Race and Cinema

Diane Negra and Zélie Asava

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:
Race and Cinema

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Because of the influence that American cinema has had on ideas of race globally, both as film representations and as sociocultural concerns, and in keeping with the large output of its film industry and of American academic writing on issues of race in film studies, American films and film studies will form the central focus of this examination. Because the black/white binary defines the history of US racial discourse, this bibliography will centralize this binary and consider other racial groups (under terms constructed according to American discourse, using “black” as an umbrella term) in relation to black/white screen politics. Critical race theory has proven race to be a construction, yet racism remains a part of lived experience and racial stereotypes frequently recur even in an era marked by discourses of race transcendence and “postracial” cultural celebration. Hollywood can be read as an ethnographer, reinforcing the hegemony of whiteness onscreen by producing experiences of the black racial types it creates. Representations of blackness in early and silent cinema were largely characterized by the ideology of a landmark 1915 film Birth of a Nation, which would form the template (textually, visually, and in many ways, thematically) for filmmaking that followed. This film centers on racial politics and supports a white supremacist standpoint; here (as in most Hollywood films until the civil rights era), black men were loyal chattel or aggressive “Bucks,” black women were fat, caring housekeepers, and mixed-race women were tragic, disturbed beauties (see Bogle 2001 and Gaines 2001, both cited under Screening Blackness; Courtney 2005, cited under Casting and Representation). The American film industry has produced many distorted representations that have positioned screen characters as “Other” because of their designation as nonnormative (whether black, gay, etc.). In such ways, both visually and narratologically, film codes can position the Other as inferior to the white (male) hero, even where a superficial egalitarianism might seem to prevail (e.g., the “buddy movie,” where black men play foil to their white hero partner). Very recent cinematic productions, such as The Help (2011), deploy race knowledgeably but still problematically. Thus films may both deny and recognize the notion of race as visible given that social and cinematic language still uses “race” as a social framework. In fact, while it has been established that there is no biological basis for the idea of race, notions of racial difference are routinely dramatized by filmmakers and expressed through film and visual media technology.

Article.  13113 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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