The film industry is one of the many channels used in expressing different cultures and traditions. However, in the course of representing different cultures, films tend to adopt stereotypes regarding various ethnic groups (Stoddard, Marcus, & Hicks, 2014). Ethical groups like African-Americans, Asians and Arabs tend to be portrayed in a biased way, adversely influencing the young generation’s perception and understanding of different cultures.
The purpose of this research paper is to analyze the underlying problem of stereotypic representation in the film industry, specifically in Hollywood. The paper will also assess the impact of character representations on the early age education and the perception they create on the young generation. In addressing the problem, the research uses both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources used include various movie characters, while the secondary ones include scholar papers and personal experiences. The research, therefore, seeks to assess the kind of features different characters are assigned based on their ethnicity. The paper will also explore different stereotypical representations of movie characters. Finally, it will examine how various films influence the young generation’s perception of particular ethnic groups as misinformed by the stereotypical representations of movie characters.
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Stereotypic Representation of African Americans
Although the times are changing, in the real world African Americans continue to be portrayed as domestic workers, thugs and magical blacks among others in Hollywood. Magical blacks’ role played by African American describes the African American community in a stereotypic manner (Sastry, 2012). Thus, these characters are depicted as individuals with supernatural powers but the skills are used solely to assist white characters in their problems. In the movie The Green Mile, Michael Clarke Duncan who is acting as John Coffey played the role of a magical black. In this film, John Coffey is depicted as a symbolic figure rather than a human being. He possesses healing powers, which he voluntarily uses to heal other people, mainly white characters, but later faces rape accusation and is sentenced to death penalty (Nittle, n.d.). The film depicts the life of African American individual characters as less valuable than that of white characters. If the young generation is to be educated by this stereotypic film about the African American culture, they will have a wrong perception of this culture, which will later find reflection in their social life.
Another common stereotypic representation of African Americans is the association of black male characters with thug life. Most organized crimes in the Hollywood films involve black characters. African American characters playing the roles of criminals are portrayed as very dangerous and disrespectful of law and order (Sastry, 2012). Stereotypic representation of thug life is well portrayed in movies such as The Wire. In the series The Wire, various black characters, such as Wood Harris playing as Avon Barksdale and Michael Williams acting as Omar Little, are criminals who engage in drug trafficking and gang wars (Nittle, n.d.). Such stereotypical representations based on ethnicity result in a prejudiced perception of African Americans by the young generation. Thus, black kids are more likely to engage in criminal activities due to the perception of the black African American culture created by Hollywood. On the other hand, young people of other racial groups are more likely to grow in the fear of the African American community since Hollywood fed them with biased information regarding the black community.
Hollywood films tend to depict African American women as domestic workers of white characters. In the 2011 movie The Help, African American maids are portrayed as servants who assisted the white characters in their household, while their lives remained unchanged. Thus, Albinee Clark and Minny Jackson, who are both black characters, work hard to improve their employees’ lives, but they do not seem to put much effort in making their lives better. The film depicts African American as white characters’ servants who are loyal to their masters and have little care about their personal development. African American maids in Hollywood films are also likely to misinform the young generation about the personality of black women and their relationship with their white counterparts.
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Stereotypic Representation of Asians
Hollywood has failed in representing Asian culture in the film industry as well. Most of the Asian characters play roles based on stereotypical ideologies such as diligence, martial arts experts and biased culture and history. In the movie Rush Hour, even though Jackie Chan acts in the United States with Chris Tucker, he uses martial arts style of fighting. However, his colleague Tucker uses guns and pistols while fighting. This fact demonstrates how Asians stick to their traditions, however it contradicts the reality. The movie also portrays the aspect of maintaining Chinese customs by the presence of the ‘China Town’.
Stereotypical portrayal of Asians as individuals who embrace violence and tyranny governing systems misinforms the young generation about the real culture of the Asians. Young people are, therefore, likely to describe Asians as uncivilized individuals who settle every dispute with violence (Kim, 2013).
