Lecture 1: Course Introduction

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Lecture 1: Course Introduction

  • Professor Michael Green
  • Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
  • Directed by George Lucas

Professor Michael Green

  • Lecturer, Film and Media Studies, Arizona State University
  • MFA, Creative Writing, Arizona State
  • Teaches courses in Film Studies; Screenwriting; Cultural Theory
  • Novel, short fiction, screenplay, articles

In This Lesson

  • What Kind of Distance Learning Course is this and How can You Succeed in it?
  • Why Study Race and Gender in American Film?
  • Categorizing the Other
  • Episode I and The Birth of a Nation

What Kind of Distance Learning Course is This?

  • Lesson 1: Part I
  • The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • Directed by D.W. Griffith

A Unique Distance Learning Experience

  • This is not an automated course.
  • This is not a self-paced course.
  • This is not a Blackboard course.
  • This course emphasizes interactivity:
      • Synchronous (real-time)
      • Asynchronous
  • Participation is key to your success!
      • Threaded Discussions on the eBoard

The Advantages of this Course

  • Flexibility… not limited by space
  • Study materials available 24/7
      • Lectures (streaming audio w/ PowerPoint)
      • Websites & other resources
      • Reading Reviews
      • Clips
  • Structured like a traditional course
  • Complements multiple learning styles
  • Lots of interactivity

The Disadvantages

  • Students that learn best through face-to-face debate can struggle in this environment.
      • Ways to compensate
      • Arrange for real-time meetings with classmates
  • Students that are not well organized tend to not do well in this environment.
      • Meet all deadlines
      • Study in advance of assignments

Online Evaluation

  • After the lecture, take the Self-Evaluation of Online Students linked to the lesson.
  • It will help you better understand how your learning style meets the demands of this environment.

How do We Define Success?

  • Getting a high grade: A or B
  • Becoming more knowledgeable in the subject of race and film studies
  • Becoming more skilled critical thinkers and writers
  • Enjoying Ourselves!
  • Blazing Saddles (1974)
  • Directed by Mel Brooks

Our Expectations

  • Assignments are open-book, usually submitted via email attachment.
  • Late assignments are not accepted.
  • Since assignments are open book, the standards for success are high.
  • We expect thoughtful, well-reasoned and well-written work. Effort is key!
  • You are not going to do well in this class if you turn in sloppy work.

Course Organization

  • Each lesson contains:
      • Screening
      • Reading
      • (You must buy the textbook!)
      • Reading Review
      • Website or Imodule
      • Lecture
      • Interactivity (Discussion Board)
      • Film Clips

Forms of Interactivity

  • Threaded discussions on the eBoard with class-mates and professors
  • Office Hours (if possible)
  • Online Chats with professor
  • Phone calls or Skype
  • E-mail

And Not Just Any Kind of Interactivity!

  • To study writing and film we must debate.
  • However this does not require being disrespectful or insensitive.
  • I expect us to discuss writing and film with passion and perspective.
  • I expect us to challenge each other’s conceptions of writing and film with rigor and respect.


  • American History X (1998)
  • Directed by Tony Kaye

Participation (100 points)

  • Participation is worth 25% of your final grade. Your grade is based on:
      • Contributing two posts per lesson to the forum.
      • Keeping up with posts – meeting deadlines.
      • Quality of posts. They should be substantive
      • See the syllabus or the criteria listed under Graded Work on the course site.
  • You will do well in this class if you participate consistently with rigor and respect.

Critical Review 1 (100 points)

  • This assignment is worth 25% of your grade and asks you to critically analyze a film for the way it represents race and gender. 
  • Your grade will be based on:
    • the clarity and relevance of your thesis statement
    • clear and concise writing
    • adherence to the assignment guidelines
  • See the syllabus or the Graded Work section of the course for more details.

Critical Review 2 (100 points)

  • This assignment asks you to critically analyze a film for the way it represents race and gender. 
  • Your grade will be based on:
    • the clarity and relevance of your thesis statement
    • clear and concise writing
    • adherence to the assignment guidelines
  • See the syllabus or the Graded Work section of the course for more details.

Final Exam (100 points)

  • Covers material from Lesson 1 through 15.  Slightly greater emphasis is placed on Lessons 11 – 15.  It will consist of true/false, multiple-choice, identification, fill-in-the-blank, short-answer, and essay questions.  The short-answer and essay questions will be higher in value, so take care to think through the various concepts outlined in the readings, screenings, and lectures. 

