Giant lime green-bordered letters spell “director” across her floral sequined chest. Her black fur-covered ankles completed the eccentric outfit. A grin flashed across her face, welcoming all into her world of creativity.

For the first time the School of Cinema will have a woman of color as its director, Celine Parrenas Shimizu. Shimizu plans to use her passion for the cinematic arts and implementation of communication plans, such as a new monthly newsletter and first annual convocation, to create a diverse and inclusive culture to generate awareness of inequality and misrepresentation within cinema.

“The School of Cinema aims to make accessible the means of production and the historical, critical and theoretical studies of film to all students in order to help envision a just, inclusive and equitable industry and discipline,” she said. 

Over 1,000 students, 23 tenure track and tenured faculty and 18 lecturers make up SF State’s cinema department, which offers multiple outlets of creative expression through production, studies and animation.

Shimizu, 49, grew up in the city of Manila in the Philippines during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos in the 70s and early 80s, a time where movies were considered sensitive because of President Marcos’s familiarity with film to create propaganda under martial law.

Global culture and the colonial relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines became evident to Shimizu when her parents left to the United States to pursue post-doctorate degrees. She said when she immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, in the mid-80s she was struck by the lack of narratives about people of color in popular culture despite such compelling narratives overflowing in her neighborhood.

Movies were not a simple part-time hobby for Shimizu. They blended into her lifestyle and her passion for cinema flourished into what has now become her career.

Documentaries such as “Surname Viet Given Name Nam” (1989) and “Shoot for the Contents” (1992) by Trinh T. Minh-ha, former SF State cinema professor and Shimizu’s undergraduate thesis adviser, were a couple from the long list of inspirational films that sparked her love for cinema. 

Celine Parreanas Shimizu looks to generate awareness of inequality within cinema. (Photo by James Wyatt/ Golden Gate Xpress)

As a teen Shimizu spent time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before eventually making her way to California, where she attended UC Berkeley for undergrad. She began her undergrad as an English and art double major, and was involved in activism and advocacy seeking solutions to gender and racial issues, in addition to founding a women of color magazine and film festival. She attended UCLA Film School for her master of fine arts degree, and Stanford for her Ph.D. 

All of her interests art, literature and activism, which are evidenced by five books and several films she has completed since — came together when she discovered ethnic studies during her sophomore year at UC Berkeley.

Her work took her to UC Santa Barbara where she taught for about 15 years, but packed her life and made a move to the Bay Area after unexpectedly losing her youngest son, Lakas, to common viral intestinal illness in 2013.

“Everything changed and I uprooted my work to the Bay Area for my own sake and for my family,” Shimimzu said. 

Being a Filipina American immigrant, she found herself instantly attached to SF State for the diverse and empowering environment where both had a passion for social justice and multiethnic identities. 

“She’s an amazing and powerful woman,” Lauren Friedauer, a graduating cinema major, said. “She gets things done and isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She’s gonna bring tons to the table and hopefully fight for more benefits for the department.” 

Shimizu believes some of the most pressing matters of today are race, gender and sexuality in global culture and that film can be a solution for such problems.

“I recruited her from Santa Barbara and she became a full professor who’s very accomplished,” Daniel Bernardi, former chair of the School of Cinema, said. “We both work on race, pornography and gender. All chairs should have a vision and I agree with her that educating the public through film is it.”

Currently Shimizu is working alongside a student on a film funded by the Marcus Funds for Excellence and conducting research for a film about the severity of young African American males being criminalized.

Shimizu said she wants to focus on bringing people from various backgrounds to work under one creative collective.

“Film is so powerful that it must be deployed so we can learn about others who we do not know in a way where we are not colonizing them but expanding our worldviews,” she said.  

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