Type: Narrative Essays
Sample donated: Byron Christensen
Last updated: April 4, 2019
In this essay I am going to be writing an account about the representations of African American ‘stars’ being representative of African Americans generally, and from there drawing conclusions about whether one ‘star’ can be representative of a whole culture.I will be using the key concepts, which underpin Media Studies of Language, Ideology, Audience, Representation, Genre, Institutions and Narrative to argue my points in which I will contextualise in terms of historical, Ideological, political, economical and social aspects.In particular my essay concentrates on black men and women in the media, as there has been a strong African American counter culture. I will be putting many arguments for and against the representation of African Americans being true to life and representative.
Race is a set of genetically defined biological and cultural defined characteristics. Within the media representations of race consist of stereotypes, which can be harmful and impressionable. This can be done, as it may constitute the only experience of contact with particular ethnic group that an audience may have. An example could be children looking at Black people on TV being called ‘Nigger ‘; they may believe this language is normal and that all Black people are ‘Niggers’. These representations can have adverse affects on audiences and are a priority for political agendas.
Accurate portrayals of diversity will take a while to filter through to programme and filmmaking.The root of the African American counter culture came from races and ethnic groups feeling superior. This can be historically traced back to imperialism and colonialism as a means of justifying the colonial conquer and exploitation of other social groups. Western societies today are more multicultural due to immigration from ex colonies linked to demand for cheap labour.
I will be looking at whether or not the African American.When looking at ‘stars’ in the media as viewers we can see the A list stars are mainly white American men and women, such as the likes of Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Demi Moore and Sandra Bullock to mention a few. But when thinking of African American ‘stars’ only a few come to mind, the list is not endless. Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Whoopie Goldberg and Halle Berry are popular faces in Hollywood and lead roles have only been given to black people since the 1970’s.
Is that all I asked myself? Then how can it be representative of a whole culture if there is such a minority?The popularity of these stars comes from their ‘star image’ or ‘persona’. There is a close correlation between the popularity of the stars and the range of possible representations. When an audience watches a film they are more interested in what the star is doing rather than the character they are playing.
When I say Schwarznegger and Stallone audiences would immediately think strong, muscular men for action men roles in films such as ‘Terminator’ and ‘Rocky’. This is the way we are use to them being represented. On the other hand actors such as Bruce Willis have emerged as more sympathetic characters in films such as ‘The Sixth Sense and ‘Unbreakable’. These stereotypes can be altered as Hollywood ‘A’ list actors have the power to. An example would be the fact that Bruce Willis has not always been the sympathetic character but was represented similarly to Schwarznegger and Stallone in ‘Die Hard’. This shows the popularity of the actor links to power, which allows them freedom of the roles they play as it is always seen as their image changing to meet different ideas in the industry.
The ‘commutation test’ can show this, as Will Smith and Hugh Grant cannot possibly substitute roles in the film ‘Ali’ and ‘Notting Hill’. This is due to factors such as Ali can only be played by a black role as he is black, therefore Hollywood didn’t have much choice in who they had to hire for the job as the only young A list African American is Will Smith. Likewise, Will Smith would not pull ‘Notting Hill’ off well, as the film is white washed and based in England. This shows that the star persona is an integral part of the representation, although there isn’t much choice in Hollywood of black actors explaining why Will Smith is used for a black role.African American stars do not have this freedom, it may seem that Will Smith’s persona and true character is Agent J in MIB as his humour is not script written but natural to the audience, but in actual fact the theorist below found that character roles for African Americans are limited. Unlike Bruce Willis who can conform to any star image he wishes it is shown below that African Americans such as the likes of Will Smith, do not have as much freedom.Alvaredo a sociologist found that in film there are four categories in which black people fit into.
They play characters, which fall under the titles below. I am going to take the successful African American stars, and use their character roles as an example to show how the theory is inevitable.; The Exotic – – Wild Wild West (1999) Special government agent James West (Smith), long on charm and wit, and special government agent Artemus Gordon (Kline), a master of disguises and a brilliant inventor of gadgets large and small, are each sent to track down the diabolical genius Dr. Arliss Loveless (Branagh). Loveless is plotting to assassinate the President of the United States with the aid of his monstrously huge walking weapon-transport vehicle called The Tarantula; The Dangerous – Enemy of the State (1998). Robert Clayton DeanA successful lawyer finds himself the target of a treacherous NSA official and his goons after receiving evidence to a politically motivated murder, the only man that can help him is a former government operative turned surveillance expert; The Humorous – Men in Black (1997)Officer James Darrel Edwards III/MiB Agent J (Jay)Men in Black follows the exploits of agents Kay (Jones) and Jay (Smith), members of a top-secret organization established to monitor and police alien activity on Earth.
