African American people fought for their rights throughout the centuries. These days they are not oppressed and humiliated anymore; they were given equal rights with white people and are full-fledged members of society. Acquiring equal status in white society gave African Americans a possibility to take part in its social life; this resulted in their self-realizations through literature, music, and cinematography. These days films with African Americans in leading roles are a frequent occurrence though people still argue whether the portrayal of black people in movies is verisimilar or whether some directors still have stereotypes towards them refusing to present “more respectable screen images for African Americans” (Vaughn, 2002). The analysis of the literature discussing the portrayal of African Americans in films shows that there exist different opinions regarding this issue. Four journal articles exemplifying this topic have been thoroughly studied and the ideas presented in them were “evaluated on the basis of careful logic and results from scientific investigations” (Cozby, 2009). It is necessary to compare and contrast the findings of these articles and to find out what the study of each article deals with, what the findings of the articles are, whether or not the studies had any flaws, and which areas remained uncovered.
The articles under consideration describe portraying of African American people in films and discuss other issues connected with this topic. Thus, the article “Television and the Socialization of the African American Child: Images of Marginality” by Gordon L. Berry deals with television as a tool facilitating the socialization process of African Americans, particularly, black children. The socialization process is defined as “one by which children learn the rules and regulations of their own family group, their culture, and their society” (Berry, 1998). The article states that modern mass media performs the role of a socializing institution with television functioning as a medium which transmits the values of the nation.
Another article, “Television and Social Identity: Race Representation as “White” Accommodation” by Gail E. Coover discusses positive portrayal of African Americans in films. The article emphasizes that positive portrayal of black people is marketable because it shows non-racist attitude of white people towards the black ones. The author of the article points out that such an “enlightened racism” leads to the idea that “that Black characters are well-liked, not in spite of their race, but because of their race” (Coover, 2001).
One more article “A New Piece to the Puzzle: Examining Effects of Television Portrayals of African Americans” by James A. Rada examines the effects of African American’s portrayal in films on both black and white audiences. The article aims at estimating the effects of “favorable and unfavorable portrayals of African Americans in television” (Rada, 2000).
And finally, the article “No Accident: From Black Power to Black Box Office” by William Lyne is all about black exploitation films of 1980s and of the modern times. The article states that black people are still presented in films as criminals aiming “to beat the system that is inhospitable to them” (Diawara, 1993) and as “a community that has some of the highest unemployment, infant mortality, and drug related homicides” (Lyne, 2000).
Discussing the findings of the articles, it should be mentioned that all of them have different opinions about portraying of African American people in films. For instance, the articles by Gordon L. Berry and Gail E. Coover state that the portrayal of black people and their families in modern films is positive whereas William Lyne’s article shows that African Americans are depicted as criminals and “A New Piece to the Puzzle” explores both negative and positive representations of black people in films. Therefore, the author of the article “Television and the Socialization of the African American Child” found out that positive portrayal of black people in films helps African American children gain “pro-social messages and values from the content” (Berry, 1998) and facilitates social adaptation of a child to the white society. The article “Television and Social Identity”, in its turn, found out that depiction of friendly relations between people of different races evokes positive emotions in white audience and “enlightened racism” results in affirmation of antiracist attitudes. Furthermore, the article “A New Piece to the Puzzle” concluded that unfavorable portrayal of African Americans evokes the desire to help them in white audience whereas the willingness to help white people whose portrayal was also unfavorable turned out to be much less. Eventually, the article “No Accident: From Black Power to Black Box Office” expressed an opinion that films portraying African Americans as criminals have a role of “catalysts for riots” (Lyne, 2000) and form erroneous opinion about black community among the white audience.
However, not all the articles managed to cover specific areas of the study. For instance, the article “Black Family Life on Television and the Socialization of the African American Child” discusses only positive portrayal of African Americans in films, which, as it is concluded, is beneficial for shaping values of the nation. The article does not pay attention to the effect the films with negative portrayal of black people produce on African American children. The same is true about the article “Television and Social Identity” which examined the reaction of both black and white people to depiction of harmonic relations between different races. The article did not trace the effects of negative portrayal of black community in films. The article “A New Piece to the Puzzle”, on the contrary, examined the effect of presentation of African Americans only as criminals in films, as well as “No Accident: From Black Power to Black Box Office” stated that negative portrayal of black people in films worsens relations between black and white people without grounding this assertion properly.
In conclusion, all four articles under consideration give a firm idea about the portrayal of African Americans in films. The authors of the articles concluded that positive portrayal of black people in films facilitates African American children’s socialization process and helps them realize certain values of their nation; it was also discovered that such a portrayal contributes into fighting with racist ideas whereas negative portrayal of African Americans, on the one hand, evokes willingness to help in white audience and, on the other hand, shapes erroneous attitude towards black community. Though the studies failed to cover some areas regarding the depiction of black people in films, the information presented in them is objective and the articles themselves are educational and contribute greatly into studies of African American’s portrayal in films.
Berry, G.L. (1998). Black Family Life on Television and the Socialization of the African American Child: Images of Marginality. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29(2), 233.
Coover, G.E. (2001). Television and Social Identity: Race Representation as “White” Accommodation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 45(3), 413.
Cozby, P.C. (2003). Methods in behavioral research. 8th edition. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Diawara, M. (1993). Noir by Noirs: Towards a New Realism in Black Cinema. African American Review, 27(4), 525.
Lyne, W. (2000). No Accident: From Black Power to Black Box Office. African American Review, 34(1), 39.
Rada, J.A. (2000). A New Piece to the Puzzle: Examining Effects of Television Portrayals of African Americans. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(4), 704.
Vaughn, S. (2002). Ronald Reagan and the Struggle for Black Dignity in Cinema, 1937-1953. The Journal of African American History, 83.