Contemporary portrayals of blacks and mixed-blacks in lead roles: Confronting historical stereotypes of African Americans on the big screen

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Garrett, Melissa
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Tracy Lucht
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Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication
The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication offers two majors: Advertising (instructing students in applied communication for work in business or industry), and Journalism and Mass Communication (instructing students in various aspects of news and information organizing, writing, editing, and presentation on various topics and in various platforms). The Department of Agricultural Journalism was formed in 1905 in the Division of Agriculture. In 1925 its name was changed to the Department of Technical Journalism. In 1969 its name changed to the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications; from 1969 to 1989 the department was directed by all four colleges, and in 1989 was placed under the direction of the College of Sciences and Humanities (later College of Liberal Arts and Sciences). In 1998 its name was changed to the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication.
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This study examines portrayals of lead characters played by black and mixed-black men and women in four contemporary top-grossing box office films released from 2010-2015. The qualitative textual analysis assesses whether leads played by black or mixed-black people conform to or stray from Hollywood’s historical messages that have allowed for racial and gender inequalities on screen. By cross-analyzing characters in terms of genre and gender and forming an understanding of how each character functions in their respective narratives, my analysis identified four major themes. Lead characters played by black and mixed-black people are shown a) having broken or absent families; b) engaged in servitude and/or subordination, which also included uniformity in terms of appearance; c) associated with criminality and/or weaponry; and d) facing one’s fears and striving for a better life, which often involved confronting one’s financial struggles. My findings also suggest that there is more complexity to be found in the roles given to black and mixed black actors/actresses than has been the case historically, as historical portrayals of African Americans are challenged and complicated by contemporary films with both historically based and fictionally based plots.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017