Writing Tutorials

  • Starting with lesson 2, I will include several points on writing about film at the end of each lecture.
  • Across the course we will explore
    • Descriptive film writing
    • Evaluative film writing
    • Interpretive film writing
      • Thesis construction
      • Paper organization
      • Use of evidence
      • Tips for success

Why Study Race and Gender in American Film?

  • Lesson 1: Part II
  • Selena (1997)
  • Directed by Gregory Nava

What is Race?

  • Race is Not Biology and it’s Not Fiction
  • Race is Social Identity
  • Race is Representation and Narration
  • Race is a Cultural Formation
    • The racial formation is fraught with power imbalances (hence, racism).
    • The racial formation is also informed by cultural and political traditions worthy of pride and respect (e.g. the Civil Rights Movement).

What is Gender?

  • Gender is Not Biology and it’s Not Fiction
    • Gender is Different from Male and Female
  • Gender is Social Identity
  • Gender is Representation and Narration
  • Gender is a Cultural Formation
    • The gender formation is fraught with power imbalances (hence, racism).
    • The gender formation is also informed by cultural and political traditions worthy of pride and respect (e.g. the Civil Rights Movement).

What is Representation?

  • Representation is the ability of texts – such as movies, books, paintings, etc. – to draw upon features of the world and present them to the viewer, not simply as reflections, but more so as constructions.
  • Hence, the images do not portray reality in an unbiased way with 100% accuracy, but rather present ‘versions of reality’ influenced by culture and peoples habitual thoughts and actions.

What is Hollywood Cinema?

  • Medium of Representation & Narration
  • Mass Medium for Entertainment
  • Business… Show-Business
    • Complex & Multifaceted
    • Domestic & Global
  • Assembly Line Business Model: Formulas, Genres, Stars, Types, Etc.
  • Popular Art Form with Identifiable Traditions & Standards

Hollywood and Whiteness

  • “US cinema has consistently constructed whiteness, the representative and narrative form of Eurocentrism, as the norm by which all ‘Others’ fail by comparison. Hollywood attempts to segregate whiteness from color in ways that make the former invisible and the latter isolated and stereotypical.”

It’s Not “Just Entertainment”

  • The representation and narration of race and gender in Hollywood informs how we see ourselves, how we see others and how we act in the world.
  • Because of this, we must study it as not just entertainment, but as a powerful medium with real consequences.
  • Race and gender in Hollywood cinema is real because it affects real peoples real lives.

Categorizing the Other

  • Lesson 1: Part III
  • Clear and Present Danger (1994)
  • Directed by Phillip Noyce

Everybody Stereotypes

    • In the sense that stereotyping means simply the creation of categories based on the recognition of gross differences, we all do it.
  • This sort of stereotyping is not “wrong”, bad, or racist, but a necessary cognitive process for perceiving, processing, storing and recalling categorize information.
  • In its neutral mode, stereotyping is useful, necessary, and efficient.

Negative Stereotypes

  • For most of us, stereotyping is the act of making judgments and assigning negative qualities to other individuals or groups.
  • “If we all create categories, then we are all, potentially at least, in a position to take the next step and imbue those categories with value-laden – that is positive or negative – connotations.”
    • Ramírez Berg, “Categorizing the Other: Stereotypes and Stereotyping”


  • Ethnocentrism is defined as a view of things in which one’s own group is at the center of everything.
  • It is a bias in which other societies are evaluated or judged by standards or morals derived from the observer's culture and often found to be lacking or inferior.

The Stereotyping Formula

  • Category making + ethnocentrism + prejudice = stereotyping.
  • “A stereotype is the result of this process and can be defined as a negative generalization used by an in-group (US) about an out-group (Them)”
    • Ramírez Berg

11 Theses About Stereotypes

  • Stereotypes are applied with rigid logic.
  • Stereotypes may have a basis in fact.
  • Stereotypes are simplified generalizations that assume out-group homogeneity.
  • Stereotypes work at far too general a level to be worthwhile predictors.
  • Stereotypes are uncontextualized and ahistorical.
  • Repetition tends to normalize stereotypes.
  • Stereotypes are believed.

