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Senior triple major and overall film lover discusses unexplored subject matters in the typical American Christmas movie

Ryan Rosu ‘24 explores the concepts of race, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism within Christmas movies

Santa watching a film with his feet up on a seat while eating popcorn with Ryan on the right
Excellence and Expertise Oxford and Beyond Student Success

Senior triple major and overall film lover discusses unexplored subject matters in the typical American Christmas movie

Ryan Rosu, a senior majoring in English Literature and Philosophy and co-majoring in Film Studies, is passionate about film and its philosophical aspects and knew what he wanted to study right out of high school. 

Before even realizing it, Rosu began pursuing his Undergraduate Summer Scholars (USS) research topic, “Race, Heteropatriarchy, and Capitalism in the Christmas Movie,” in the fall of 2022. It started in his film theory class where he proposed an idea about Christmas movies for his final project. 

“I really like this movie called Bad Santa,” Rosu said. “It takes all of the main tropes from the Christmas movies and exaggerates them to their logical conclusions.” 

When Rosu presented his idea to assistant professor Andy Rice, a critical media theorist and nonfiction filmmaker, he was advised to begin actually pursuing research on his topic. Under Rice’s advising and the USS program, Rosu came up with a two-fold plan for his research on Christmas movies: outline what the “Christmas movie” actually is and look at what ideologies that Christmas movies push.

Rosu became interested in the fact that these movies are a ritual and only watched during certain times of the year. Believing that this ritual needs to be examined, he decided to outline what a Christmas movie is and established three basic categories: 

  • Santa Claus: “Santa Claus movies are basically about somebody, usually Santa Claus, who embodies the Christmas spirit in one way or another,” said Rosu, “and confronts a world that no longer believes in Santa Claus.”
  • A Christmas Carol: “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a second basic form that we see repeated all the time, wherein a Christmas skeptic is made into a believer.”
  • Home for the holidays: “It’s the one about family,” Rosu said. “It's about having relatives over, like Christmas Vacation. It's the one about the ritual of Christmas, and I consider it the most important ideologically.”

After establishing his three kinds of Christmas movies, Rosu concluded that Christmas movies use a sense of nostalgia in order to achieve what he calls “the golden Christmas of the 1950s.” 

“The Christmas movie uses nostalgia to idealize things like ​​suburban whiteness, straight relationships, and women in traditional roles,” Rosu said. “So that's the basic ideology that the Christmas movie establishes. And so then the final aspect of my project was to highlight three examples of Christmas movies that challenge that sort of ideological basis and not push forward that same heteronormative, white, middle-class/upper-class Christmas.”

The films included in Rosu’s research that challenge those standard ideologies included Clea DuVall’s Happiest Season, Robert Townshend’s Holiday Heart, and Kasi Lemmons’ Black Nativity. 

Rosu wants to highlight his new ideas regarding the ways in which we think and talk about Christmas movies as opposed to just “enjoying the ritual.” He believes that questioning the ritual is important and something we have to learn to do to actively develop a better society. 

“This is a new area of research, so I'm arguing for these narrow categories that don't already exist. There's a creative element of it, where I'm inventing and defending this framework,” Rosu said. 

Rosu plans to pursue a film career after he graduates from Miami.

“For anybody interested in this sort of writing, I say to just do it because it'll give you a chance to figure out what you're doing without real consequence,” he said. “It's a really fulfilling experience.”