The Hollywood films also tend to depict Asians as people with corrupted sexual morals. In the Movie the World of Suzie Wong, Nancy Kwan plays a typical role of a seductive Asian sex worker. Such stereotypical representations tend to create a wrong image in the minds of young people regarding the Asian culture. Another commonly used stereotypical image of the Asians is the recurring foreigner role (Kim, 2013). Asian characters in most Hollywood movie are used to symbolize conflicts in the Western culture. Thus, Hollywood portrays most of Asian youth characters as individuals struggling with identity issues in the Western culture. In the film The Gilmore Girls, Lane Kim is a character stranded in between her native Asian culture and the Western culture (Nittle, n.d.). A perpetual foreigner discourse tends to misinform the young generation, who use films to understand different cultures and their history.
Though Hollywood portrays Asians characters as individuals with extensive skills in martial arts, in most cases they lose battle to the whites. Asian characters play the role of characters that lack endurance and are, therefore, labeled as losers in a fight with their white or black counterparts (Kim, 2013). In the movie Lethal Weapon 4, the character Wah Sing Ku played by Jet Li loses the battle with Murtaugh and Riggs even though he is more skilled in martial arts than both of them. Hollywood also depicts Asian characters as nerds who are proficient in science and math related subjects at the disposal of the white characters. A nerd character is usually unsocial, with a poor taste of the American culture, such as the character of Rajiv in The Big Bang Theory (Nittle, n.d.). Such stereotypical representation of Asian characters in the Hollywood films is more likely to make the young generation of the Asian community feel inferior.
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Stereotypic Representation of Arabs
Hollywood portrays Arabs as brutes, terrorists and all Muslims. However, the greatest stereotype that has existed for the longest time even before the terrorism discourse arose is the tyranny ideology. In the TV show Tyrant, Ashraf Barhom playing Jamal Al-Fayeed is portrayed as a barbaric tyrant leader who is an even person to sacrifice his brother and son to ensure that he remains in power. Jamal Al-Fayeed even kills his mother and uncle in the course of his leadership. Tyranny discourse as expressed by various Arab characters creates a wrong impression of the Arab culture, portraying it as barbaric, which adversely affects the young generation in the course of understanding the Arab culture.
Hollywood also depicts all Arabs as Muslims and even associates them with terrorism. In the TV series Homeland, various Arab characters, such as Alizera Bayram playing as Quasim and Alok Tewari acting as Latif Bin Walid, are depicted as dangerous terrorists who are ready to sacrifice their lives to destroy the U.S. Homeland. The film also describes Arabs as manipulative characters who use religion in transforming individuals into terrorists. Damian Lewis, who is playing as Nicholas Brody, an American Marine, is held captive by the Arabs who later convert him into a Muslim and terrorist (Sastry, 2012). The Arab Muslim stereotype adversely influences the young generation to view Arabs as enemies and as a culture that does not embrace peace. Despite the fact that only a small part of the world’s Muslims are Arabs, Hollywood has portrayed all Arabs as Muslims who are in conflict with Christianity.
Hollywood movies depict Arab women as belly dancers who are always at the disposal of men for sexual pleasures. Arab women tend to act as silent characters that precisely follow men’s orders. Another example of Arab women stereotypic representation is seen in the film Not without My Daughter. Arab women characters in this movie symbolize an oppressed gender with the fear to voice their opinions and are afraid of their wild men (Nittle, n.d.). Hollywood often portrays Arabs as foreigners, mostly wealthy oil sheiks or terrorist. Therefore, Hollywood Arab context is likely to feed the young generation with biased information regarding Arabs lifestyle and culture.
Stereotypic Representation of Hispanics
Latin characters are fast replacing African American characters in the role of housekeepers in Hollywood films. In the film Maid in Manhattan, Jennifer Lopez plays the role of a maid. In 2009, the National Public Radio (NPR) outlined that Lupe Ontiveros has acted as a maid for more than 150 times, pointing out that she is looking forward to playing other roles such as a judge or a council person (Bryce, 2009). Ontiveros played the role of a house worker in movies like Who‘s the Boss, Reba, As Good as it Gets, among others. Stereotypical representation of Latin girls as maids who are working for the whites influences the young generation’s perception of the Latin community in an adverse manner (Nittle, n.d.).
