film studies

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The Portrayal Of African Americans In Movies Film Studies Essay

In the assignment, I investigated the portrayal of black female in Hollywood films. Which I started off by watching an old time romantic classic film Gone with the Wind, which at first I thought it was a non racial film as slaves were portrayed as normal employees, and were rewarded with presents like the master’s pocket watch if they’ve been appropriately loyal.

Black women involvement in changing African American culture in all black setting was from their outsider experience in White family home. Black women saw white women elites, both actual and aspiring. Black women didn’t only perform domestic duties; they also performed a close relationship with the children they nurtured. Moreover, black women noticed that the myth of the domestic worker was becoming an increasing racial ideology.

Nancy White, a black inner-city-resident, explores the connection between experience and beliefs: “Now, I understand all these things from living. But you can’t lay up on these flowery beds of ease and think that you are running your life, too. Some women, white women, can run their husbands lives for a while, but most of them have to.....see what he tells them there is to see. If he tells them that they ain’t seeing what they know they are seeing, then they have to just go like it wasn’t there! (In Gwaltney 1980, 148).” (Name the Book).

This passage illustrates that being an outsider; black women will foster a new angle of vision on domination. It suggests that Black female worker could never be a White middle class women lying on a “Flowery bed of ease”. But her duties leading for caring her White women allowed her an insider’s view of some of contradiction that is being played between White women thinking that they are running their lives and the patriarchal power and authority in their households.

To an extent, I did some research on what stereotypical views American people had for African Americans; as a result I found that the slaves contained a little truth surrounded by a large lie for example the mummy at GWTW played by Hattie McDaniel, portrayed as an obese, coarse, maternal figure. The lie that is behind this according to Professor of African American and African studies Patricia Turner is that she claimed that “one of the many brutal aspects of slavery was that slave owners sexually exploited their slaves especially light skinned ones” which are the mainstream definition of female sexual attractiveness. Therefore mummy was then deliberately constructed to suggest ugliness. The white women felt threaten by this assumption; so therefore the attempt were to desexualise mammy and by extension, the white family could feel safe.

The actor Hattie McDaniel who played the well known mummy portrayal has won herself an Oscar for the best supporting actress. The actor who she played Scarlett O’Hara’s sassy but loyal servant in “Gone with the Wind, was the first Black to win an Academy Award. Hattie McDaniel not only did she starred in Gone with the wind as a mummy but did lot more in her previous films for example “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933) and “The Gold West” (1932) as she played an unobtrusive, weak mummies. Furthermore she was criticized by Blacks by allowing herself portray as a mummy caricature. She responded that “Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making seven dollars a week actually being one”. This statement tells us how black women were given choice whether to endure the stereotype ridicule from both her African American to receive an Oscar, people still argue until today whether she sold out or did she succeed in her life. However she stated in her appearance at the Oscar and quotes that “ I sincerely hope that I will be a credit to my race” suggesting that she has come far in life as Black American to achieve such an award which then would have been impossible, she claims that anyone could succeed if they work hard for it.

The Cosby shows is a comedy about a middle class black family. the main character Bill Cosbyis played by Cliff Huxtable. He is gynaecologist and obstetrician, and his wife Claire is a lawyer. The show has become popular over the years as they were the first black people to have a leading role on a TV show. However there are speculation whether the show is constructed or reflective in

This is part of the white fantasy: blacks should stop complaining and work hard. Hence the reference to The Cosby Show, which I have only just remembered

You now need to conclude this introduction. Is the Hattie McDaniel character a racist image? Yes because it conforms to the stereotype. No because the actor playing the part is doing well in white society and might be called a role model. Yes because the stereotype limits the ways in which she can be successful. You have to make the point that different readings are possible, hence The Cosby Show study.

Methodology-

In the 21st century the portrayal of black female in Hollywood still continues, therefore I want to find out how teenagers in today’s society handle the stereotype that the media with holds and what affects has it caused in how black female view themselves. In my investigation I got a group of black teenagers to discuss the issue of the portrayal of black women in films. In addition, I have chosen four film trailers for the teenagers to watch; which where two modern and two classic films the reason I have chosen classic and modern is because I want to prove the point of how Hollywood still continues these portrayal of black women, whether it’s a black comedy or black drama it still de-humanizes black women and creates humour from this. The film trailers that I showed to the teenagers were the following:

Norbit

Precious

Gone With the Wind

Birth of the Nation

The group discussions were vital as it provided me crucial information about the teenagers view point of the media portrayal. However it’s not only films that are constantly shown portraying black women negatively it’s also in the media; these stereotypes been presented in the music videos. As these black women are shown dancing all over these men while half naked, allowing champagne to be poured on to them, all for just money. However, to young teenagers it looks like these women are living the best life. Research suggests that when negative images are repeatedly exposed over a long period of time, we use these images and measure ourselves and others against them. Therefore, when young teenagers are being exposed to the media that portrayal people of colour are less likely to succeed, less beautiful and less worthwhile than white people, they tend to believe those ideas.