11 Theses (Continued)

  • 8. Stereotyping goes both ways.
  • 9. Stereotypes are ideological.
  • 10.The in-group stereotypes itself.
  • 11. The antidote to stereotyping is knowledge!

Stereotypes and Power

  • Stereotypes fluctuate based on the social and power relationship between the in-group and the out-group.
  • Depending on the power relationship between these groups, one of three stereotyping scenarios can arise, cooperative, stratified or oppositional.
  • In its extreme form in science fiction and horror films, stereotyping transforms the Other into an actual monster.

Episode I and The Birth of a Nation

  • Lesson 1: Part IV
  • Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
  • Directed by George Lucas

History and Ideology

  • All movies are ideological and historical. They reflect social and cultural bias, consciously or otherwise, and they are products of the time in which they are made.
  • Even movies that seem contemporary, or engage in classical, universal themes that we can all relate to, are part of a complex, historical and cultural context. No film, no matter how great or insightful, escapes that context or rises above it.

The Birth of a Nation

  • Directed by D.W. Griffith (1915)
    • Southern Democrats return to national power
    • Stabilization of the studio system
    • Emergence of Hollywood style
  • Historical Romance of Civil War and Reconstruction (1861 – 1889)
  • Plot centers on two families
    • Camerons of the South
    • Stonemans of the North
  • Innovations of Visual Storytelling

Birth of a Legacy

  • “The release of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation in 1915 defined for the first time the side that Hollywood was to take in the war to represent Black people in America. In The Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith, later a founding member of United Artists, created and fixed an image of Blackness that was necessary for racist America's fight against Black people.”
    • Manthia Diawara, Black American Cinema, The New Realism

Birth of a Legacy (Continued)

  • “The Birth of a Nation constitutes the grammar book for Hollywood's representation of Black manhood and womanhood, its obsession with miscegenation, and its fixing of Black people within certain spaces, such as kitchens, and into certain supporting roles, such as criminals, on the screen. White people must occupy the center, leaving Black people with only one choice--to exist in relation to Whiteness.”
    • Diawara

Star Wars and Scholarship

  • Many have studied The Star Wars movies for how they represent race, gender, class and sexuality.
  • For example, critic Richard Dyer in White argues that Princess Leia’s stereotypical “pure, white womanhood” is pitted against Darth Vader’s evil “black” presence.
  • Gabriel Estrada argues that the working class heroes of Star Wars are anti-class.
  • “Star Wars Episodes 1-VI: Coyote and the Force of White Narrative”

Episode I and this Course

  • We consider Episode I in terms of a number of concepts from this course:
  • Racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes
    • Blackness, Yellowness, Redness
  • The marginalization of non-white characters
  • Aliens that function as metaphor/allegory for race and gender (difference).
  • Other concepts including the white savior and the noble savage.
  • Patriarchy

Birth and Star Wars

  • So, Birth of a Nation is a template for:
  • Hollywood’s narrative style of filmmaking – how cinematography, editing, acting and other film techniques tell a story.
  • The way in which non-white peoples would be seen as lacking compared to Whiteness.
  • Episode I, made 85 years after Birth, still manifests both its form and ideology.
  • Pause the lecture and watch the clips from The Birth of a Nation.

Star Wars and Whiteness

  • Estrada writes, “Star Wars links goodness, godliness, superiority and purity as natural descriptors of whiteness.”
    • “Coyote and the Force of White Narrative
  • Contrast Qui Gon and Obi-wan, Anakin and his mother and Padmi with:
  • Darth Maul, The Trade Federation aliens, Watto, Jar Jar and the Gungans
  • Pause the lecture and watch the clips from Episode 1 linked to the lesson.

The Big Point

  • Movies are made by people, who are products of their society, culture and historical time. Their specific perspective invariably informs the movies they make.
  • The Birth of a Nation was made by a white supremacist whose views on race were powerfully disseminated by a newly evolving media technology.
  • Entertainment media still largely propagates a racial and gender power imbalance.

Five Things to Remember

  • Go through the website, or virtual classroom, with care; know it well.
  • Get to know your classmates.
  • Keep up with all Lesson Tasks.
  • Turn assignments in on time, written at a college level.
  • Discuss with rigor & respect.

End of Lecture 1

  • Next Lecture: Integrating Race into the Narrative System

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