USC Annenberg announces first Sony Pictures Entertainment fellow

USC Annenberg today announced that Monica Castillo has been selected as the school’s first Sony Pictures Entertainment Fellow. Castillo was awarded a scholarship from Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) that she will use to study film criticism as part of USC Annenberg’s Masters in Arts Journalism program. 

Monica Castillo won the Sony Pictures Fellowship, a scholarship to study film criticism. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Ramones.
Courtesy of Stephanie Ramones

A joint venture between USC Annenberg and SPE, the fellowship is the university’s first program specifically designed for film critics. Castillo will take classes at both USC Annenberg and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She will be mentored by Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan and also advised by Sasha Anawalt, director of the Masters in Arts Journalism program.

“I could not be more pleased,” said Anawalt. “The best way to build the next generation of critics is to give them a meaningful connection to seasoned professionals from whom they can learn. We thank Sony Pictures for giving us the incredible opportunity to make sure good criticism remains in the journalism culture, and that it is informed, well-educated criticism” 

Turan, who is also an adjunct professor at Annenberg, salutes USC and SPE’s investment in the future of film criticism. “It’s a kind of recognition of the ongoing importance of film criticism that I think is very commendable,” he said.

Castillo, 25, is a self-taught film critic, who found her passion for film criticism while studying molecular biology and biochemistry at Boston University. She covered films for her college paper and co-founded the Boston Online Film Critics Association. She is currently a Brooklyn-based entertainment reporter for International Business Times. For over five years, she has also worked as a freelance film critic.

“I always learned by experiencing, by freelancing, by learning how to pitch the hard way, by learning how to write,” said Castillo. “And this program mixes things that I really wanted to study most. There aren’t many other programs that offer this level of flexibility, specialty and access to mentors.”

A first-generation Cuban-American, raised in Tampa, Florida, Castillo said her perspective as a Latina woman offers audiences a different viewpoint.

“It’s part of who I am. It’s how I relate to things. It’s how I watch media. It’s how I am able to criticize it, sometimes,” said Castillo. She said that she can be more sensitive to a character being stereotyped than other critics. 

“For me it’s a big deal to talk about, because it’s one of the few times that we’ll see a Latina woman onscreen this year. So it’s important to address those issues.”

After years of learning the hard way, without formal film study, Castillo is looking forward to learning from her new mentors at USC.  “I’m very excited just to listen and learn,” she said.

The enthusiasm is mutual. “Monica has shown that she cares about the field as a whole,” Anawalt said. “She looks forward, not back. Her writing is clear and thrilling, because she has ideas – her own ideas. We can't wait to work with her.”

Top photo courtesy of Creative Commons/charamelody.