Winter Session Spotlight: Dr. Kristen Warner on Black Cult Media

SCE News, December 5, 2023

When cult movies—films with a passionate fanbase and oft-quoted dialogue—are discussed in academic settings, works such as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" or "The Big Lebowski" are frequently used as examples, says Dr. Kristen J. Warner, an associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts at the College of Arts and Sciences. Movies with predominately Black casts and their own sustained, zealous fanbases aren’t often considered to be a part of the cult canon.

"Black cult media exists," says Warner, "and should be recognized and included in the cult film conversations."

Students can take a deeper dive into cult cinema by enrolling in Black Cult Media (PMA 4403), an online three-credit course that will be offered for the first time during Cornell’s Winter Session, Jan. 2-19.

The School of Continuing Education (SCE), which offers Winter Session, asked Dr. Warner to give some insight into what students can expect from taking her course this winter.

What is your definition of a cult film?

Cult films are those that, either by nature of the film style or format, live on through the communities that love them and do all types of labor to showcase that love. Black cult films aren't necessarily different from traditional cult; however, because films with predominantly Black audiences aren't often placed on cult film lists, it's important to recognize their existence by highlighting how they are important to the niche audiences who view them

Who is the ideal student for this course?

It seems obvious but not always considered: any student who loves movies and television. But also, students interested in cult film and in answering the question why aren't films for predominantly Black audiences considered part of the cult film canon?

What do you enjoy about teaching this course?

It's fun to watch movies like "Dirty Dancing" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" in the first few class days to orient students to some of the cult film canon. Once we lay out the different characteristics that make these films cult, we then expand to films with predominantly Black casts such as "The Color Purple" and "Coming to America." We make the case for those films being cult as well. I also enjoy seeing students develop projects that emerge from the discussions they have with their classmates.

What should students know about taking a three-credit course in just three weeks during Winter Session?

The class moves quickly so it's important to keep up with the assignments and to stay in touch with your professors if you’re falling behind.

What are some of your favorite Black cult films?

"The Color Purple," "Coming to America" and "Friday." They're quoted all the time, lots of controversy around the film's production and content, and beloved by Black audiences.


Cornell students have until January 2 to enroll in "Black Cult Media (PMA 4403" or dozens of other online, three- and four-credit courses in subjects including animal science, the arts, business and management, government, language, the sciences, physical education and more.