Movies, which consist of photographs representing human stories, are one of the most common types of entertainment. Most people recognize them as a work of fiction on an unconscious basis. What most people do not know is that movies have an effect on how people think. Strong movies, such as Zero Dark Thirty, have shown that public sentiment can be affected, as confidence in the American government grew since the film’s publication (Guida). As a result, movies, regardless of genre, play a part in shaping some of the people’s attitudes and can influence how they interact with one another and their surroundings. In accordance with different reviews and reactions of Zero Dark which focuses on the United States intelligence, it is evident that movies play a significant role in informing the community about the state of government bodies. After the release of the movie which depicted American Triumph, many citizens felt safer and commended the governments for finally capturing Osama bin Laden. Additionally, the effect of movies was illustrated in a study conducted at the University of Dayton. In the study, the students were required to fill in questionnaires which showed their opinions on the government. Dr. Michelle Pautz, the professor in charge of the study, found that after watching Zero Dark Thirty, approximately 25 percent of the participating students showed a change of heart and opinion (Guida). The 25 percent rated the government favorably feeling more trustful of the intentions and work of the military and the intelligence community. It was also revealed that the film increased the optimism they had regarding the direction in which the country was taking in protecting its citizens.
The study conducted by Dr. Pautz also demonstrates the power that movies can have on peoples opinions about their environment and towards each other. The persuasive power of movies lies in the accessibility and stimulation it provides to the audience. Movies are available to Americans of all ages and walks of life due to the low costs of watching them in theaters and online. The internet has also made them easy to distribute them over the globe. Unlike other art forms such as pictures and painting, movies occupy and stimulate more senses in people resulting in lasting effects (Franklin, 75). Perceptions generated by movies are especially strong if the individual watched the film in a social setting such as a cinema. In a social setting such as a cinema, the audience develops similar perceptions reinforcing the message in the movie even if it had little or no reality in it.
Illustratively, a study conducted by Dr. Paultz using undergraduate students showed that after watching the movie, a substantial percentage changed their negative views into positive ones. It can be assumed that before watching the film the participants had their reasons for not trusting the government some based on exposés by the media into government scandals. However, movies which are loosely based on fiction rather than facts can also be used to influence people. After the study, Dr. Pautz stated that vulnerable members of the society such as teenagers and young adults were at risk of forming realities from fictions since they are yet to form their understanding of the world. To put the argument into perspective, if the participants were voters in an election, after watching the movie they would have been inclined to vote for the incumbent even though that would be a mistake. Movies make it difficult for young people to differentiate what is real and what is not (Peterson, Ruth, & Louis, 38). This ability to shape people`s views can be used for the better good. However, it can and has been used to propagate falsehoods in the past and present.
An example of how movies or movie studios production propagates untrue notions is Walt Disney Studios. The studio is famous for popular cartoons such as Mickey and Minnie mouse and a host of other animations as well as theme parks. However, the production house has a history of propagating racism. Walt Disney is the man credited with founding Walt Disney Studios together with Roy who happened to be his brother in 1923. Over the decades, the studio produced various successful animations and television shows that would contribute to its growing stature. However, the studio released various movies that propagated racist sentiments to the viewers who at the time were trying to end racism in the United States (Archer, 123). Films that are cited as being racist include Fantasia, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, and Song of the South all which showed lacked consideration for black Americans (Lehman, 27).
In Fantasia, Sunflower, a dark-skinned Centaur is depicted as being a creature of lower rank and worth than those of fair skin, because she is the serves the others (Breaux, 410). Another example of how Walt Disney propagated racist sentiments and in effect strengthened them was in The Song of the South. The movie has two black characters portrayed as being happy to serve as slaves for a white family which can be interpreted as advocacy for slavery. The portrayal was wrong since the slave trade in America had claimed many lives. Moreover, it also lowered the dignity of the Black Americans and such as portrayal would only serve to demean them further. There was much criticism after the release of the film which saw the movie banned from being sold at all in America, but the damage had already been done. Racial tensions at the time of the mentioned movie releases were high following the abolition of slavery with black Americans seeking to regain their human dignity. Therefore, such racist movies only served to worsen the situation in which the white majority found the movie entertaining while the black community perceived it as an insult. Despite that the intentions of the film producers may not be known, the films were demeaning to the black American community and could be seen as having shaped the post-slavery attitudes of racism. The films showed the public that it was alright to treat the black community as inferior beings though in a subtle manner than before.
Presently racism persists with flare-ups between black and white communities being a common occurrence which has even extended to the National Football league where some players such as Colin Kaepernick choose to kneel during the national anthem. This exhibits that America is yet to achieve a harmonious relationship between citizens of different races. The reason racism has persisted for so long can be attributed to the attitudes promoted during the post-slavery period in America. Especially, during the era of television which holds great potential in shaping the attitudes that people hold about a particular topic. Movie studios such as Walt Disney would have been instrumental in reducing racism by promoting good values such as equality. The movies should have sought to showcase the positive aspects of each race as being equals. Black Americans should have been given equally dignified roles as their white counterparts which would have increased their self-worth and attracted respect and love from the whites. If black characters had been portrayed in a positive light, the races could have warmed up to the idea of peaceful coexistence and not one of suspicion and hate. For example, in Walt Disney`s film Dumbo the black voices are portrayed by crows which are black (Lehman, 56). The movie further invokes the past by naming the leader Jim Crow which is similar to the Jim Crow laws that imposed segregation.
