Discrimination and the Struggle for Equality: Film Review

***Issues to Consider***:

The following questions should help you get started, but remember not all questions will be relevant to every topic.

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Who are the major people involved in making the movie? i.e. the director, producer, actors, etc.
What was their motivation in making the movie?
Who led in the effort to make the movie? What in his or her background made this project important?
Summarize the plot of the movie.
What are the major themes developed in the movie?
How effective is the movie in conveying its intended message?
Are special film techniques used? i.e. lighting, camera angles, special effects, etc.
How was the movie received by the public? Did it do well at the box office?
How did movie critics react to the film?
How historically accurate is the film in dealing with the topic? Is it based on real people or real events?
What are the film’s biases? Does the film’s message overpower the story?
Evaluate the impact that the film had on public opinion. Did it challenge stereotypes or question established assumptions?
Did the film change your perspective on the topic? How and why?
Comment on the effectiveness of the cinematography, acting, directing, music, etc.
If you are focusing on an actor, what is his or her background?
What are his or her major films? How did they impact the industry and public opinion?

For this unit, you will select a film that relates to some aspect of the 20th century movement for equality and write a review of it.

You may take one of several approaches to the assignment. For example, you may want to explore the early days of the film industry from the perspective of the human rights movement. Rather than encouraging equality, early films reinforced stereotypes and strengthened prejudices. The exception to this rule is the genre known as “race” movies, made by blacks for black audiences. While few of these films have survived, they are discussed and described in the literature of film history.

As long as society was strictly segregated, the only viable roles for blacks to play in mainstream films seemed to be servants and entertainers, and even these parts were frequently excised for distribution in the South. Although the roles were stereotypical and limited, some talented actors and musicians gained a degree of recognition and respect and began challenging the color line. Other marginalized groups—Native Americans, women, and ethnic minorities—faced similar prejudices.

Another interesting approach is to investigate the impact of World War II on race and gender relations in the movie industry. As we have seen, the war against the virulently racist Nazis caused a reevaluation of longstanding assumptions in America, one reflected in the movie industry. You may want to select a movie from this era to review and discuss the meaning of this change.

Then with the civil rights movement, the movie industry changed quickly, becoming more politicized, just as did American society as a whole. One of the most powerful ways that film contributed to this change was not from the Hollywood perspective, but with the actual footage of the battles occurring in the American South. Every evening, television cameras brought into American living rooms the brutality of police officers using dogs, fire hoses, and billy clubs to prevent blacks from registering to vote, riding the busses, or eating at segregated restaurants. These film images played a key role in inspiring social change and have become iconic of the movement. A number of documentaries about the movement contain footage from this era.

In more recent years, the film industry has often adopted an educational approach to the history of civil rights and the campaign against discrimination and prejudice, drawing its subjects from the heroic stories of individuals and groups. In addition to the American civil rights movement, filmmakers have used as subjects the Nazi holocaust, South African apartheid, Native American exploitation, the negative portrayal of Middle Easterners and the impact of imperialism. As the women’s movement developed, films also began to reflect that changing reality and still later tackled the issue of discrimination against homosexuals. Some of these films are fictionalized accounts, while others are documentaries.

***Within this broad framework you may select a specific director, actor, or actress whose work helped to change attitudes, or you may select a specific film to review. You may focus on racial, ethnic or gender equality. A good Internet source that can help you find critical reviews is to use the database Metacritic (metacritic.com); it links to such respectable publications as Chicago Sun-Times, The New Yorker, Time, Slate, Rolling Stone, Washington Post, etc. (Cite the source that actually published the review). Be especially carefully in conducting your research for this unit! Everyone has an opinion about the movies, and many feel compelled to share them on the Internet, whether or not they possess credentials or expertise as film critics. For documenting your paper you should rely on film scholars or critics who write for the mainstream press or on people who work in the industry. If you can’t identify who wrote the review and verify his or her credentials, DON’T USE IT!!!!!!! You don’t have to agree with the critics, but you should respect their knowledge of the industry.***

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