André Keiji Kunigami is one of UNC’s newest Carolina Postdoctoral Programs for Faculty Diversity fellows, awarded for his transnational work in film and media studies. Kunigami received the fellowship Oct. 9, alongside four other recipients, to begin their two-year paid postdoctoral position.
Kunigami is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work delves into the world of politics, film and the human experience in the two vastly different cultures found in Brazil and Japan. His work primarily focuses on how Japanese and Brazilian elites received cinema in the early 20th century and how Western film influenced their ideas of modernizing society and what kind of power relations may have formed from cinematic images, particularly between elites and oppressed groups.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘power of the image’ and especially cinema,” Kunigami said. “We live in a society that exposes images, more and more. There’s a certain trip you enter when experiencing a certain image.”
Kunigami’s research stemmed from his both his family history and his interest in film. Kunigami grew up and attended school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he began his academic journey before coming to the United States for a Ph.D. in 2012. Kunigami completed both an undergraduate and master’s program in Rio, balancing his media studies with working in Brazil’s television and film industry. He also taught history of Brazilian and world cinema at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio as well.
However, the passion for his studies goes beyond the classroom.
“It has given me a better understanding of power relations and what is at stake,” Kunigami said. “My academics being politicized, even though it may come through that way, have informed me on the importance of engaging in struggles, for minorities, against institutional powers.”
Kunigami believes his professors were integral in encouraging him to continue his studies in the United States for a better work environment where he could study in a more interdisciplinary environment.
“You don’t get paid a lot as a Ph.D. student,” Kunigami said. “I’d be able to focus on my work, where in Brazil, it was a little more difficult to do so. My professors saw a potential in going somewhere else.”
Although Kunigami didn’t ever expect to get an offer from graduate school, he received several offers from prominent American institutions. From there, Kunigami made his way straight to the Ivy League after receiving an offer from Cornell University.