Movies offer a better comprehension of historical patterns, beliefs, influences around different generational effect. Historically, movies have shown the tendency to support the dominating racial group power through exhibiting to the general community highly adverse emotion evoking perceptions and images of the minority groups(Nakagawa, Kathy & Angela 106). Illustratively, in movies like Tarzan and the Birth of Nation, African Americans were exhibited as thieves, ignorant, slaves, a potential rapist as well as interlopers. Apart from that, movies also showed distortions by having white people play in characters that are or for the black. Such symbolism created the perception that black community was not good enough or lacked talent, hence only a white character would fit (Kreitner 11). By white actors taking a black role, it created a subconscious message that the white race was .preferred and the only capable race of acting in the mainstream media. With respect to studies, the negative description of the African Americans was problematic since the movies succeeded and often led to a segregated community that only glimpsed into the available black life to the whites. Holly Wood and other movie production companies have also been critiqued of casting the minority groups in demeaning and negative roles. Holly Wood exhibited the minorities based on stereotype. In the early, 20th century, the major roles provided to African Americans in movies apart from music included: janitors, chauffeurs servants, and other menial jobs.
On the other hand, some of the American producers have shown used movies as a tool for promoting racial equality. In 1949, Clarence Brown produced Intruder in the Dust based on a novel by Faulkner which motivated the black community who lived in segregated areas. The main character, Journo Hernandez, is a black man who is charged with attempt of murder of a white ion Mississippi. However, the lawyer for the accused man is exhibited as reluctant since the black man fails to disclose how the murder occurred. After the case, the black man is found not guilty, hence released from jail (Sinha 17). However, he still fails to tell his lawyer how the murder had occurred although it had been an accident. The white, black man fails to disclose his secret since the lawyer could not trust anything a black man would say. Brown movie aimed at raising awareness of the ignorance and prejudice the white community had towards the black community (Weinman 53). During this era, the black man was not being trusted nor was he of any worth to the white society.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, movies still depicted people of color as less powerful in dealing with major catastrophes or tragedies (Quinn 485). With respect to the fiction industry, most heroes or characters who possess superpowers against natural forces and calamities were only whites. These created the perception that black people are powerless and are always depending on the whites in case of any extreme calamities (Yue 113). However, in 2014, Marvels produced a television series in which the Starring, Luke Cage is shown to possess superpowers which make him bulletproof. This did create a perception of power within the black community. Nonetheless, the movie also portrays the black community as violent and as major players in illegal businesses.
In conclusion, it is evident that movies have a significant impact on racial perceptions and attitudes. Notably, the film industry has been largely dominated by the whites. As shown above, it is used as a racial leverage to exhibit superiority and power that one race got to another. This could be an indication that, despite the African American and other discriminated races may be free, they are still subjected to racial prejudice in the modern society. As shown above, blacks are often depicted negatively by playing roles such as thieves, drunkards, drug addicts or gangs. This helps in maintaining the existing negative stereotypes and attitudes towards black individuals. Despite the factor that movies have already succeeded in creating racial images, producers can still use films to promote equality through depicting each race with equal value. This will raise the confidence and ambition of the discriminated races.
Archer, Leonard C. “Black Images in the American Theatre: NAACP Protest Campaigns–Stage, Screen, Radio & Television.” (1973). Pp 120-185
Breaux, Richard M. “After 75 years of magic: Disney answers its critics, rewrites African American history, and cashes in on its racist past.” Journal of African American Studies 14.4 (2010): Pp398-416.
Fearing, Franklin. “Influence of the Movies on Attitudes and Behavior.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 254.1 (1947): Pp70-79.
Guida, John. How Movies Can Change Our Minds. The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Feb. 2015, op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/how-movies-can-change-our-minds/.
Kreitner, Richard. “Welcome to Fake-Town.” Nation, vol. 302, no. 12, 21 Mar. 2016, p. 11. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=113929880&site=ehost-live.
Lehman, Christopher P. The colored cartoon: Black representation in American animated short films, 1907-1954. Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2009. Pp 23-77
Nakagawa, Kathy and Angela E. Arzubiaga. “The Use of Social Media in Teaching Race.” Adult Learning, vol. 25, no. 3, Aug. 2014, pp. 103-110. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/1045159514534190.
Peterson, Ruth C., and Louis Leon Thurstone. “Motion pictures and the social attitudes of children.” (1933). Pp 35-47
Quinn, Eithne. “Closing Doors: Hollywood, Affirmative Action, and the Revitalization of Conservative Racial Politics.” Journal of American History, vol. 99, no. 2, Sept. 2012, pp. 466-491. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=79308087&site=ehost-live.
Sinha, Manisha. “Slavery on Screen.” Dissent (00123846), vol. 64, no. 2, Spring2017, pp. 16-20. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=122029176&site=ehost-live.
Weinman, Jaime. “The Movie Is the Message.” Maclean’s, vol. 129, no. 45, 14 Nov. 2016, pp. 52-54. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=119429949&site=ehost-live.
Yue, Genevieve. “The China Girl on the Margins of Film.” October, no. 153, Summer2015, pp. 96-116. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=109042817&site=ehost-live.