FMA 843: RACE & ETHNICITY IN CINEMA
T 5:30-850PM Annenberg 201 Fall 2013 Section: 002
Instructor: Matthew Feltman Office Location: AH G14A
Office Hours: R 3:30-4:30PM Email: email@example.com
Our own existence cannot be separated from the accounts we give of ourselves. It is in telling our own stories that we give ourselves an identity. We recognize ourselves in the stories that we tell about ourselves. It makes very little difference whether these stories are true or false; fiction as well as verifiable history provide us with an identity.—Paul Ricoeur
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Movies have played a central role in how we understand race, racial categories, and ethnic cultural identities. We will study Hollywood’s evolving portrayal of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and ethnic groups like Latinos and Italian-Americans. From Edison’s early films, through “Birth of a Nation,” and to the present, commercial cinema has denigrated Americans of color and stereotyped its ethnic groups. How are stereotypes built up on century-old cinematic traditions and how do they function today? What self-images have minority filmmakers presented as an alternative to mainstream views? In addition to looking at the critiques, we look at more positive aspects of ethnic and racial images and examine the ways that these images speak to the history of the nation as a whole. Note: This course fulfills the Race & Diversity (GD) requirement for students under GenEd and Studies in Race (RS) for students under Core. Students cannot receive credit for this course if they have successfully completed FMA 0943.
OVERVIEW: Whether you believe that Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a shocking, racist spectacle or a scathing critique of America’s persistent racism, Tarantino’s polarizing film opened up a dialogue about the role of race in cinema and art in our contemporary moment. What does it mean that Tarantino uses a spaghetti western aesthetic to revise the past in such a way that makes American spectators witness the seemingly forgotten history of slavery? Does Tarantino want us to confront slavery head on and work through this trauma, or does he merely revel in racist violence that will shock an American public? If you find any of these questions interesting, this is the class for you. We will examine what messages other films about race attempt to convey, and we will discuss how we interpret depictions of race. More importantly, we will dive into what these films tell us about the contemporary belief that we live in a post-racial society. We will look at the ways racist stereotypes proliferate in early cinema, independent productions, and contemporary Hollywood blockbusters. For the intents and purposes of this course, we will focus primarily on African American and Native American/indigenous representations, but our discussions will cover other ethnic groups that appear in American cinema.
Texts: 1) Edward Buscome’s “Injuns!”: Native Americans in the Movies. 2) Other readings will be available on Blackboard. 3) A SEPARATE notebook to use for your viewing journal. This notebook should not include your class notes.
ASSIGNMENTS AND GRADING
Assignments: 1) You will participate in class discussions, which will let me know that you have indeed kept up with the reading for the week. 2) There will be a mid-term exam and a cumulative final exam. 3) You will write one research essay that you will work on throughout the semester. By Spring Break, you will turn in an Annotated Bibliography that proves you have at least started thinking about and engaging with your outside sources. 4) You will take Screening Journal notes for each of the movies screened. The notes you take will be turned in each week with your quiz.
Mid-term exam 10% Research Essay 25%
Final exam 15% Class Participation 10%
Annotated Bib 10% Viewing Journal 20%
Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here: You should consider this class NC-17. Those unable or unwilling to participate in a mature discussion about offensive material should rethink their enrollment in this class. Substitute materials will not be provided.
Class Participation: Not designed to test your understanding of a text as much as to ensure both your psychical presence during your screening and that you read the assigned readings with some intellectual rigor, your participation grade will be reliant on the fact that you are an active participant in class discussions. Your participation points are in lieu of a weekly viewing/reading quiz. [NOTE: I reserve the right to give you quizzes instead of relying solely on class participation. If I discover that few of you are actually doing the reading, I will start holding quizzes at the beginning of class.]
