I have a very particular set of skills. Skills which make it impossible for me to enjoy most Hollywood movies. I don’t regret this, in fact, I actively seek to pass this affliction onto others and even to ‘ruin’ my students ability to simply sit back and enjoy mass media output. My condition stems from years of teaching sociology modules on popular culture. This year, my Cultural Globalisation course has included the ways in which ethnic minority groups are portrayed in the movies and news media texts which are brought to us by Multinational Corporations, most of which are based on North America and controlled by white middle class men.
We have looked at many examples of stereotyping in news media (especially following the terror attacks in Paris last November), in advertising, and in movies. We have discussed how language and sound (including slang, accent, and who gets to speak/how often and aided by background music); imagery (including background, landscape, colours and lighting, style of dress/ facial features, machinery and weapons etc) as well as storyline (including subplots and events during individual scenes) can all contribute to portraying different types of people in different ways. Over and over again, we have noticed how the hero of the movie (you’ll know this person – they are the one who goes through difficulty and comes out winning, the one who starts out in one place and through a struggle, journey or challenge is transformed and ends up somewhere much preferable) tends to be white, Western (usually North American) and male. All other characters serve to impact on this character for better and for worse, and end up one-dimensional, typecast, or presented as the Other.
While most of the Western mass media embrace this kind of stereotyping at one level or another, one movie franchise that does so spectacularly, is the Taken series. It has the added benefit of being ripe with two forms of stereotyping; one based on ethnicity, the other on gender. Albanian, French and Arabic characters are all villains in different ways, and the female characters are simply incapable of making reasonable decisions or taking care of themselves. To demonstrate the issues to students, I have developed a TAKEN IN-CLASS GAME. I have not yet had the time to try it out, but I envisage it as a sort of Bingo game, which might be a fun yet educational way to end a semester. I imagine it would work like this:
Divide the class into two groups. One group is tasked with ‘collecting’ instances of stereotypical depictions of non-white/ non-American characters; the other with identifying examples of sexism or stereotypically gendered portrayals. Students should note down each example, and the group with the most at the end of the movie ‘wins’.
You may wish to adapt the game to suit your needs, and other options include:
1) For a more fast-paced, lively game, students could be rewarded in real time, shouting out ‘racism’ or ‘sexism’ each time they notice either. Although with this movie in particular, I imagine this version could quickly get out of hand…!
2) If the students need a bit of inspiration, you could write key things to look out for on a whiteboard, and either have them note these down as they movie plays, or call them out and you could give each a tick. I like this version, because at the end you would have a visual display of how racist and sexist the movie actually is. The key words could include (these are just examples:
|Damsel in distress||Ethnic minority character untrustworthy|
|Male hero saves the day||Ethnic minority character violent|
|Weak female (physically or mentally)||Ethnic minority character dirty/poorly dressed/ at home in hostile environment|
|Hypersexualised / half-naked female||Ethnic minority / non-US character weak/afraid|
|Female making the wrong decision||White US character strong / powerful|
|Overemotional female||White US character skilled, knowledgeable, capable|
|Male using rational logic||White US character heroic / selfless / likeable … etc …|
To encourage student engagement, certain things (that appear less frequently) could carry extra credit or lead to spot prizes.
I am most familiar with the first movie in the series and the game is based on that one, but from what I have seen of Taken 2, it would work equally well.
I would love to hear from anyone who does similar exercises, or even puts this one into practice. If you do, have fun!