Brian RhinehartGaspar González (BA, 1990)

Gaspar González is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His first film, Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami, chronicled the years that Cassius Clay spent in Miami in the early 1960s, essentially transforming himself into Muhammad Ali. Deemed “a surprisingly fresh take on an early chapter of the Ali saga” by Sports Illustrated, the film aired nationally on PBS in 2008. That film was followed by Nixon’s the One: How Tricky Dick Stole the Sixties and Changed America Forever (2010), which traced Richard Nixon’s political resurrection in the 1960s. “It was an odd follow-up of sorts,” says González. “Ali was a preeminent symbol of the political left; Nixon, the quintessential man of the right. But I think that’s precisely what drew me: the idea that America in the 1960s had produced such two compellingly different figures. The two films are really bookends on the era.”

While such intensely historical narratives might seem unusual choices for the onetime English major, González is quick to point out that “what my experience in the English department at UF taught me was to think critically about culture.” He cites Mark Reid’s courses on African-American literature and black film as especially influential, and recalls Greg Ulmer’s film theory course with a special fondness. “It was my introduction to postmodernism,” he says. “It bent my brain—in a good way.”

After graduating from UF, González earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University. While at Yale, he also began work on What Have They Built You to Do? The Manchurian Candidate and Cold War America (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). Coauthored with Matthew Jacobson, the book-length study on the classic 1962 film has been called “a valuable resource for students and scholars of Cold War culture.”

Eventually, González’s interest in film, history, and culture led him away from the academy and into journalism. He remembers: “I got a job offer from the alternative weekly in Miami and thought, ‘If someone is going to pay me to write for a living, I’m certainly not going to say no.’” Since then, his work has appeared in more than two dozen publications—The Miami Herald, Newsday, Cigar Aficionado, and Village Voice Media, among others— and been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

The transition to documentary filmmaking came naturally. “It was just an extension of what I was already doing,” he notes. “Investigating the culture, offering my take on it, telling stories about it.” He credits UF for his still-evolving career: “My parents were Cuban exiles; I was the first person in my family to go to college. My education in the English department at UF gave me confidence. It instilled in me this notion that I had a unique perspective to contribute. Everything really flows from that.”

González is a principal partner in Common Machine, a production company with offices in Miami and Chicago. His latest documentary, Hecho a Mano: Creativity in Exile—about Cuban artists in Miami—has been winning awards on the festival circuit and will air on PBS in 2011.

He lives in Miami with his wife, Christina Lane, and their son, Sebastián, who, his father says, is a solid bet to start at defensive end for the Gator football team in 2028.