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Segregation in the Cinema

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2010 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Early in the year, 2016, the new action packed super hero movie, Captain America: Civil War, was released. So what does this have to do with segregation in movies? Well simply put, movies are a huge part of society and today’s culture. A lot of people are influenced by what they see on the screen. Most movies in today’s world are made to try and send out messages to people or they are made for enjoyment. Yet still with movies, like powerful indie collaborations, there still lies many issues with racism, stereotypes, and segregation. Typically movies that don’t follow the stereotype of casting a white person as the main lead or certain minority groups that play stereotypes that have to deal with their race, usually end up with major criticism because they are different because we are not used too. Some examples of this have to be in the Incredibles, Captain America, Iron Man and many more. This connects to you because it shows you’re viewers are really interrupted your movies especially people of other races. Each movie has an African American in it, but they are always the sidekick to the heroes and nothing more. How many movies have you ever seen that roles have been reversed? In those movies is there a any specific reason why they aren’t the protagonists in movie or is it because everyone is always used to the hero being white? Movies struggle with the idea to break out of the stereotypical norm and in this report, I will provide information on how segregation in the cinema exists such as having a white person play a bigger role, and minority groups playing outrageous representations of their race as well as some of the effects this may have on watchers.

Segregation in movies:

Most of the movies that have been released in America have almost no African American or Asian protagonists since the inception of cinema. And movies that were released that had these groups of people as the protagonists were mostly comedies or had them because the character had to play a stereotypical character. For Asians the biggest stereotype is that they have to be proficient in martial arts or some kind of cunning businessman, like any movie that contains Jackie Chan or Karate Kid. For African Americans the stereotypes for their characters, is that they are mostly there for comic relief or a sidekick to a hero, like in the movie Rush Hour. In which the movie Rush Hour serves to show both of these stereotypes, by having the lead Jackie Chan, a skilled fighter, and another lead Chris Tucker, as comic relief. The article entitled, “Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2,” by Ji Hoon Park, Nadine Gabbadon, and Ariel R Chernin, supports that idea that these stereotypes can exist in movies. The authors analyze the main characters Lee (Jackie Chan) and James Carter (Chris Tucker) by stating, “Lee is respectful but culturally ignorant and asexual Asian man who excels at Kung Fu…Carter is a loud, impulsive, hyper sexual yet childish black man who is often portrayed as ignorant and causing trouble,” (Park). Basically, there are very few movies that cast someone that isn’t white in a serious movies to avoid people’s criticism. An example of this would be in the superhero movie, Iron Man, the main character named Tony Stark has a sidekick named, Colonel Rhodes. He is an African American man and his role in the movies is a lot smaller and kind of meaningless than Stark’s role. In the article “Race and Cinema,” By Diane Negra and Zelie Asava point out this idea by stating, “In such ways, both visually and narratological [the study of structure in narratives], film codes can position the other as inferior to the white (male) hero…,” (Negar and Asava Intro). As a society, some people still have this representation that white males should be more inferior those of color which was basically stated in the quote above. This can go for the same as other movies like Captain America, where the African American characters have smaller roles or their just for comic relief.

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 In Jon Greenberg’s article “The Race Bechtel Test.” Citizenship and Social Justice,” provides information on the term “Race Bechdel Test,” that was invented by Alison Bechdel which was able to access if a movie has a good racial presence. The test itself is a yes or no three question test that helps access a movie. The first question asks if there are two or more people of color that are named in a movie. Followed by the second question that asks if these characters talk to each. The third question asks if the two named people of color talks about anything of importance that isn’t about someone who is white. Jon Greenberg, a award winning teacher and writer, discuss the test by pointing out the racial issue with the movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, by insinuating, “Well they are more extras than characters; nevertheless, because of this movie, Middle Earth finally become a home to two humans of color.” In which he implies that test proves its accuracy in how a movie can combine two people of color together.