In the group meeting I have asked the students an open question of what they have thought of the film trailers, and successfully I got a useful responds which I will utilise in my investigation. The following are the questions that I asked the students:

From watching these trailers what were your thought?

Which one in particular did you find disturbing to watch?

Which one of these trailers did you find racist?

Which film do you think portrays black female in a negative way

What elements did they use to stereotype black women?

As a young black female teenager how did these trailers make you feel?

Did you think GWTW is a racist film? If yes why?

Do you think this negative stereotype still carries into the 21st century?

The film Gone with the Wind (1939) was one of the most controversial films that depicts of race relations. Through freed from the novel’s positives portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, “Gone with the Wind” depiction of slavery still remains particularly naive. The writer of the film “Birth of the Nation Thomas F. Dixon Jr has written a letter to praise Margaret Mitchell about how great Gone with the Wind was: “the greatest story of the South ever put down on paper, you have given the world The Great American Novel. Margaret replied back with the great praise for Dixon’s extremist Klan-praising books and quotes “In truth, the film Gone with the wind is Birth of Nation without the bed sheets and hoods of the Klan” suggesting that the truth of Gone with the wind hides the important elements that happened to Blacks. The extremely dehumanizing, exploitative, and bloody reality of slavery, with its great violence against (including much rape of black women) enslaved African Americans, is missing from the novel and the movie. In the film “blacks appear mostly as slaves: loyal servants like Prissy . . . , or clownish servants. Whites are seen as worthy of the subservience, loyalty, and love of faithful servants”. This is because the genre of the film is romantic “Happiness and wholeness” and one with “antiseptic slavery without whips, chains, or rape” is shown to create the mood. To an extent, the sense of the collective identity produced by laughing at ‘others’, those who are perceived as different and possibly a treat. For example when blacks appear alongside whites in comedies, racial issues become a main focus for the humour.

Hattie McDaniel in her mummy role in “Gone with the Wind”, black women has been stereotyped since then. She had a very aggressive personality and was overly possessive even when she is preserving the female master. Her powerful aggressive is where the portrayal of African American tradition started off, as people often stereotype women as being overly aggressive and disrespectful. The mummy represented the black mother figures in white homes; the matriarch symbolized the mother figure in Black homes. Which therefore the representation that is been stereotyped is that the mummy symbolizes the ‘good’ black mother, whereas the black matriarch symbolizes the ‘bad’ black mothers. This has been introduced widely through a government reported titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, the black matriarchy thesis argued that “African –American women who failed to fulfil their traditional “Womanly” duties at home contributed to social problems in Black civil society” (Moynihan 1965).

The mummy of the house is seen being strong and her dignity is largely intact but her grammar is chopped down into broken English with an extremely simplistic level. However they deliberately constructed this type of character to suggest that all black people are sexually unattractive. They portrayed them as being dark skinned, often pitch black which in the society they regarded black people being ugly.

GWTW uses black over weight maid that looks old. The reason they used this is because that no reasonable white man would choose a fat, elderly black women instead of the idealized white women. The white family would feel safe, by de-eroticism of all black mummy by portraying them of lacking all sexual and sensual qualities.

Historically, it is the African American women, has been the rock of the family, who is strong both in emotion and in honour, she has kept the family together through hardship and poverty, preserving in the most difficult of times. The African American women has protected and raised her family for generation in the worst of circumstance.

Butterfly McQueen plays the character Prissy, the stupid, loud and annoying house girl. The character Prissy is a squeamish, a liar and becomes hysterical over the smallest things. As the Jim Crow minstrel entertainment era this portrayal was being used to entertain the white audience. The minstrel stereotyped black people of being a clown, something funny to watch so therefore watching this character makes the humour of the film to the white audience as it was successful in the early minstrel time, including it on a movie would be greater success on their believes.

