Using films in teaching business subjects to GenZ: A case study from Vietnam

Recently when I joined academia to teach business subjects in Vietnam, I faced challenges in explaining complex theories or concepts in disciplines such as change management and organizational behaviour to undergraduate students with a lack of work experience.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the university invited guest speakers and organized company visits for students. Also, students had internship opportunities provided by the university’s partners. Although last year we were able to study on campus as Vietnam had managed the outbreak successfully, we were still unable to host meetings between students and companies. So, the students complained that they saw little value in studying the theoretical concepts as it was hard for them to imagine how to apply them in practice. For example, to resolve internal issues between employers and employees or to lead negotiations among business partners. In addition, the students found it challenging to comprehend academic business cases due to their complicated writing style.

To tackle this issue, I decided to show films based on real business stories to let students immerse themselves into organizational and business contexts. In fact, many teachers in higher education have started to include films in their teaching practice: for example, in teaching diversity in marketing (Chang, 2019), change management in manufacturing (MIT, 2020), cross-cultural management (Desai et al., 2018), and dynamics of organizational processes (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2004). Besides, for the International Human Resource Management module of our university, there was a recommendation to use the fiction film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to discuss recruitment and selection processes. In the guidelines for the task there were details on key episodes students should pay attention to while watching the film. After that exercise the students were highly engaged in class discussions which was also reflected in the high-quality reflections in their essays.

Therefore, for the Change Management module I picked the film “Ford v Ferrari” (2019) due to its rich content related to change management. Llater I also found it useful in teaching other subjects such as Organizational Behaviour, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Soft Skills. 

Below are guidelines for teachers on how I engaged students into active watching, following analysis, and discussion using an example of “Ford vs Ferrari” (2019) film.

Step One: Theoretical Background.

First, the students were introduced to the main theoretical concepts of the course before watching the film. For instance, Lewin’s force field analysis, resistance to change (Barners, 2020), situational leadership styles, etc. 

Step Two: How Does A Cinema Work? 

Then, in class, using my own online film streaming account, I explained basic principles of storytelling in the film industry in order to help students focus on important moments related to the subject matter: for instance, the rule “show, don’t tell” – when they have to pay attention not only to non-verbal behaviour/body language, but also to visual clues. 

Figure 1 Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Source: Screenshot from the trailer of Ford v Ferrari (2019)

For example, in the film there was a red folder with important business documents inside. The folder was passed through many employees’ hands before reaching the CEO of Ford. This red folder symbolized “red tape” or bureaucracy which often kills innovative culture in an organization. 

In order to prepare students for watching the film analytically I explained the character’s arc (Beverly-Whittemore, 2013) – a personal transformational journey of a hero or a heroine, when they have to accept the call for change (or ‘unfreeze’), overcome various barriers (‘moving to change’) in their life space to change the behaviour and, finally, to fix the status quo (‘freeze’) at the new developmental level until they face the next driver for change. This reflects Lewin’s force field metatheory of change management (Burnes, 2020). The students were asked to take notes to track changes in the behaviours of main characters from the beginning to the end of the film. During the first minutes of the film after the main characters appeared in short episodes, I paused the screening in order to discuss with students how they would describe the personalities. For example, Ken Miles was defined as a talented engineer with narcissistic personality traits, not a people-oriented person, who later adjusted his behaviour to become a true team player.

Step Three: Situational Context. 

For each film I explained the historical context and some details of the biography of the main characters: for example, who is Henry Ford, World War II, the coalition between Germany and Italy or between the US and the UK. So, knowing the context helped students understand hidden motivations of some main characters and business decisions. 

Step Four: Guided Watching.

In some student groups we watched the film together in the class using online film streaming accounts. For the first 15-20 mins I paused the film at the key scenes to explain the context and discuss what concepts students can derive from there. 

Figure 2 Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Source: IMDB 

For instance, when in the beginning of the film, Ford II was literally looking down at his workers in the factory, setting them an ultimatum to bring new ideas or quit, my students immediately spotted the autocratic leadership style. Meanwhile, Enzo Ferrari was shown later as quietly sitting in the workshop (at the same visual line) watching how his team manually assembles a new car. So the students described him as a democratic, people-oriented leader who considers his cars as pieces of art.

Figure 3 Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Source: IMDB 

I also recommended students to take notes while watching the film recording key information about time stamps of the episodes, key characters and key concepts they may notice. Below is the template I provided to them with a few guiding questions.

Figure 4 shows some notes taken by the students whilst watching the film in class:

Figure 4 Student Notes

Photo credit: the author

Step Five: After watching the film, the students had to work in groups to discuss and present key concepts to the class. In some classes, students were asked to answer short quizzes based on the films they watched.

Another option: a flipped classroom approach. 

In some cases, for example, during the online delivery of teaching, I used a flipped classroom approach asking students to watch the films at home, following my guidelines and examples of analysis of key episodes. And at the next lesson we discussed the films together.

