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TMA Professor and Alum Create Podcast to Open Conversation on Diversity


TMA professor Benjamin Thevenin strives to help his students be prepared to talk about societal and political issues in constructive ways. (Mario Alcauter/BYU Magazine)

BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts professor Benjamin Thevenin and alumnus Max Johnson create podcast to discuss societal and political issues in constructive ways 

BYU professor Benjamin Thevenin and TMA graduate Max Johnson hoped to open a larger conversation about diversity and issues faced by marginalized communities when they created their podcast "Movies as Mirrors."

"We've been trying as faculty in the media arts program to try to integrate more talk about identity, politics, race, class, gender, and sexuality into our curriculum," said Thevenin. "I think we've made some progress in that area — but we could be doing a much better job of preparing BYU students to engage in effective ways in these conversations."

While Johnson was still an undergraduate, he took many classes from Thevenin and worked on several projects under Thevenin's mentorship. After a while, the two realized they worked well together and that they wanted to take on a project after Johnson's graduation in April 2019.

"I was interested in doing a podcast that would challenge me to not just make qualitative statements about movies," said Johnson. "Qualitative statements are statements like 'yes, no, two thumbs up or how many stars you get.'I wanted to do something that's geared more towards having in-depth discussions about what these movies are actually saying and doing."

In order to more fully open the conversation, Thevenin and Johnson invite a guest to each podcast to talk about a movie of their choosing. Most guests are people from Thevenin's classes, colleagues at BYU and others they know who are passionate about what they think a movie has to say.

"We're not particularly interested in talking about what we have to say about these movies," said Thevenin. "We wanted the podcast to be an opportunity for us to hear what others have to say about their experiences — how the movie resonates with them."

So far, podcast guests have discussed movies such as "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind," "Flower Drum Song" and "The Shape of Water." The movies discussed lend themselves to important conversations about topics like body shame, love, race relations, illness, education, gender roles and domestic abuse.

The name of the podcast, "Movies as Mirrors," was chosen purposefully by Thevenin and Johnson to show that the conversations about societal and political issues they have on the podcast reflect today's realities for many people.

"We realized we wanted the focus to be more on our guests and not so much on us," said Johnson. "We liked the idea of movies reflecting peoples'life experiences."

The duo behind "Movies as Mirrors" hopes that the podcast will reach more people — members of the BYU community and beyond — to inspire healthy conversation about the issues faced by many.

"We don't have a ton of listeners at this point," said Thevenin. "However, I would hope that by presenting this as a podcast — opposed to an undergraduate course — we could influence a bigger part of the community to be thinking about these issues and talking about them in constructive ways."

Episodes are typically about 35 minutes long. The first podcast was on May 7, 2019 and over 10 episodes have been posted since. New episodes are posted once a week. "Movies as Mirrors" is currently available on Spotify, Apple and Google.