Exploring past ideas to pave the way for new ones… my icky thesis wasn’t always that bad!

Exploring past ideas to pave the way for new ones… my icky thesis wasn’t always that bad!

My graduate thesis was fraught with every kind of obstacle, obstruction and ornery feedback possible, and luckily, only about 50% of that was my fault.

A little explanation: the film I made was not my original idea, nor was it something I particularly felt strongly about when I started planning my thesis concept. Actually, my first idea was formed around the illusions we create around ourselves, and the lies we choose to believe.

Unfortunately, my version/representation of the idea was too… generic? Western, non-cultural? I can’t be sure of the exact phrase, because the idea was torn apart by 9 faculty members, who weren’t feeling it. It wasn’t until I recovered from the shock of rejection enough to go and individually ask each and every person on the faculty why they didn’t like what they saw.

The basic gist of what I got: “it’s not true to who you are”.

I was confused, I know I spent a lot of time at school, but none of my faculty knew me well enough to say that. Then round two finally pulled out the underlying reason: a young woman from Pakistan cannot possibly be true to herself if she isn’t making a film about her culture. And this, a film that depicts a smoker finding a new truth behind his smoking… nope!

I’m tempted to start off on a rant about this, but, at the time, I was just angry. There were no words that I could use to convince 9 members of my all-white faculty members that I resented being pigeonholed into a stereotype. I was angry because one of my professors showed me a really crappy animation done by a former Pakistani student that had a rickshaw as the central character. (So colorful! We love to see how colorful your culture is!)

Never mind that I was the grumpiest, bitchiest (sorry about the word, but it’s an accurate description), darkest and completely morbid creature ever. Never mind that I, as a Pakistani woman, felt absolutely no need to represent “my people” and in fact, had put a lot of energy trying to separate myself from the association. I was angry, but, as many level-headed friends explained, I just needed to graduate. And to do so, I had to play their game and follow their rules.

So I presented this a week later:

A one-frame depiction of my representation of colonialism and the kind of control a small group of people can have over a large population. My hypothesis was simple, “Control is all in your mind” and the only way to be free is to stop giving them that power. This is obviously just a description of colonialism, I know slavery worked differently.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the sad story, needless to say, I wish I had never allowed myself to be pushed to make a story I was not ready for.

But now, 10 years after I pitched that idea, I can see new ways of telling this story. Moreover, I recently discovered the rough animatic of my original idea… and it’s got a few germs of interest there! Who knows? Maybe I’ll start going back and making these stories the way they should have been made in the first place!

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