Mila Zuo

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Cinema & Media studies
film studies
Contemporary Asian and transnational cinemas
Film philosophy
Acting and performance studies
Star studies
Digital and new media
Critical theories of gender, sexuality, and race and ethnicity

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

"The desert of the real": fictional Middle Eastern countries in American media (2022)

Kamistan, Qurac, and Abuddin mark just three of the innumerable fictional MiddleEastern countries that proliferate American media works, but why exactly have these nonexistentplaces become such inexplicable fixtures in Hollywood cinema, television, comic books,and video games? This thesis explores three of these fictitious nations—Aladdin’s (1992)Kingdom of Agrabah; Dune’s (2021) desert planet Arrakis, scenes for which were filmed inJordan; and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s (2019) Urzikstan—to begin to account for thisphenomenon. These case studies represent three prevalent mediums and styles for imagining theMiddle East: the magical ancient Middle East in animation; desert planets that proliferate sciencefiction; and the contemporary war-torn Middle East in military-themed video games.Each setting has been constructed from the “standardized molds” Edward Said details inOrientalism (26), bestowing each with familiar archetypes, stereotypes, and references thatWestern spectators identify. This mold, in turn, serves as a shorthand that assists with thespectators’ reading or understanding the milieux. Because the role that imagination and virtualityplay in constructing these fictional Middle Easts, the thesis reads each of the case studies asBaudrillardian simulacra, copies without originals, each representing single installments inlonger series of similar representations (the antiquated Middle East with genies, treasure, andmagic carpets; the Middle East as the Cold War’s Third World, home to powerful resources andcaught between competing empires; the Middle East as a site of instability and conflict).Plausibility and pleasure function as two throughlines that guide the paper. Plausibilityrelates to how the texts construct their milieux, operating within the standardized molds anddrawing on familiar signs to plausibly convey their Middle Easternness to spectators. These milieux construct both shared and unique pleasures, paramount of which is a sense of Westernauthority over these virtual Middle Easts, which are created by, influenced by, and ultimatelycontrolled by Western protagonists. Through these spaces, Western institutions create their ownvirtual Middle Easts to explore, manage, and liberate, unburdened by real-world contexts andcontradictions.

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"You never walk alone": BTS and the significance of heightened parasocial relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic (2022)

On May 20, 2021, the K-Pop group BTS’s music video for their second English-language single “Butter” broke the YouTube record for most views in 24 hours with 108.2 million hits. The success of this video illustrates the devotion that BTS’s diverse fanbase has for the seven-member group. Though the intimacy that fans feel with the young men of BTS is experienced from a distance, the South Korean group has inspired profound emotional attachments among their fans despite the mediation of the Internet. BTS’s proficient use of social networking sites, and the feeling of hope that emanates from their work, have attracted a passionate following and intensified parasocial relationships beyond what have historically been experienced. Using a queer hermeneutics of hope proposed by scholars like Eve Sedgwick and José Esteban Muñoz, this thesis brings together the disciplines of authenticity, celebrity, social media, and queer studies to examine the role BTS as a public persona plays in contemporary constructions of online personalities. It chronicles BTS’s history of direct engagement with fans via various social media platforms and considers how BTS’s former image as an industry underdog has supported readings of the group as authentic. Through an analysis of BTS’s content, the dichotomy of ‘extraordinary’ talent and ‘ordinary’ person is also elucidated.Additionally, this thesis identifies the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an impetus for the current shifts in the relationship between audience and celebrity. While COVID has fostered a sense of disillusionment regarding famous figures, BTS has managed to retain their image of authenticity, encouraging the parasocial relationships felt by their fans to become heightened. By positioning BTS’s art as an antidote to the isolation and hopelessness caused by the pandemic (and the general state of our world), this thesis argues that Millennial and Gen Z fans are employing BTS as a tool for visualizing a more queer and optimistic future.

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