The two Men in Black find themselves in the middle of the deadly plot by an intergalactic terrorist (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has arrived on Earth to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies. In order to prevent worlds from colliding, the MiB must track down the terrorist and prevent the destruction of Earth. It’s just another typical day for the Men in Black; The Pitied – Men in Black 2 (2002) – MiB Agent J (Jay)Agent J (Will Smith) needs help so he is sent to find Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and restore his memoryStuart Hall a Jamaican born Marxist sociologist did a study ‘The Grammar Of Race’ (1991). He questioned the point that ‘we in Britain are proud of our tradition of a free press’. “there is something radically wrong with the way black immigrants – West Indians, Asians, Africans-are handled by and presented on the mass media”. Negative racial images cannot not be resolved by “a few more black faces on the screen, or by an extra documentary or two on immigrant problems”.He also found that African American ‘stars ‘ come under categories of either:1.
The Slave2. The Native3. The EntertainerThis links back to the essay question, as how can limited roles allow African American stars be representative of a whole culture.In terms of gender, African American men are more likely to find lead roles than African American women. It is only recently that Black women have become noticed in Hollywood. This was shown in 2002 Oscars where Halle Berry was the winner of ‘Actress In Leading Role’ for Monster’s Ball. Her speech conveyed her opinions clearly where she said ‘it’s for every nameless, faceless, women of colour that now has a chance to because this door tonight has been opened’.
This shows that she was clearly showing that Black women are under represented in Hollywood, and this is the beginning of the end as times are changing.Another point would be, Male stars are still able to find lead roles even when they pass fifty, but this is much more difficult for women. Denzel Washington is pro longing his career in the industry whilst the likes of Halle Berry will no longer be seen in another two decades. This sexism is to do with power relations as the film industry is pre dominantly patriarchal.Black people are more likely to be famous through music and sport. This is because they are seen to be more expressive and deep rooted that white people. They are said to have a ‘natural rhythm’. This is shown in many cases.
Will Smith himself started in the music industry with Jazzy Jeff and only since 1992 did he hit the big screen and started to do films. Aaliya also started in the music industry and then started to do films such as Romeo Must Die. Black people are well known in athletics and are pre dominant in basketball, an example in Michael Jordan who went on to star in the film Space Jam.Naomi Campbell, black supermodel also reveals a strong point in her quote ‘Blonde haired, blue eyed girls are what sells’ that there is more pressure on female stars to conform to fashion and conventional ideas of beauty – being ‘badly behaved’ or ‘dressing down’ is more likely to hurt female stars than a male stars. An example could be Whitney Houston. Her career has been given some ups and downs by the mass media, where as her husband Bobby Brown hasn’t been given as many knocks.Following the mass civil rights demonstrations in the 1960’s, American black organisations pressured the government and corporations to use more African American models in their advertisements. Content analysis surveys in the 1990’s showed the battle had been won.
Their representation in television advertisements has been found to be just slightly higher than their percentage share of the population.However research shows that African Americans are usually seen endorsing products of lower value than those endorsed be white Americans. The sex of the black model is usually male and is less likely than white models to have a highly skilled occupation. African Americans are three times as likely to be portrayed as sport stars, but only half as likely to be shown in business roles.
All this under representation links to the profit motive of the media working consistently to exclude audiences lacking economic power or resources. Unless the media organisations can sell the audiences to advertisers, there will be no attempt to cater for that audience. The size of the ignored audience can be in millions. As it portrayed within the African American race.There are many other theorists through the decades who have argued their opinions of representations of African Americans in the media.Van Djiks (1991) studied racism in the British Press in the 1980’s and he found:; Black people were often associated with inner-city disturbances or violence.
Films such as Blue Streak show this as Martin Lawrence is seen to be a thief acting as a police officer.; Ethnic minorities were rarely portrayed as victims of violence but offenders.; There was a great deal of coverage of a story about white children being disadvantaged as a minority in a Bradford school (the Honeyford affair).; In the late 1980’s Islamic fundamentalists were often portrayed as a threat, and this is current as well.Van Djiks overall, claimed that a ‘country is as racist as its dominant elites are as they reproduce ethnic ideologies’.
So as you can see this African American counter culture comes from the superiors who control us as they can oppress to whichever degree they wish to. In this case the superiors would be the institutes controlling the mass media.Hatmann and Husband (1974) studied the impact of media messages in different areas. The argued that ‘it is clear the press and the news media in general have not merely reflected public consciousness on matters of race and colour, but have played a significant part in shaping this consciousness’. They considered that the media served to reinforce attitudes on race issues, and that these were closely linked to individuals own personal experiences. This is a true statement as the media have a lot to do with out ideology, they tell us what is right and wrong.
An example would be Nelson Mandela, as the media saw him as a bad person and as times changed they saw him as a heroic man. The audiences followed the media and this led to an innocent man being labelled and punished for part of his life.My argument so far has mainly shown that black people are represented but unfairly in some circumstances due to stereotypes.
But a counter argument could be the findings from the Glasgow Media Group who were the first people to take the media as a whole. They found that ethnic minority representation was proportional in terms of how many live in the UK. They said 5.5% are ethnic representations, which is comparative.Overall in conclusion throughout my essay you can see many arguments for and against African American ‘stars’ being representative of African Americans in general and of them being representative of the whole culture.
You can see that historically there has been a progression as there is media awareness of African American stars, although there still isn’t enough and representations can be false and lead to false ideologies and stereotypes to be formed. Therefore there is room for improvement to be made by institutions to give a true representation of African Americans, which can be reflective upon the whole culture.