Negative Stereotypes in Entertainment Media - The Herald: Online Features

Negative Stereotypes in Entertainment Media

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Posted: Thursday, November 9, 2017 2:30 pm | Updated: 1:37 pm, Thu Nov 16, 2017.

Negative portrayals of racial minorities have existed in media formats such as film and advertisements for decades.

Since the 1915 release of “Birth of a Nation,”directed by D.W. Griffith, African-Americans have been portrayed as a threat to society, specifically to white women.

Black individuals  have long been seen as a danger and threat to white American ideals and entertainment media is partially to blame.

As explained in the film “Ethnic Notions,” it was a fairly common belief in post-Civil War America that black people were inherently incapable of self-control. Many white Americans believed that without slavery to control and oppress people of color, they would revert to their “primitive, savage” ways.

This was portrayed clearly in the film “Birth of a Nation” in which the former slaves begin to turn savage and attempt to attack and rape virgin white women. At the end of the film, the Ku Klux Klan sweeps in to save the women and subsequently save society from the brutal black men.

The portrayal of black people in this movie, perfectly exemplifies public opinion of the time period and helped justify violence toward people of color.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, public opinion had shifted some in relation to racial stereotypes and prejudice. African-Americans were now perceived to be lazy and unintelligent. The release of the film “Hearts in Dixie” only fed that mentality. This film is credited to be the first feature-length Hollywood film to have an entirely black cast, but that in no way means that it was progressive.

The famous actor Stepin Fetchit played a character who embodied the narrative of what was referred to as a “black clown” or a “darkie.” His character was a slave who refused to do work because of sheer laziness, but was considered to be docile and light-hearted because of his inferior intelligence. Most importantly, Fetchit played a black slave character who “knew his place.” He played many similar characters throughout his career, portraying black people as idiots.

In 1952, Hollywood movie studios decided to stop producing films depicting Fetchit’s characters in an attempt to not offend black people. However, this did not put an end to negative depictions of African-Americans in film. These racist themes have continued even into present day. For example, Tyler Perry’s Madea film franchise has made waves as being insulting to black people and overtly racist.

Perry chooses to portray black men as predatory and abusive while portraying black women as immoral and manipulative. Both of these portrayals are extremely problematic and promote stereotypes that have existed for over a century in film media.

Film media has encouraged racism and negative perceptions of people of color for as long as it has existed. The high profits grossed by films like the Madea franchise lead Hollywood writers and producers to continuously choose profits over what is morally right.

 

Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series about entertainment media and racist stereotypes.

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