The portrayal of gender and race in film and its effect on society

In film today viewers can witness many different interpretations of the roles of gender and race. The accuracy of many films sometimes lack the obligation to make a change or boost a culture, gender or race, according to many experts.

Filmmakers are conflicted with the decision of making big bucks and paying the bills a little late. At the end of the day, most people are trying to keep food on the table whether or not it means harming different groups.

Tom Garrett, associate professor of mass communication and a long-time film producer, said that there are visual cues in the media of how men and women should act. He encourages more women and minorities to go for filmmaking jobs.

“It’s a big problem,” he said. “We’re fed by the media…It’s not necessarily the industry. It’s a limited pool to pick from. There are 1,000 male directors and 10 women. We need more women…they’re more organized, thorough, and responsible.”

Women are often portrayed as cold, empty, and even evil characters, he said. Successful women in particular always have some sort of vice. Most characters in movies appear more interesting when they have issues. The powerful female role is often a woman who is successful but has no close family.

“It’s really challenging especially with younger girls,” LaChrystal Ricke, Ph.D., associate professor of mass communication.

Minorities are often underrepresented. When viewers have the opportunity to witness a minority on the big screen they are often strategically casted as an exotic and stereotypical element. Lucy Liu is an example of that. The elder with the mysterious box in the old movie “Gremlins” is also an example.

“Sometimes stereotypes give us expositions without having to thoroughly explain a character. It’s not to harm anyone, but it helps move the story along,” Garrett said.

Tyler Perry, an African-American filmmaker, casts predominately African Americans in most of his productions. Take Diary of a Mad Black Women for example: Madea is the elder of the main characters in the film. Madea can be temperamental and violent. It conveys the stereotypes that many people believe in.

“When you look at a Tyler Perry movie is really praised as a revolutionary in black entertainment,” Ricke said. “But when you watch a movie they are very stereotypical of the African-American race. Their behavior and things that they do are presented as very funny and comical. Media viewers see what’s happening in media film as an actual representation of life.”

When people see this, she said, it only confirms their assumptions, especially those who have not been widely exposed to cultures different from their own.

“It’s pretty detrimental in terms of what they believe about certain populations,” Ricke said. “There is an underrepresentation of minorities in film. Most would say that human interaction with different cultures … have changed drastically. In film, as well as in reality, we are stuck in a never-ending cycle.”

Denzel Washington was the first African-American male to win an Oscar in 2002 for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “Training Day.” The majority of the films he is cast as the lead role. Halle Berry was the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in “Monster’s Ball” also in 2002, despite black men and women being in film for decades.

It is difficult to differentiate reality from fantasy when comparing film to truth. The portrayal of the roles of gender and race trickle down from the big screen and into real life.

“Society feeds into a Hollywood fairytale instead of recognizing an everyday struggle,” said SHSU senior education major Tamara Thomas.

Cordarrel White, senior dance major at SHSU, said that male roles tend to overshadow their female counterparts.

“The man always seems to have the superior role over the female actress in some sense,” he said. “Female actresses seem to have a sexual or sensual role or portrayed as a psycho [lady].”

Garrett suggests gender and cultural education for children can combat media influences.

Leave a Reply