Movies are one of the most common types of entertainment, made up of pictures representing human stories. Most people on the subconscious level know them as fictional jobs, but what most people don’t understand is that movies have any kind of effect on how they think (Baecker, 568). A strong film, including the American Sniper and the American Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the military excellence of the U.S., was seen in a study by Dr. Michelle Pautz as encouraging confidence in the government of once dubious participants. Since movies regardless of the genre play a role in informing some of the perceptions that people develop, film companies like Walt Disney should be considerate and produce content that does not propagate bias and other societal ills.
Study on How Movies Influence Thinking
Using examples from reactions to excellent films such as _x0093_Zero Dark Thirty_x0094_ one can see the role movies play in informing people_x0092_s attitudes and beliefs. After the release of the movie which depicted American Triumph, many citizens felt safer and commended the government for finally capturing Osama bin Laden. The effects of this movie were illustrated in a study conducted at the University of Dayton. In the study, the students were required to fill in questionnaires which showed what opinions they had regarding the government after and before the movie. Dr. Michelle Pautz who was the professor in charge of the study found that after watching _x0093_Zero Dark Thirty,_x0094_ approximately 25 percent of the participating students showed a change of heart (Guida). The 25 percent who had previously given negative reviews now rated the government favorably feeling more trustful of the intentions and work of security agencies. After watching the film, there was increased optimism regarding the direction in which the country was taking.
The study conducted by Dr. Pautz shows the persuasive power that movies have on how people perceive their environment and each other, this strength is the stimulation it provides to the audience as well as accessibility. Films are available to Americans of all ages and walks of life due to the low costs involved in watching them in theaters and online platforms. Unlike other art forms such as pictures and paintings, movies occupy and stimulate more senses in people resulting in long-lasting effects (Franklin, 75). Perceptions generated by the film are compelling if the individual watched the film in a social setting such as in a cinema. In a social environment such as a cinema, the audience simultaneously develops similar perceptions which reinforce the message in the movie even if it has little or no credence.
An example of this is the study conducted by Dr. Paultz whereby, 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 such as exposés by the media and government scandals. However, as was proven in the study, movies which are loosely based on facts can, in fact, be used to influence people. After the survey, Dr. Pautz explained that vulnerable members of the society are teenagers and young adults who are highly impressionable as they are yet to form their understanding of the world. To put the argument into perspective, if the participants of the study were voters, 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 to do good however, it can and has been used to propagate falsehoods in the past.
Walt Disney Studios Films. _x000b_An example of how movies or more specifically movie studios have propagated false notions is Walt Disney Studios. The studio is famous for famous cartoons such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a host of other animations and theme parks it, however, 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 in film production. However, the studio released multiple movies that propagated racist sentiments to viewers who at the time were trying to overcome racism (Archer, 123). Films 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 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. In the movie, two black actors are 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 had claimed many lives it had lowered the dignity of the black Americans, and such a representation would only serve to demean them further. There was uproar after the release of the film which saw the movie getting banned from being sold 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, while the white majority might find them entertaining, the black community saw them as insulting as slavery. While the intentions of Disney may not be entirely understood, these films were demeaning and could have shaped the post-slavery attitudes of racism. The movies showed the public that it was alright to treat the black Americans as inferior beings though in a subtler manner than previously done.
Effects of Racist Movies
Presently racism still 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 like Colin Kaepernick choose to kneel during the national anthem. This goes to show that America is yet to achieve a harmonious coexistence between citizens of different races. The reason racism has persisted for long can be attributed to the negative bias propagated in the media after slavery was abolished. Discrimination increased during the era of television which as has been proven, holds significant sway in shaping people`s attitudes about a particular topic. Movie studios such as Walt Disney would have been instrumental in reducing racism by promoting ethical values such as equality. The studio should have sought to showcase the positive aspects of each race and as having equal human dignity. 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 would have 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 _x0093_Dumbo,_x0094_ the black voices are portrayed by crows whose natural color is black (Lehman, 56). The movie further invokes the past by naming the leader of the crows Jim Crow, which is similar to the Jim Crow laws that imposed segregation. Such films brought back the memories of slavery a past that many black Americans would rather forget since it was a period in which they lacked human dignity. The racism portrayed in Walt Disney films in a sense showed that it was alright to have racist attitudes which divided the audience into two camps. On one side the whites may have taken the films as just entertainment at the expense of what they may have deemed to be a lesser race. The black community, on the other hand, would have viewed films like _x0093_The Song of the South_x0094_ as an attack on their freedom and human dignity bringing about suspicion and hatred for white people.
The role of such a toxic media environment in exacerbating racial contempt in the United States should not be ignored owing to the power the media wields over people_x0092_s perceptions. It can be said that it is the continued portrayal of the black race as being inferior especially in television that ensured racist attitudes remained in America (Fiske, Susan, Daniel, & Gardner, 210). The black community felt increasingly isolated from American life and culture since studios like Walt Disney continued to excel despite their racist films. Presently, Walt Disney is one of the largest and most recognizable film companies with a market capitalization of about 178 billion dollars. Most of the recognition that the company enjoys today was built on racist films such as Dumbo and The Jungle Book, produced at a time when Americans were shunning racist attitudes. Disney studios can be seen as shaping some of the racist attitudes and beliefs responsible for the interracial conflict in America. Still, the company enjoys unwavering support in mainstream America which ignores the role Disney played in exacerbating racial discrimination.
Though it can be argued that racial sensitivity was not as commonplace then as it is now, however, this cannot excuse the fact that they consciously chose to use harmful themes to promote films (Bandura, Albert, & Jennings, 65). Disney could have produced films that supported unity and equality instead of capitalizing on the racist sentiments at the time to make money at the expense of unity and justice for all Americans.
Just as Dr. Pautz found out in her study movies can have a direct effect on the perceptions that people develop especially young people. The use of racist content in animated films whose main audience are kids could have contributed greatly to the present racial dilemma in America (Zillmann, 128). A white child would grow up knowing that he or she is of a superior race and could discriminate against those that belonged to other races. A black child would grow up feeling inferior thus becoming resentful of other races and his or her American identify.
Movies are one of the most influential forms of art which can be attributed to their ability to stimulate multiple senses in the audience. It is this stimulation that is responsible for the forming of new and long-lasting perceptions, especially in young minds. Studio companies such as Walt Disney are responsible for the effect the content they produce has on the viewers and should, therefore, strive to create positive content. If adhered to this may reduce social problems like racism and prevent them from being passed on to future generations of the society which would go a long way in ensuring peace and understanding reigns.
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.
Archer, Leonard C. “Black Images in the American Theatre: NAACP Protest Campaigns–Stage, Screen, Radio & Television.” (1973). Pp 120-185
Lehman, Christopher P. The colored cartoon: Black representation in American animated short films, 1907-1954. Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2009. Pp 23-77
Peterson, Ruth C., and Louis Leon Thurstone. “Motion pictures and the social attitudes of children.” (1933). Pp 35-47
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. _x0093_How Movies Can Change Our Minds._x0094_ 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/.
Zillmann, Dolf. Media, children, and the family: Social scientific, psychodynamic, and clinical perspectives. Routledge, 2013. Pp 120-134.
Baecker, Dirk. “The reality of motion pictures.” MLN 111.3 (1996): Pp 560-577.
Bandura, Albert, & Jennings Bryant, et al. “Media effects: Advances in theory and research.” Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (1994): Pp 61-90.
Fiske, Susan T., Daniel T. Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, eds. Handbook of social psychology. Vol. 2. John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Pp 209-213