Concordia researcher Desirée de Jesus, PhD 17, had many women heroes growing up. “The first person who comes to mind is my grandmother,” says de Jesus. “She didn’t have the opportunity to continue her education past the elementary school level. But she loved learning and reading and introduced me to the library when I was very young.”
Today, de Jesus is the recipient of various scholarships — notably the Bourse d’études Hydro-Québec de l’Université Concordia and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship. She is one of the 10 PhD candidates in Concordia’s first cohort of Public Scholars.
In March, she discussed her doctoral research at a Concordia’s TOL event featuring the 10 Public Scholars. “I talked about why it is essential we have more diverse and inclusive representation on screen and behind-the-scenes in film,” de Jesus explains. “It’s important for people to see themselves reflected in cinema and for us to see the possibilities of what we can become.”
De Jesus’s research focuses on films about girls who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, or who have experienced poverty. One of things she noticed since the start of the 21st century is that there are an exceptional number of films about girls in crisis — for example, Thirteen (2003), Hounddog (2007) and Winter’s Bone (2010). “My research shows that in films where they are depicted as at-risk, they are not shown just as victims but increasingly as taking charge of their own stories,” De Jesus says.
In January 2017, De Jesus designed and taught an undergraduate film course in the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema called Girlhood in Contemporary Cinema. She also started a series of video essays about the films she has been researching. “One of the more interesting classes dealt with sexuality and expressions of girls’ sexuality — conversations about how girls must be experienced but also virgins,” she says. “Students said the course changed the way they view film and themselves.”
De Jesus credits Concordia for not only giving her an opportunity to teach a course, but also for selecting her as the only Faculty of Fine Arts PhD candidate in the Public Scholars program. “The grants and awards have eased the burden and allowed me to fully focus on my research. To have Concordia stand behind my research and invest in me has been wonderful.”
Ultimately, de Jesus hopes her research will have a wider societal impact, much like the work of her inspiration — celebrated American filmmaker Ava Marie DuVernay. At the 2015 Oscars, DuVernay became the first Black female director to have her film, Selma, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Two years later, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th.
“DuVernay makes diversity and inclusion a conversation that involves everybody, and I find that really inspiring,” says de Jesus. “My work takes an inclusive approach too.” As her Public Scholars year winds down, she adds, “This is a very exciting time for me. All these avenues have opened up and I will have to make some very important decisions in the coming days and weeks ahead.”
—Richard Burnett, BA 88
The battle over HIV criminalization now that a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence