their social and political backdrop, and his vision of the American male.

In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic

In a major revision of feminist-psychoanalytic theories of film pleasure and sexual difference, Studlar's close textual analysis of the six Paramount films directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich probes the source of their visual and psychological complexity.

Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy

In this book, William Paul analyzes the style and social themes of the comic films made in Hollywood by the director, Ernst Lubitsch.


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