Why Students Should Study Film as Literature

Mar 5, 2024

What Is Literature?

No student should leave high school without practicing some type of literary analysis, but what “counts” as literature? When we think about literature, we obviously think of written texts—novels, short stories, poems, etc.—but are all written texts literature? Of course not.

Conversely, is literature limited only to written texts? For example, what about audiobooks? If I read a book, I’ve read literature; but if someone reads it to me, is it still literature? What about plays? We read plays in literature classes, but what if we watch a play on stage? Does that still “count”? What if I read a script? Or watch a film?


Can We Study Film as Literature?

Before we can answer that question, we need to examine the purpose of studying literature. 

In a meaningful literature course, students should learn about their world and themselves through stories—whether written, auditory, or visual. They should also think deeply about themes and use critical thinking skills to interpret and analyze stories and to explore literary elements like plot, character, setting, tone, and irony. 

Clearly, film—like written texts—allows students to explore themes, interpret stories, understand humanity, and analyze literary elements. Therefore, yes, we can and should study film as literature. 


Benefits of Studying Film

The study of film—besides adding literary depth and variety to a student’s educational experience—offers several additional benefits.

First, film is often more accessible for students who struggle with reading or who just don’t enjoy reading. In fact, students who learn literary analysis through film are usually more comfortable transferring those skills to written texts later.

Second, in addition to traditional literary elements, film allows students to think critically about the impact of additional techniques such as lighting, camera angles, sound, sets, and even movement. 

Third, we live in a visual, video-saturated world. All students—those who love to read and those who haven’t yet become readers—need to be wise consumers rather than passive viewers of film. We are constantly bombarded by images, and we can easily be manipulated by what we see if we don’t know how to interpret it.


Film’s Growing Popularity in English Coursework

Just as everything that’s written isn’t truly literature, every film is not worthy of academic study. But films that allow for rich and meaningful analysis certainly belong in a literature class.

Like Excelsior Classes (Lights, Camera, Analysis: Studying Film as Literature), many high schools have added film to their literature course offerings, and colleges are offering film concentrations and majors in their English departments. Though students should certainly continue to study written literature, teachers and parents are recognizing film as a complex and relevant way of experiencing texts—a way that encourages analytical thinking and helps students better understand the elements of both mediums.


Film as Literature Class Page

Dawn Burnette​ is truly excited to be part of the Excelsior family as an English teacher! Dawn holds a B.A. in English Education/Journalism from Lenoir-Rhyne University and an M.A. in English Education from Georgia State University. She has also earned National Board Certification and gifted endorsement. While teaching English at a public high school for 15 years, Dawn served as English department chair, coached a nationally ranked dance team, and won a few local, state, and national teaching awards. Dawn loves sharing her passion for reading and writing, and she works tirelessly to help students reach their academic potential and to glorify God in all pursuits. Soli Deo Gloria!

When it was time for their children to start school, Dawn and her husband Rod moved the family from an Atlanta suburb to the North Georgia mountains, acquired way too many animals, and spent the next 12 years homeschooling. Their daughter Ansley graduated from Samford University in 2022 and works at Sight & Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and their son Beck graduated from and played collegiate golf at Lee University and the University of Georgia and began playing professional golf in 2024.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.