I watched this

The film Precious stars by Gabourey Sidibe who plays an obese black girl Claireece Jones, known as “Precious”. The film is set in 1986 Harlem, Precious daydreams of having glamorous life, with a light skinned boyfriend and the paparazzi in love with her. In reality Precious experiences and suffers constant sexual abuse by her father, the father of daughter who suffers from Down ’s syndrome, and Precious is now carrying her second child by him. The film is also narrated by Gabourey Sidibe, she takes us through her day dreams and the things she hungers for. As in her day dreams she says she wants to be “on a BET videos “this shows videos that degrades women. The parent television council claimed that BET rap programming, which they believed contained gratuitously sexual, violent, and profane content, was targeting teenagers. Furthermore scholars within the African American community maintain that BET perpetuates and justifies racism by affecting the interpersonal beliefs others may generalize about African American and also the young teenager’s viewers through its negative image of African American.

The image of the welfare mothers that is being portrayed in the film provides ideological justifications for intersecting oppressions of race, gender and class. African American can be racially stereotyped as being lazy by blaming black welfare mother for falling to pass on the work ethic. She is portrayed as being content to sit around and collect welfare mother the image of the welfare mother represents another failed mummy, one who is unwilling to become “de mule uh de world” which this links back to Precious of instead of her mother encourage to stay in school, she forces to go to the welfare.

“Welfare queen” is a phrase that describes the economic dependency- the lack of a job and/ income (which equal degeneracy in the Calvinist United States); the presence of a child or children with no father and/or husband (moral deviance); and finally, a charge on the collective U.S. treasury- a human debit. The cumulative totality, circulation, and effect of these meanings in a time of scarce resources among the working class and the lower middle class are devastatingly intense. The welfare queen represents moral aberration and an economic drain, but the figures problematic status becomes all the more threatening once responsibility for the destruction of the American way of life is attributed to it. (Lubiano 1992, 337-38), (Patricia Hill Collins, Black feminist thought). Book

The welfare queen held a portrayal of being selfish, money-oriented women, who are manless, working class people. The image of the welfare queen portrayal represents black welfare queen happy taking money from hard earned money of taxpaying Americans and remains married to the state. The welfare queen image signals efforts to use the situation of working class black women as a sign of the deterioration of the state. Reference the book

Political scientist Martin Gilens did a study of the way in which poverty was being represented in USA’s leading news magazines (Times, Newsweek and US News and World Report). Following key figures were produced by Gilens:

Gilens found 182 stories concerning poverty in these magazines during the period under analysis.

635 people were pictured as ‘Poor’ in these stories, in 214 pictures (photographs and drawings).

Gilens interest was primarily in the representation of poverty in terms of ‘race’ and ethnicity. He excluded 75 people in eight stories whose race could not be identified; 637 minus 75 left 560 people pictured.

Gilens found that of those 560 people pictured in news stories as ‘poor’, 62 per cent were African- American.

He claims that African American make up only 25% on government statistics of the US poor. Gilens suggests that “ A reader of these news magazines is likely to develop the impression that American’s poor are predominantly black. This distorted portrait of the America poor cannot help but reinforce negative stereotype of blacks as mired in poverty and contribute to the belief that poverty is primarily a ‘Blacks problem’ (THE books name)

the politician Gilens examines the survey that he took, and he found out that the media over exaggerate the percentage of African American being poor, he suggests that the negative stereotype leads to a situation which many white people do not support government welfare provision because they perceive poverty and/or unemployment as a black problem. The film precious has been shown primarily black people being ‘Poor’ as to therefore suggesting that majority of the black people in America is poor. However, going back to the newspaper, the portrayal of black people could have been escalated by one media featuring more black people than usual, which then could have exaggerated the results.

In addition, I watched Norbit. The film is about a young man named Norbit. Eddie Murphy co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in the film. I found this film humorous to watch, of the repetitive hate humour that it represents. I found myself to be expected to laugh at the portrayals of verbal and physical abuse that it creates through the film.  The film starts off with the character Norbit; he is skinny, insidiously shy, irreproachably geeky and a painfully awkward guy.  His childhood was not very kind to him, as he was given away at birth to an orphanage home. He then meets Rasputia. She helps Norbit from the bullies which she manhandles two older teenagers. Rasputia (Eddy Murphy), introduces herself to Norbit at a playground. She is enormous for a 10 year old, and when she finds out that his single, she makes a decision right then and there that Norbit will be her new boyfriend whether he wants to or not. The film tells us that black skinned women are unattractive and lighter women are. This creates an enormous affect on teenagers who are watching this, as portrayal that it tells through the film is that light skinned are beautiful than darker skinned.

Rasputia later becomes Norbit’s new wife. She is shown as a bigger, bossy, sassy, mean spirited, and unfaithful, holding Norbit emotionally captive.