The next films I also used as teaching materials for different subjects were:

  • Joy (2015) – in Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Marketing courses
  • The Social Network (2010) – in Leadership, Entrepreneurship modules
  • Steve Jobs (2015) in Organizational Behaviour, Leadership, Entrepreneurship
  • Hidden Figures (2016) – in Leadership, International Human Resource Management
  • The 33 (2015) – in Leadership, Organizational Behaviour modules.

For the topics such as Social Entrepreneurship, Innovations, Ethical Marketing, or Leadership, the students were asked to watch one documentary film in addition to a fictional one and write their self-reflection in the assignments:

  •  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019).
    •  Amazon Empire (2020)
    • True Story about Blood Diamonds (2007).

Students’ Feedback

Here are the results of the surveys among two groups (total number of students 55) I taught Change Management to at the same time:

  • Almost 70% liked the film and the same percentage liked this approach of studying.
  • 64% said the film helped them understand leadership concepts better, and only 4% said it was not helpful.
  • For change management frameworks like Burke-Litwin or 3-steps of change by Lewin 40% said the film was very helpful, others said it was helpful to some extent (3 of 5 by Likert scale) and only 4% didn’t find it helpful.

From another survey: there were 38 students from different groups during 4 semesters which studied different subjects with me and watched different films

  • 60% said they would like to have tasks using films for studying and writing assignments in future, 7% – no, and others- “Not sure”.
  • 75% said this approach significantly helped them to understand topic/theory and write good assignments compared to only 8% which said films didn’t help at all.
  • 40% said that some films last too long or are too complicated to understand (in fact, “Ford v Ferrari” lasts 2.5 hours as does “Amazon Empire”).
  • Some suggested to cut films to watch only necessary episodes but there is a risk of missing something important to understand the context. Students also suggested to pick shorter films.
  • 10% of students said that they don’t like watching films in general. 
  • Students also added their own film suggestions, e.g. “Intern”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

Besides providing reviews on this teaching practice, the students were also asked for their self-reflections, what did they learn for themselves, or what do they have in common with the main character and how would they act in a similar situation. In some courses such as Entrepreneurship, self-reflections based on film analysis was a compulsory part of the written assignments.


From these cases, I can conclude that using films as a pedagogical tool results in high satisfaction of students, increased engagement in the class, and better understanding of complex theories related to organizational interactions, leadership, and management. Going forward, based on the feedback from the students, I would take shorter episodes from documentary films and prepare subtitles for the non-native students. I would suggest colleagues in higher education to consider this method as a way to innovate the curriculum development for business and management studies.

Figure 5 Poster presented at the Teaching and Learning Festival 2021

Should you have any questions on how I used films in teaching other subjects, please feel free to contact me via personal or work emails.

Zhangozina Aigerim; 

Blog Author

Aigerim Zhangozina
University of Greenwich Vietnam


Amazon Empire. 2020. (Film). James Jacoby. dir. USA: Frontline.

Beverly-Whittemore, M. (2013). A Top Novelist Explains How to Use “The Anatomy of Story” to Write Your Novel. John Truby. Available from

Burnes, B. (2020) ‘The Origins of Lewin’s Three-Step Model of Change’, The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 56(1), pp. 32–59. doi: 10.1177/0021886319892685.

Chang, D. R. (2020) ‘Using Films to Achieve Diversity Goals in Marketing Education’, Journal of Marketing Education, 42(1), pp. 48–58. doi: 10.1177/0273475319878868.

Desai, S., Jabeen, S., Abdul, W., Rao, S. (2018). ‘Teaching cross-cultural management: A flipped classroom approach using films’. The International Journal of Management Education, Volume 16, Issue 3, 2018, pp. 405-431,

Ford v Ferrari. 2019. (Film). Mangold James. dir. USA: Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Turnpike Films, Twentieth Century Fox.

Joy. 2015. (Film). David O.Russel. dir. USA: Fox 2000 Pictures, Davis Entertainment Company, Annapurna Pictures, TSG Entertainment.

Hidden Figures. 2016. (Film). Theodore Melfi. dir. USA: Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films

Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D. (2004) ‘Theory from Fiction: A Narrative Process Perspective on the Pedagogical Use of Feature Film’, Journal of Management Education, 28(6), pp. 707–726. doi: 10.1177/1052562903262163.

MIT (2020). Business lessons from “Ford v. Ferrari”. A look at the popular film through a lens of systems thinking and process improvement. January 7, 2020. MIT Sloan Executive Education. [Online]. [Accessed 10 October 2020]. Available from  

Steve Jobs. 2015. (Film). Danny Boyle. dir. USA: Universal Pictures, Legendary Entertainment, Scott Rudin Productions

The 33. 2015. (Film). Patricia Riggen. dir. Chile, Colombia, Spain, USA: Alcon Entertainment, Phoenix Pictures, Los 33

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. 2019. (Film). Chiwetel Ejiofor. dir. United Kingdom, Malawi: Participant Media, BBC Films, British Film Institute, Potboiler Productions.

The Social Network. 2010. (Film). David Fincher. dir. USA: Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Scott Rudin Productions, Michael De Luca Productions, Trigger Street Productions

The True Story About Blood Diamonds. 2007. (Film). United Kingdom: History Channel.

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