Hollywood’s Portrayal of Minority Groups in the United States

Publicerad 2020-11-26 14:00

Located in Los Angeles, Hollywood has had the leading role, as well as a large impact on the film industry since the early 20th century, but what impact has it had on the portrayals of different minority groups? This article will aim to find out how Hollywood movies portray different minorities in the United States by comparing movie representation with reality.

 

Hollywood movies have had a substantial impact on creating deep-rooted portrayals of different ethnic minorities in the United States. The way people view minority groups is predominantly formed by what they see on screens. Although in many cases, a lot of people would say that these portrayals could not be further away from the truth. Movie representation is a crucial factor in shaping the perceptions people have of themselves, as well as of others. Therefore, this article will aim to find out if Hollywood’s representation of minority groups in the United States is accurate to reality or based on stereotypes and untruthful portrayals. To do so, this article will take a look at three different minority groups living in America and compare movie representation with reality. The groups that will be looked over are Asian Americans, Italian Americans, and Native Americans, who have all been presented in many movies over the years.

Different stereotypes of Asians have been present since they immigrated to the United States in the 1850s. When political tensions grew between China and the United States during the 20th century, the stereotyping only got worse. Asian Americans were met with stereotypes such as the ”yellow peril,” a sinister person of Asian heritage who could not be trusted. How this transferred to the film industry is well told in an article by Elizabeth Lee "The Evolution of Chinese and Asian Faces in Hollywood" (www.voanews.com 20/10-2019). The article contains an interview with Chinese American filmmaker and author Arthur Dong, who explains that the yellow peril stereotype resulted in a character called Fu Manchu. He was a villain who wanted to destroy the western world and has appeared in many movies and television shows. Dong also mentions that in 1926, a character called Charlie Chang appeared on the big screen. Charlie Chan was a Chinese detective from Hawaii who portrayed a different, yet still problematic stereotype of Asians which you can research further here. Both Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan were largely played by European American actors. Their skin was yellowed with makeup and their eyes slanted with prosthetics in an attempt to make them appear stereotypically Asian. The practice of casting European American actors to play Asian roles is something that is still present in Hollywood today. According to Lee, many movies today have been criticized on social media for casting white actors to play roles that movie fans believe should have gone to Asian actors. For example, in the 2015 film Aloha the main character, Allison Ng, who was of Asian descent, was played by Emma Stone. Ghost in the Shell from 2017 has also been criticized for casting Scarlett Johansson to play the leading role of a Japanese anime character.

Another group that immigrated to the United States is the Italian Americans. Between 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italians moved to the United States in search of a job and an improved life. Since then, numerous stereotypes have surfaced and many of them have been used in movies to portray Italian Americans. In a paper called "Portrayals of Italian Americans in U.S.-Produced Filmsfrom 2019, author Kristina Piersanti analyzes how the Hollywood film industry has represented Italian Americans in movies from the 1970s to today. In her findings, she mentions that there are more negative than positive stereotypes of Italian Americans in movies. The most common stereotypes of Italian Americans in movies include involvement in the Mafia and organized crime, aggressive personalities, and characters being overprotective of their family. One example of a movie that contains all these stereotypes is The Godfather from 1972, which is believed by many to have created significant harm to the image of Italian Americans. The fact that it is believed that many Americans of Italian descent have ties with the Mafia, can be proven wrong by the U.S. Department of Justice. They estimate that out of the 26 million Italian Americans living in the United States, less than 0,0025 percent are involved in organized crime.

Differing from the other groups, Native Americans have been living in America for thousands of years. They have been portrayed through many different stereotypes throughout the 20th century and have been staple characters in many Western genre movies. The stereotypes used in movies have ranged from violent barbarians to noble savages. According to Marc McLemore and Chris Dashiell in the article ”Native American Portrayals in Film History" (azpm.org, 10/6-2016), the attack of the Native Americans was a scary and exciting spectacle for audiences. It was also the most occurring scene featuring Native Americans in Western-themed movies, which enforced the stereotype that Native Americans were continually attacking the whites in force. Another problem that is mentioned in the article is that many roles portraying Native Americans are played by white actors. One example of this is the movie The Legend of Walks Far Woman (1984), where Raquel Welch played the lead role of a Native American warrior. The rise of Native filmmakers has shaped the way Native Americans have been represented in recent years. They have provided the public with realistic Native American characters, free of the old stereotypes.

Based on the facts presented, it could be said that Hollywood’s portrayal of minority groups has for a long time been based on inaccurate stereotypes. These stereotypes have had various consequences on the image and on people’s views of certain ethnic groups. However, in recent years the industry has worked on abolishing the stereotyping of characters in minority groups, and the rise of Asian-,Italian- and Native American filmmakers have contributed to the accurate presentation of these minorities. Still, there is room for improvement. Although most of the stereotypes surrounding these minority groups are not present in movies today, there still seems to be a lack of representation when it comes to certain minority groups. Both Asian and Native American roles are still taken by actors of mainly European American heritage. This is problematic because it creates a system of values that prefers one race over the other and causes the representation of minority groups within a film to be removed from the story. Nevertheless, times are changing, and hopefully in the future, the film industry will be free of stereotypes and deliver accurate portrayals of all ethnic minorities.

 

IMAGES:

1. The way people view minority groups is predominantly formed by what they see on screens. FOTO: Krists Luhaers, www.unsplash.com

2. Located in Los Angeles, Hollywood has had the leading role, as well as a large impact on the film industry since the early 20th century. FOTO: Nathan DeFiesta, www.unsplash.com

Källor: (1) "The Evolution of Chinese and Asian Faces in Hollywood", (2) , (3)
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