Screening Journal: You must take notes during your screenings, and these notes will be handed in along with your quizzes each week (if we take them). You must learn how to take notes (and good notes at that) while viewing films. Your notes should consist of racial representations more so than narrative content, although you will likely need to take a few notes about the plot. You will be expected to take more rigorous notes on these films as the semester progresses. Because these notes, when taken on a digital device, can easily be sent to your fellow classmates and plagiarized, I will only accept handwritten notes.
Research Essay: You will write an 8-10 page final research essay designed to test your ability to produce longer work. I will evaluate it on the quality of the analysis, the degree to which each meets the topic requirements, and, finally, the grammar, style and mechanics. They will also be graded on the rigor, clarity, depth and originality with which they engage their subjects. This longer essay should apply the critical concepts developed in your notes and class discussions. Use the academic vocabulary you learn in this class to produce an argument about a specific film. Concentrate on filmic details, incidents, sequences, shots, and other particular elements to produce knowledge about the film in question to make an argument about the ethnic representations. Cite relevant texts from both the readings and outside sources to support your positions. More thorough explanations of the following topics will be given in class closer to the assignment due date.
Annotated Bibliography: You will hand in an Annotated Bibliography in which you write an annotation for at least five of your sources for your Research Essay. You should begin with your tentative thesis so that I know what you plan to argue. [Note: You can change your thesis as you do more research and/or think about your topic in relation to the film(s) you want to discuss.] You can find a more detailed explanation at the end of this syllabus.
Academic Honesty: Simply put, don’t cheat—if you are caught, you will receive a failing grade. If you are in doubt when citing sources or getting help from a roommate, you can always ask me for advice.
Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. Because this class is driven by the contribution and participation of its students, excessive absenteeism will negatively affect your grade. You may miss one class, the equivalent of one week’s worth of class. I do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences; you will simply be granted 1 free pass for regular class meetings. If you miss more class, your final grade will be lowered one letter grade for each additional absence unless you previously discussed extenuating circumstances with me. If you do need to miss class, you should remember that you are responsible for contacting a classmate (not me) to find out if any changes were made to the syllabus, if work was assigned, and what we discussed in class. If you participate in a university-sponsored event, you must let me know about the absence in advance. Prolonged absences (two weeks or more) will not be excused under any circumstances.
Tardiness is highly discouraged. The first few minutes of class are often the time when we will discuss classroom maintenance issues, project information, take quizzes, etc.; missing those first crucial moments can seriously impair your ability to properly function within this course. If you have a class that meets just before ours and you foresee problems arriving to class on time, please consider dropping the course. After two times you are tardy, the third and each one after will count as ONE absence. No exceptions. Please remember that if you enter the classroom late, I have probably taken roll; thus, you are responsible for reminding me after class that you were indeed present. Also, remember that quizzes are given at the beginning of class and cannot be made up.
The Nefarious Cellular Phone: Cell phones, those useful devils, highly contribute to our sense of “connectedness” within our technologically-driven age, but your friends and loved ones must cease connecting with you via cell phone while in my classroom. Make sure to turn it off before entering class—this is a matter of basic classroom courtesy. In the event of a personal situation requiring your cell phone to be turned on, please let me know before class begins. If your cell phone becomes a habitual problem, or if I see any text-messaging or web browsing, expect to be asked to leave the classroom and to fail your participating grade.
Please keep in mind that students come from diverse cultural, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. Some of the films and reading we will discuss and write about engage controversial topics and opinions. Diversified student backgrounds combined with provocative texts require that you demonstrate respect for ideas that may differ from your own.
Disability Accomodations: Temple University and this professor are committed to the elimination of discriminatory obstacles that place students at a disadvantage on the basis of disability. Any student who has a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss the specific situation as soon as possible. Contact Disability Resources and Services at 215-204-1280 in 100 Ritter Annex to assess and coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities.
T 27: Class Introductions
Screening: Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000, 135 min.)
T 3: Donald Bogle—Chapter 1; W. E. B. Du Bois—“Of Our Spiritual Strivings”
Screening: Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012, 165 min.)
