Meet David Stewart: Emerson’s new media studies affiliate professor

By Maeve Lawler, Kasteel Well Bureau Chief

David Stewart will join Emerson’s Visual Media Arts department as an affiliate professor of film and media studies in the Spring 2023 semester. He will teach two courses—Approaches in Media Studies and Media Histories—designed for first-year students. 

Having taught media and cultural studies since 2017 as an adjunct lecturer at Plymouth State University, Stewart brings his teaching experience and passion for film into Emerson’s programs. 

“I just love the energy I get from my students responding to a given piece of film or an article they’ve never seen before,” he said. 

Stewart will be a part of the VMA department’s recently-launched Foundations Program for VMA students. This program demands more course sections and a lower instructor-to-student ratio, said VMA department associate chair and associate professor Jun Okada in an email statement to The Beacon. These requirements prompted the department to hire new affiliate faculty to teach these courses. 

A typical classroom environment for Stewart fosters enthusiasm for non-mainstream media. He finds value in teaching films outside popular streaming platforms, pointing to the silent short film “Un Chien Andalou” by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí as an example. By highlighting under-the-radar media, Stewart hopes to engage students and stem interest in different aspects of film for those unsure about their focus while attending Emerson and after graduation. 

Student enthusiasm, he added, is a “propeller” that inspires him each morning. 

“It’s much better than coffee, just having a bunch of students excitedly talking about what they saw on television last night to what they read for this week’s class or the next week’s class,” Stewart said. “It’s that buzz of energy. It’s really something I love working off of.” 

Okada is confident Stewart will reciprocate students’ enthusiasm in his teaching. 

David will offer a lot to our first-year students… including his knowledge, passion, and energy,” Okada wrote. “I hope he will continue with us in semesters to come.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Studies from Plymouth State in 2011, Stewart moved to San Francisco and worked as a residential advisor at Archbishop Riordan High School. On his days off, he worked as an extra on movie sets or volunteered to work on documentary films. In 2015, he attended DePaul University in Chicago to receive his master’s degree in Film, Cinema, and Video Studies. 

“Being in these major film-based cities, like San Francisco and Chicago, enlightened my experiences of what I want to do in terms of teaching film studies,” Stewart said. 

His time in both cities also drove his interest in journalism, which began on Cape Cod, MA—where he grew up. At 18 years old, Stewart freelanced for The Barnstable Patriot, where he covered everything from theater productions to town hall meetings. He continued to freelance with other publications, including the Chicago Reader,, DMovies, and the Film Stage, with a focus on arts and entertainment. 

Stewart’s interest in film started when he was a child. Having grown up watching history unfold on television, he described it as something that was “always there” and was fascinated by society’s interpretations of the world through film.

“I was passionate about… how [film and music] managed to spark interest or controversy, that really propels audiences to think about film not [just] as an entertainment factor [but] also as a social commentary,” Stewart said. 

This passion set Stewart apart from other candidates who applied for the position. 

“When I interviewed David, he stood out as being extremely enthusiastic about cinema and especially the importance of diversity in media,” Okada wrote. “His references were glowing in terms of his success with students also.”

When Stewart saw Emerson was looking to hire in the VMA department, he felt an impulse to jump on the opportunity, viewing Emerson as a hub for creative success. 

“Emerson really has been, in so many respects, the seed for so many creative entities that have since departed from Emerson,” Stewart said, citing writer David Foster Wallace—who taught at Emerson in 1991—as an example. 

After speaking with members of the VMA department, Stewart believes his teaching approach aligns with those of the college. He said he knew he wanted to be part of the program after talking with students and colleagues.

“[It’s] the shared understanding of making sure a student’s education is not watered down by canonical texts, but enlightening and inspiring pieces of film and media,” he said. 

Before starting at Emerson, Stewart will finish the first draft of a biography on Jonathan Demme—one of his favorite filmmakers—who died in 2017. He aims for the book, titled “The Life and Work and Jonathan Demme,” to be published in early 2024, around the time of what would have been Demme’s 80th birthday. 

“In light of all the political and cultural challenges of the last few years, I hope my readers will go out and see [his] movies for the first time or revisit them to appreciate who he was and what he meant for a generation of filmmakers and film scholars like myself,” Stewart said. 

Stewart said he’s excited to work with students in a passionate, film-focused environment. 

“I’m really excited by the prospect of being on Emerson’s campus and really taking in the energy from the students in the classroom,” he said.