The film Norbit stereotypes black women into the following three categories. They are:

Mummy

Jezebel

Sapphire

Moreover, while I was researching I came across by statement which states that “Aggressive, assertive women are penalized-they are abandoned by their men, end up impoverished, and are stigmatized as being unfeminine”. Book Therefore suggesting that the stereotype has been used penalize black understands of black masculinity. The image of the matriarch also supports racial oppression. Much social science research implicitly uses gender relation in African American communities as one seeing measure of black cultural disadvantage. For example the Maynihan report (1965) contends the slavery destroyed black families by creating deviant because they challenge the patriarchal assumptions underpinning the traditional family idea.

The image Rasputia portrays is unattractive and weight black women. She shows off her tiny bathing suit; when the attendant asks her if she is wearing bottoms because her belly obscures it. However, Rasputia beyond large breasts hitting the steering wheel, and claiming that Norbit adjusted the seats, as she slaps him across the face when he denies it. This shows that she is violently abusive and stupid as to think she is right when she is clearly not.

Rasputia is loud, bossy, and dishonest, but these are seen as the sure fire in the society, this is identifiable traits of the modern of black women. Rasputia’s “type” is historically been portrayed of them driving all good men away, leaving only emasculated Norbits and feminized girlie men (like the exercise guru forced to sleep with her in order to get ahead), who are the inevitable byproducts of a matriarchal culture run amok.

Jasmyne A. Cannick is a well known and respected public policy and communications professional with a successful track record in the areas of public policy, issue and campaign strategies. She has recently written a review of the film Norbit of its negative stereotype of obese black women (“Why Norbit Sent Me Intro Orbit”). She states that “the trailer for Norbit encouraged a strange ambivalence of laughing at something that in reality shouldn’t be funny, because the comedy relates to the social and historic tragedies about body image/obesity and skin colour preference, respectively”

Tim Cogshell, in a review of Norbit, comments about this:

“…there is a great deal of mockery of the obese in Norbit, but therein lies a bit of truth, too: We do mock the obese, don't we?”

“…The lithe Kate (who seems to transform into a white girl post her childhood persona) juxtaposed with the big, fat, mean Rasputia may simply look like more of the same fat-bashing humour we've come to expect in movies such as this, and it is, but that's not all it is. There is a mirror in this movie, reflecting a lot of things, not the least of which is that we are a mean, fat country that ironically doesn't like mean fat people.”

Rasputia is shown on as a sexualized freak show; her short hair is “did.” Her flawless make-up does not mask a teethy, hideous smile. Her fingernails are manicured and claw-like. This

Black women’s sexuality lie at the heart of black women’s oppression, historical jezebels and contemporary “Hoochies” represent a deviant black female sexuality. The image of jezebel originated under slavery when black women were portrayed as being, to use Jewelle Gomez’s words, ‘’sexually aggressive we nurses’’ (Clarke et al. 1983, 99). Jezebel’s function was to relegate all black women to the category of sexually aggressive women, thus providing a powerful rationale for the widespread sexual assaults by White men typically reported by Black slave women (Davies 1981; D. White 1985). Jezebel served yet another function. If black slave women could be portrayed as having excessive sexual appetites, then increased fertility should be the expected outcome.

Rasputia is shown singing to the Pussy Cat Dolls “Don’t Cha”, this creates the humour of the film. In the scene she is shown washing the car while PCD “Don’t Cha” is being played. It also shows her in a low angle shot and slow motion while she washes the car. This overall suggests while its portraying black women extreme, Raspuita is shown, of her being proud of who she is, almost creating a positive view. However it also could be argued that excessive portrayal of the stereotypes might affect young teenagers on their behavior of what they see in films such as Norbit. These constructed stereotype images represents by Black Director, writer and Actor to entertain the audience of allowing the image to escalate into the black community.

Moreover, I started to watch ‘Birth of the nation’ is Directed by David Llewelyn Wark Griffith. The film was made in 1915 and caused extream controversy with individulas and orgaisation across the country. The film had expilicit rasism, as one scenes portrays black men as savages possessed by animalistic lust, sexually assaulting white women. in the film black roles were mainly white actors, as they painted their face with burnt cork. American films has popularized the stereotype that are held by the soicety. Griffith exploited as many of the stereotype in his film “Birth of the Nation”. For example, Mulattos were represented as being evil , while those who has full black in them have the choice to be either “Good” (i.e. faithful to whites or “bad” (i.e. interested in self-preservation and equality). The black actors that worked in the film were given roles for them to create humor and humanity in their characters. the historical and contemporary challenege of race relation, was the begining of cultural identity in American cinema.


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