T 10: Readings: Adolph Reed Jr—“Django Unchained, or The Help: How Cultural Politics is Worse than No Politics at All”
Screening: Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009, 110 min.)
T 17: Readings: “Hollywood on Race in the Age of Obama: Invictus, Precious and Avatar”; Stephen Pimpare—“The Welfare Queen and the Great White Hope” Ishmael Reed—“Fade to White”
Screening: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1979, 97 min.)
T 24: Reading: Dorothy C. Broaddus—“Exposing Himself: Sweet Sweetback’s Body”
Screening: Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1979, 83 min.)
T 1: Reading: Ella Shohat and Robert Stam—“Stereotype, Realism, and the Struggle over Representation” (selections)
Screening: Luv (Sheldon Candis, 2012, 94 min.)
T 8: Michelle Alexander—Introduction to The New Jim Crow
Screening: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012, 93 min.)
T 15: Reading: bell hooks “No Love in the Wild”
Screening: Reel Injun (Neil Diamond, 2009, 86 min.)
T 22: Mid-Term Exam
Screening: Edison/Porter shorts; Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939, 96 min.)
T 29: [Annotated Bibliography due] Readings: “The Indian in the Film: Early Views” and Edward Buscombe—Chapter 1
Screening: Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, 1998, 89 min.)
T 5: Reading: Edward Buscombe—Chapters 2-3
Screening: Half-Breed (Harald Phillipp, 1966, 90 min.)
T 12: Reading: Edward Buscombe—Chapters 4-5
Screening: Two Spirits (Lydia Nibley, 2009, 65 min.)]
T 19: Michelle H. Raheja’s “Toward a Geneology of Indigenous Film Theory”
Screening: The Business of Fancydancing (Sherman Alexie, 2002, 103 min.)
T 26: FOLLOW THURSDAY SCHEDULE.
Quentin Youngberg—“Interpenetrations: Re-encoding the Queer Indian in Sherman Alexie’s The Business of Fancydancing.”
Screening: Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001, 172 min.)
T 3: Michelle H. Raheja’s “Visual Sovereignty, Revisions of Ethnography, and Atanarjuat.”
You will write an eight- to ten-page final research essay by the end of this course that explores the way in which race and ethnicity get represented in cinema. You may choose to write about any race/ethnicity, but you need to ensure that you have a narrow enough topic that you aren’t making sweeping generalizations without grounding your research in historical particulars. The easiest way to go about this is to choose a particular type of film that you wish to explore. For example, you could explore the ways in which gangster films portray Italian Americans, or you could look at Iraqi/Iranian representations in recent war films, such as The Hurt Locker. This assignment is completely open to wherever your research interests actually lie.
For this essay, you will need a minimum of seven sources, five of which you will need to include in your annotated bibliography that is due soon. You will need to use:
Three articles from academic/peer-reviewed journals
Two articles from consumer-oriented magazines/newspapers/websites
This essay is due on the last day of class, while the annotated bibliography is due towards the middle of the semester (with the possibility of extending the due date).
THE ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY
For your Annotated Bibliography, you will go out to the library and/or library website to find five of your seven required sources for your final research project. Remember, you need two books, three professional journal articles and two consumer-oriented magazines/trade journals/websites/etc. After you find five of your respective sources, you will annotate them, that is, at least skim through them, find out how they will be useful to your topic at hand, and write a paragraph about it underneath its proper bibliographic information. Ultimately, you will comprise your Works Cited section of your Essay.
At the top of your Annotated Bibliography before you begin annotating each source, state your tentative thesis so that I know you have formulated an initial argument based on your readings. That way, you can refer back to your argument in each annotation underneath the bibliographic information. Your annotations should include at least a one-sentence summary of the source, and you must explain how you plan to use it in your essay. Will this source support your tentative thesis or does it pose a problem that you will need to address somewhere in your essay?
Your Annotated Bibliography will be due on Tuesday, October 29th.