Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Zachary Ingle and David Sutera Are Helping To Change Our World

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David: My definition of leadership is the ability to offer guidance and direction to a group of people in a supportive yet structured environment. As a university professor, I live out this definition on a daily basis. I am continually guiding my students through the learning process, both inside and outside the classroom, and find this to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zachary Ingle and David Sutera.

After holding numerous jobs ranging from health inspector to stand-up comedian, high school science teacher to dog track announcer, Dr. David M. Sutera is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. A published author with five books to his credit, he is also a filmmaker with several award-winning short films to his name and is currently working on a documentary about a burlesque community in Salt Lake City. David’s research often centers on sports culture and media with an emphasis on the use of social media by sports fans.

Zachary Ingle Ph.D., Film and Media Studies, University of Kansas is Visiting Assistant Professor of Film at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. His previous books are on The Big Lebowski, Robert Rodriguez, and sports documentaries. Some of his favorite courses to teach include The Horror Film, African American Directors, and Disney/Miyazaki.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Zachary: David and I were best friends in graduate school at the University of Kansas, where we bonded over a love of film, sports, and comics. Our first two books together were on the sports documentary (the first scholarly books on that subject). When I proposed the idea of doing yet another book on sports films to David, he really wanted to do one on superhero film and television instead. And that was an easy sell. We also wanted to do this project with Rowman & Littlefield because of our previous positive experiences publishing with them.

David: The genesis for this book came from several conversations with my writing partner and co-author on this book, Zachary Ingle, about how we could contribute to the growing scholarship in the world of superhero films. Both of us are long-time superhero comic book nerds and jumped at the opportunity Rowman & Littlefield offered us to contribute to their “100 Greatest” series focusing on superhero films and TV shows.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

David: The one that comes to mind was when I was doing research on the cartoon Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and consulted with Tim Eldred, an animator who worked on several high-profile superhero TV shows at the Disney Network. During our conversation, he told me how the working conditions drastically changed once Disney took control of Marvel Comics. He indicated that before Disney, there was much more narrative freedom and aesthetic experimentation with the animated TV shows they produced. When Disney stepped in, there was a mindset of quality control and standardization they expected with all their animated series and that they had to tie in with the movies in the MCU.

Zachary: This book has informed much of my teaching; I had the opportunity to teach two freshman seminars on The Superhero Film at Roanoke College, but this relevant subject comes up in most of my other classes too.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

David: Not really a funny mistake, but one difficulty we faced was during the process of narrowing down which films and TV shows to include in our book. When we originally started writing the book, there were barely enough remarkable superhero films and TV shows to meet our 100 limit. In almost no time, with the burgeoning of high-quality superhero films and TV shows that flooded the market in such a short period of time, we found ourselves overwhelmed with more than 100 entries from which to select. We made the mistake of spending an inordinate amount of time deciding which films we should include, somewhat of a paralysis by analysis, that stood in the way of working more expeditiously. Ultimately, we both learned to trust our first instincts more and not second guess ourselves too much.

Zachary: Yeah, we did have some disagreements on a few titles. This project also took much longer than anticipated, but I think the result is a stronger volume. If we completed this project earlier, we would have missed on some of the most notable contributions to the genre’s history that have occurred recently, include Joker, the Watchmen series, and Wandavision.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

David: Even though our book is written in the lighthearted spirit indicative of popular literature, it features a considerable amount of scholastic analysis and commentary on the sociological, economic, aesthetic, and technological aspects of superhero film and television. We focus on various important topics including feminism, critical race theory, nationalism, the LGBTQIA+ community, mental health issues, and representations of masculinity in superhero films and TV shows. While we certainly want to entertain our readers, it is our hope they will simultaneously appreciate our thoughtful sociological analysis and come to understand that superhero cinema and television are more than mere popular culture entertainment with the capacity to provide pertinent social commentary on multiple aspects of society. In this way, we hope to encourage and inspire future dialogue and scholarship about this burgeoning film and television genre and look beyond its economic and aesthetic dimensions.

Zachary: I know that the superhero genre is one so often associated with 21st-century film and television (and certainly a high percentage of our entries are from the last twenty years), but this book includes titles from every decade since the 1940s. We also wanted to include superhero media from other cultures, including key anime series like My Hero Academia and Astroboy.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We would like to acknowledge all the people at Rowman & Littlefield, especially Christen Karniski, all of whom guided us through the long and arduous process of bringing this book to life.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Zachary: When I was in college we were constantly hit with the whole “servant leadership” thing. It became a bit of a cliché, but I do remind myself that even those of us who aren’t explicitly looking for leadership positions have a sphere of influence where we can positively encourage others. No matter where we may see ourselves on the leadership scale, others are looking up to us, whether due to our age, education level, etc. I may not be president of my university or departmental chair, but I assume that some of my students look up to me just as I did with many of my college professors, several of whom had an enormous impact on my life. My students in turn have peers, younger siblings, etc. who look up to them as successful college students.

David: My definition of leadership is the ability to offer guidance and direction to a group of people in a supportive yet structured environment. As a university professor, I live out this definition on a daily basis. I am continually guiding my students through the learning process, both inside and outside the classroom, and find this to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Zachary: Peacemaking and tolerance are really key for me. I also think that an interest in multiculturalism, in cultures from all around the world, can make us more thoughtful and more empathetic. The ability to watch films from all around the world is what drew me to cinema as a college student; I think that art has the capacity to dispel our xenophobia and bigotry and make us better people, yet another reason why I am passionate about teaching international cinema.

David: While this has nothing to do with the book in question, I would love to be an inspiration in the environmental movement. Before I started work as a university professor in communication studies, I was a high school science teacher. In that capacity, I was able to provide sobering and factual information regarding the dangers of climate change to my students. As a professor in communications, I appreciate the importance of mass media and popular culture in effecting change and influencing public opinion regarding this important issue, both negatively and in a positive manner.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

David: The life lesson quote that I find highly relevant is attributed to Mike Tyson who famously stated, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Through my experiences as an educator, writer, and filmmaker, I feel this quote is a perfect summation of how a person needs to be adaptive and steadfast in the face of life’s hardships.

Zachary: My wife has taught me the anonymous aphorism, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” something that I see her live out everyday.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

David: There are a few people I would like to interview as a result of writing this book. Robert Downey, Jr. first comes to mind because I would love to hear about his redemption story firsthand and how it feels to be the epicenter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Scarlett Johansson because I would like to hear her perspective on the role of women in the superhero film, specifically regarding how it has evolved from being the quintessential embodiment of the Male Gaze in film to providing a more inclusive and progressive view of the female superhero. Finally, Paul Rudd simply because he seems like a great person to hang out with, and we both went to the University of Kansas (though not at the same time.)

Zachary: Probably Martin Scorsese. He is one of my favorite filmmakers, but also because he drew some ire from some superhero fans when he said that Marvel films were “not cinema” and likened them to theme parks. I would not even try to convince him otherwise, but would want him to see that cinephiles can appreciate Avengers: Infinity War and Ingmar Bergman, Wonder Woman along with Cinema Novo and the French New Wave. If not Scorsese, I dunno. Jimmy Carter?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

David: Facebook:; Instagram:; Twitter:

Zachary: I’m not as much into social media but can be found quite easily on Facebook as well as the interactive film community on Letterboxd.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Zachary Ingle and David Sutera Are Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.