Why Movies Are The Way They Are

 The Movie industry, like any form of art, is always changing and adjusting to their target audience. In some instances, some believe their target audience to be white people. This is supported by Robin R. Means Coleman in her book, African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor. Coleman states that “The answer, predictably, rests with White viewers and the ratings game,” (Coleman 4). Majority of white people populous America have been the target audience of certain movie companies for a long time. They do this in way by creating a movie that may have people have color to act a certain way because they believe that’s how viewers believes a person of color should act. For example, a movie named, Madea’s Witness Protection, stars Tyler Perry, as a African American woman, who loves friend chicken. After watching this movie, certain viewers may come to the conclusion that all African Americans must love fried chicken. A book by Henry M Benshoff and Sean Griffin titled, America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies, states that “When such oversimplified and overgeneralized assumptions become standardized – in speech, in movies, on TV – they becomes stereotypes,” (America). What people see in the movies or on TV that are common topic for a person of color, then turns into to fact to them, which is basically how stereotypes are created. A lot of people sometimes rely on movies to tell them about certain things, like people, places outside their immediate living conditions, or about experiences they never had.

The Effect On Today’s Audiences

 A lot of people sometimes rely on movies to tell them about certain things, like people, places outside their immediate living conditions, or about experiences they never had. In movies there is a huge common misconception about people of color and about they should act. Most people who have never met someone of color, might actually believe that is how someone of color should act without knowing the difference. Benshoff and Griffin talk about this course of action is possible in their book, where it is pointed out that “the ideas of race and ethnicity are formed in a way that keeps white people on top.” This is done intentionally, which is proven throughout America’s history. We do this to show that other minorities don’t/won’t fit in with society. The authors then come to discuss who is consider white and how that is classified because at one pointing history there was time when the Irish weren’t even considered to be “White.” In which this all comes to term called “doing race.” “Doing Race” by defined in the article, “Race and Ethnicity As Doings,” By paula M. L. Moya and Hazel Rose Markus, is that it is a negative way of looking at someone based on their skin color or ethnic background. The authors come to the conclusion that a person’s personal identity can be affected by “doing race” means in today’s society as well as they also go on to discuss the difference between ethnicity and race and how even though the terms mean different things, they are used interchangeable (Moya 177). In which some of these theories could come from the negative stereotypes that are portrayed in the media.


 In the end, there seems to be some common threaded themes between some of the books and articles mentioned above. Analyzed article of Rush Hour 2 by authors Park, Gabbadon, and Chernin, noticed how the comedy movie had some form of stereotype or jab at African Americans or Asian Americans. They also were able to ask everyday people that had seen the movie, if they were anyway offended by it. Most of the people in the audience were not offended by the actions of characters in the movie, but some of the viewer’s insight brought a new light to the issues of race. One person commented that if either of the main character had been white males and had made the same racial joke then there would have been major backlash from the people of color instating how wrong it was from them to do that. Some people viewed it as that, the movie was strictly labeled a comedy and that it no way should have been taken seriously but rather as joke instead. The fact that racial stereotypes were used throughout this movie cannot be ignored, but they were because of the setting it was placed into. By having it into a humorous situation and so stretched out of proportion to the point where it’s almost ridiculous, was how the movie was able to get away with it. Coleman on the other hand talks about how usually movies and shows target a white audience because of the way they cast stereotypes of people of color in the show/film. Griffin and Benshoff contribute to Coleman’s theory, by stating how stereotypes are created and that what is seen on the screen is usually what people tend believe is real in regards to how people act.

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 Racial Segregation is in many movies today, whether it’s in a popular hero movie or an action comedy or even in a horror movie, they are still always there. It can be as simple as placing a character in a degrading role that demonizes that person of color or by not casting a person of color as the main character. This shows you that media portrays white people on top which goes hand in hand with Benshoff and Griffin claim in their book. In conclusion, racial segregation in movies are there, and will always be till we can define what being white is and how to target other groups of people.

Works Cited:

  • Benshoff, Harry M., and Sean Griffin. America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.
  • Greenberg, Jon. “The Race Bechdel Test.” Citizenship and Social Justice. N.p., 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016.
  • Moya, Paul M. L., and Hazel Rose Markus, Race and Ethnicity As Doings Negra, Diane, and Zelie Asava. “Race and Cinema.” Race and Cinema. Oxford University Press, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 May 2016.
  • Park, J. H., Gabbadon, N. G. and Chernin, A. R. (2006), Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2. Journal of Communication, 56: 157–177. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00008.x
  • R., Means Coleman Robin. African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor. New York: Garland Pub., 1998. Google Books. Taylor & Francis, 1998. Web. 4 May 2016.


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