Thomas Mathews ’22 has been enamored with movies ever since he was a child. He remembers repeatedly getting lost in the magical worlds of Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings. Now a Theatre Arts student at the University of Redlands, he’s learning how to create films that will give viewers that same sense of wonder.
“Some of my first memories involve watching movies, and when I got to high school, I started acting,” he says. “There’s power in making people feel things and getting them to react to the story you’re telling—whether that’s a dose of adrenaline or a big laugh.”
Originally from Los Angeles and now living in Beaumont, California, Mathews always knew that he wanted to study film and theatre and chose to transfer from Mt. San Jacinto College to the U of R because of its arts programs. Receiving the San Manuel Excellence in Leadership Scholarship, a scholarship that aims to support the higher education goals of Native students in the Inland Empire, enabled him to enroll.
Mathews says that having the ability to take courses from multiple programs of study—an important part of a liberal arts education—has expanded his understanding of cinema. In his Media and Visual Culture Studies and English classes, Mathews welcomes the opportunity to learn about literature and cultural analysis, enriching his film studies.
“In one of my English courses, we looked at characters first and examined their motivations and actions in order to understand the overall message of the book,” he says. “That was unlike any way I’ve been taught to learn about media, and it’ll ultimately make me a better filmmaker.”
Some of his most enjoyable experiences include discussions on Band of Brothers and the James Bond series. A recent final project included studying the Marvel franchise with specific analysis on Captain America. These assignments showed him how closely linked writing and storytelling are to making movies.
Transferring to a new school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Mathews a thing or two as well. He notes that he has become more confident in his ability to learn independently and has taken advantage of connecting with his professors virtually in order to enhance his independent learning experience.
“The support I received from counselors and other U of R employees throughout my transferring process was excellent and unlike anything I’ve experienced,” he says, noting that he is eager to meet face-to-face with the people who helped him when it is safe to return to in-person interaction on campus.
As he looks forward to a career in the entertainment industry, Mathews wants to bring awareness to the particular challenges that Native people face. “There’s not an overwhelming amount of representation of Native people in movies and television,” he says. “I’m hoping to blaze my own trail and bring new conversations about people in my community into my art.”
Additionally, his identity as a Native student plays an important role in his academic life. He credits the San Manuel Excellence in Leadership Scholarship with much of his success.
“Receiving the scholarship has supported my educational goals wonderfully and I’m incredibly grateful,” he says. “It has given me the chance to meet with other Native students virtually and talk about our similar experiences. We learn from each other.”