Hollywood films portray Latin men as passionate lovers. Actors such as Ricardo Montalban, Antonio Banderas and Fernando Torres have featured in many Hollywood films as great lovers (Sastry, 2012). On the other hand, Latin women are usually portrayed as sexualized characters in Hollywood films. The discourse of sexualized Latin women best is represented by characters such as Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives. In the famous TV show Modern Family, Sofia Vergara, acting as Gloria Delgado, portrays Latin women as sexualized and loud characters. Search a discourse influences young generation, who begin to view Latin culture as sexualized, therefore ignoring moral values and ethics that define the Latin culture (Nittle, n.d.).
Latin characters are also famous for playing various thug roles in Hollywood. In the TV show Power,different Latin characters such as Joseph Sikora playing as Tommy Egan and Luiz Antonio Ramos acting as Ruiz are depicted as notorious drug dealers and gangbangers. At one scene, Tommy even admits that the only thing that he is good at is drug dealing. The thug life ideology defines Latin characters as dangerous people and lawbreakers who should be shunned and feared. Young generation tends to get a wrong impression of Latinos and mostly those living in the U.S as they perceive them as immigrants who only engaged in criminal activities and drug dealing to earn a living.
Stereotypic Representation of Native Americans
Native American men characters in Hollywood are depicted as doctors and warriors and women play the role of beautiful submissive maidens. Representation of Native American women accelerates the prejudice of feminine sexual harassment (Sastry, 2012). Another common stereotype in 21st century is the stoic Indians. Playing the role of stoic Indians portrays Native Americans as individuals who are not in touch with their emotions (Leavitt, Covarrubias, Perez, & Fryberg, 2015). In the movie The Door, a medicine man of Native American origin helps Jim Morrison to connect with his consciousness as a singer (Nittle, n.d.). Hollywood representation of American Indians as people who are not westernized, therefore, gives a wrong impression to the young generations.
The most common image used in Hollywood films regarding Native Americans is bloodthirsty warriors. In The Last of the Mohicans, Native Americans are portrayed as savages who carry out barbaric acts such as sexual harassment of white female characters (Sastry, 2012). Though there used to be warfare between Native American tribes, the intensity was not as brutal as depicted in various Hollywood films. Hollywood films tend to give the young generation an impression that there always existed enmity between the American Indian tribes, which is not true. In reality, Indian various tribes usually lived in peace and harmony and engaged in warfare only with the aim of self-defense. Various researchers pointed out that most of the American Indian individuals do not have any warrior history (Leavitt et al., 2015).
The Importance of Education
Education at the early age can help the young generation in differentiating the actual representation of culture of the different ethnic groups from stereotyping. Prejudice at an early age may affect a young person’s perception of a particular community for the rest of his or her lives. If a young person gets the right information, he or she will understand that the representation in the movies is not a current issue but something that happened in the past. Thus, they will not have any prejudice towards this culture.
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It is evident that Hollywood is stereotypically representing characters based on ethnicity in various films. The discourse created by these films tends to describe most of the characters from African American, Arab, Latin, Native American and Asian origin in a negative manner. Stereotypical culture of different ethnic groups as represented in the films misinforms the young generation in their attempt to understand different cultural groups via films. Hollywood often makes films based on speculation and generalization without considering the adverse effects they have on the young generation. To ensure that the young generation gets the right information regarding different cultures, Hollywood should represent all groups equally and assign roles based on the talent criteria rather than ethnicity.
Before joining the Culture and Social Justice class, I never paid attention to how Hollywood character stereotypic representation is impacting the life of young people. My culture is believes in change and adapts to change easily. By reflection on my childhood, I feel that I had built some bias against Asians as a result of Hollywood movies I had watched. I believed that they are traditionalists who would not accept change so easily. However, later in life I came to understand that my perception was not right. I also used to believe that African America and Asian women are mostly house wives, submissive and rarely engaged in corporate activities. Later, I came to realize that my beliefs contradicted reality. After learning how to implement semiotic analysis and assess different Hollywood movie characters, I have realized that racism and stereotypic representation in Hollywood films adversely affect the young generation.