Reclaiming Stereotypes

The phenomenon of stereotyping in the media is covered vastly in academic research. The term “stereotype” can be defined as “[…] a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” (Cardwell 1996). In social psychology, the term is further detailed as (1) an aid to explanation, (b) an energy-saving device, and (c) a shared group belief. (McGarty et al. 2002: 2). But more importantly than knowing the concept behind the word, is to understand how this “class of people” is categorized. Commonly, cultural studies engage in differentiation and categorization with a wider perspective of the tendencies of, what Antonio Gramsci calls, a hegemonic society (Bates 1975: 352). Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony, which, in a simplified way, refers to the dominance of one social class over others (Bates 1975: 352), can be adapted to making sense of the stereotypical categorizations in media, because of its focus on culture and ideology. According to Gramsci, it is important to identify routine structures and value systems as part of the mechanism of cultural domination (Gitlin, 1994:517). Since it is a representation of popular culture and, therefore, holds a status of being highly influential, Hollywood cinema can be categorized as such. Consequently, stereotypes supported and perpetuated by Hollywood cinema have an impact on popular culture.
African-Americans have been subject to stereotyping throughout all of American cinema history. Even the earliest films depicted stereotyped images of African-Americans. But resistance has always been strong, with political groups and activists criticizing the narrow-sighted way of representation African-Americans have had to endure. However, regardless of the many attempts and successes in counteracting this misrepresentation in Hollywood cinema, the struggle continues, especially for women. Activism has been focussed mainly on male-representation, while African-American women have struggled to find a voice behind the veil of not only racial bias, but also sexism. However, significant steps have been taken throughout the last few decades to rectify the misrepresentation of women: Independent film productions have challenged the distorted images portrayed by the media. Directors, producers, writers and other film crew members as well as actors, actresses and activists have spoken out against stereotyping in Hollywood cinema. Furthermore, organisations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have organized protests and challenged marketing of Hollywood films depicting stereotypical representations of African-Americans. In this way, the cinema industry has been confronted by resistance coming from the inside the industry as well as the outside.

This analysis serves to outline the continued struggle of African-American women to counteract racially and sexually biased stereotypes as perpetuated by the popular media domain of Hollywood cinema in a white-dominated, patriarchal society. Moreover, it serves to shed light on recent activism and achievements, which are now commonly referred to as ‘reclaiming stereotypes’. Resistance from within the industry will be exemplified by juxtaposing the 2009 film “Precious”, an independent production which was majorly successful, with other film productions from the same year, which serve to perpetuate the misrepresentation of African-American women. Furthermore, activism stemming from sources outside of the cinema industry will be detailed, as part of a growing mind state of contempt for stereotyping African-American women.


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About AnekaB

Literature, Philosophy, Culture
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3 Responses to Reclaiming Stereotypes

  1. I’m glad I read this blog because as a screenwriter, living in Hollywood, but independently contracting in Australia, and planning on working with the Aborigine people, the ways people stereotype in a world largely dominated by white colonialism, are indeed universal. Props to Aneka for bringing up “Precious” a film that inspired some hope in the resistance against destructive stereotypes and paved a road for fuller development on films with a message rather than another carbon copy of cheap thrills, starring mostly thin Caucasian definitions of beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pablo Cuzco says:

    Great analysis of the problems associated with stereotyping, not only in Hollywood, but also the rest of the country; and most of the post-colonial world, for that matter. While activism is crucial to changing the current climate, working on how people think is as important. The problem is: How do you fix entrenched ideas in people who feel no need to change?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael Keohane says:

    I often thought about the concept of stereotyping, but couldn’t pin it down.
    And what fed its lead and influences. This is a very interesting article on the whole topic.
    I had an involvement in English Language teaching systems once. And noticed its dominance around the world, since the decline of colonialism and the English Empire.
    I came to a conclusion in that period of my life, that the English language and the structured teaching of it spread, to all races of people. And the English language itself grew like the colonial empires. So the main push of language teaching was refined thru the 1950s has beyond. And thru that time and beyond the English language seemed to change culture throughout the world gradually. It was helped by English being adopted by the computer industry. Nearly everybody in this world now can speak some English today.
    And the culture from its country of origin comes wrapped in it too.

    Liked by 1 person

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