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Film Reviewers and Framing Race: Recuperating a Post-Racial Whiteness

by Matthew W. Hughey and Sheena Gardner
29 Nov 2012 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Post-Racial Imaginaries [9.2] | Article
 

The media and the cinematic racial order are basic to the understanding of race relations in any society.[1]

Reel Life Issues

Is film still a big deal?  Years after Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” the answer is still yes.  In 2009, worldwide box office sales reached $29.9 billion, up 7.6% over 2008’s total.  International box office sales ($19.3 billion) made up 64% of the worldwide total, while U.S. and Canadian sales ($10.6 billion) made up 36%, a significant rise from just five years ago.  Over two-thirds of the U.S. population (67%; 217.1 million) went to the movies in 2009, accounting for 1.4 billion in ticket sales.  The average amount of times a year that U.S. moviegoers attend the movies is 6.5. [2] So also, half of all adults watch movies at least once a month, and sixty percent of people ages nine to seventeen watch at least one movie a week (Media Campaign 2002).  In addition to visiting theatres, more people are watching movies at home.  By 2006, 81.2% of all US households reported owning at least one DVD player, 79.2% owned at least one VCR, and 73.4% owned at least one computer).[3]  Also, 33% of US households have at least one High Definition Television (HDTV), which are increasingly marketed for in-home viewing of movies.[4]  Movies are also now available online and through the mail via services such as CinemaNow, Movielink, NetFlix, and Starz! Ticket on Real Movies.  Internet downloads of film are growing at an exponential rate.[5]

Film Reviewers

Perhaps due to our present moment of info-glut, we desire experts to tell us how and why to separate the wheat from the chaff.  These cinematic tour-guides help us make sense of the hundreds of U.S.-produced films released in American theaters each year.  After all, more than one-third of those living in the U.S. report seeking the advice of film critics and approximately one-third of filmgoers say they choose films based on favorable reviews.[6]

Given the widespread attraction of films, critics are a particularly important category for sociological inquiry.  Baumann[7] writes that very little is known about the history of film reviewers, but finds that film advertisements with reviewer blurbs significantly increased over time: from 6.9% in 1935 to 46.6% in 1980.  Baumann argues that this growth resulted from a fundamental shift: film became a legitimate art form, not simply a popular pastime.  As an “art world”[8] for film developed in the 1960s, critics’ roles in markets and political economy strengthened.[9] Critics assist the public in making film choices, understand film content, and perhaps most importantly, communicate thoughts about the film in social settings.[10] So also, reviews are enjoyable consumption experiences in and of themselves.[11]

Framing Race

Understanding the weight of film and critics in concert with the realization that we live in a still racialized and racially unequal society begs an important question:  How do film reviewers help us make meaning of films with racialized content?  To answer this question, we examine how film critics simultaneously sediment and destabilize an increasingly vociferous “post-racial” discourse within a U.S. racial state that oscillates between periods of progress toward racial equality and periods characterized by vituperative moves to erase that progress under the banner of color-blindness and with the ironic goal of becoming a “post-racial” nation.[12]

Reviewers as an “Interpretive Community”

As the U.S. becomes increasingly “post-racial” in its professed discourse, many of its social structures such as housing, education, and religion are become re-segregated.  The media and its interlocutors serve as an omnipresent device for informing people about racial “others” with whom they are less likely to have intimate contact.  Despite this knowledge, sparse attention falls on how reviewers make meaning of films that take on the topics of race, identity, inequality, democracy, and justice and how film reviews are representative of larger social forces.

While film criticism is typically associated with individual aesthetic judgment rather than socially shared scripts of explanation, we argue that reviewers constitute a racialized interpretive community.  Reviewers rely upon specific shared cultural frameworks to both contest and reproduce the notion of a “post-racial” society.  Reviewers operate as mediating voices between producer and consumer, and in so doing, the interpretations of the film serve as “common-sensed” mappings of the contested terrain of contemporary race relations.

Their role is especially vital when considering their authoritative interpretation of films that showcase conflictual inter-racial interactions, such as the genre of the “White Savior Film” (WSF).  The WSF generally features a group of lower class, urban, non-whites (generally black and/or Latin) that struggle through the social order.  Yet through the sacrifices of a white teacher/mentor/leader they are transformed, saved, and redeemed by film’s end.  Examples of this genus include Dangerous Minds (1996), Sunset Park (1996), Amistad (1997), Finding Forrester (2000), Hardball (2001), Half-Nelson (2006), Freedom Writers (2007), Gran Torino (2008), and The Blind Side (2009).

How Reviewers Critique and Recuperate Whiteness

The patterns revealed in reviewers’ interpretations are indicative of social forces that construct and present a movie-star’s persona, choose specific targets as “worthwhile” from an increasing plethora of films, select a specific review technique (from content and stylistic parameters), and make value judgments regarding the individuals, interests, and interactions represented.  If sociological studies of the intersection of media and race are to transcend the now well-rehearsed examination of “racial representations,” they should turn toward how cultural intermediaries play formal and informal roles in shaping racial meanings in-between production and consumption stages.

Data and Methodology

We draw upon published reviews of five feature films to explore the ways in which film critics function as an interpretive community that acts as a mediating voice between producers and consumers of films.  We examine how film critics make meaning of WSFs and consider how their interpretations influence the ways in which audiences understand contemporary race relations.  The published reviews (N=446) were culled from five recently released films that fit the WSF genre: Freedom Writers (2007), Gran Torino (2008), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), The Blind Side (2009), and Avatar (2009).

Data collected through qualitative content analysis is facilitated by the construction and use of a deductive coding scheme.[13] The coding scheme is used to analyze the textual data at three different levels: frames, themes, and discourses.  Frames allow researchers to analyze text with the broadest brush stroke.  Frames provide “… a parameter or boundary for discussing a particular event…” and “… focus on what will be discussed and how it will be discussed”. Themes are more focused than frames and “… are the recurring typical theses” that run through a document. Discourses are the most nuanced of the three and are described as “the parameters of relevant meaning that one uses to talk about things.”[14] There are six overarching frames, each of which includes refined themes and discourses (see Tables 1-6).

Patterns of “Post-Racial” Discourse

White Savior/Messiah

Reviews that contain elements of the white savior/messiah frame present white characters as moral saviors and showcase their willingness suffer on behalf of nonwhites.  Of the five themes contained within the larger frame, two themes, white generosity and white redemption, were the most frequently recognized. The theme of white generosity was present in 203 (45.5%) reviews.  Reviews that contained the theme white generosity discussed how the WS character was willing to mentor a fatherless youth (Gran Torino), adopt a homeless teen (The Blindside), work two jobs to purchase school supplies for her class (Freedom Writers), spring a friend from police custody (The Secret Life of Bees) and help a native population fight back against hostile invaders (Avatar).

The theme of white redemption is comprised of three discourses and focuses on the transformative power of white savior characters.  In all, 243 (54.5%) of the 446 reviews included the theme white redemption.  The majority of the reviews that fit within this theme were concentrated within the discourse well-taught lesson (n=213).  Reviews that fit in this discourse discuss both the white character’s ability to learn from a life-altering experiences as well as the white savior’s ability to teach nonwhite characters long-lasting lessons.  In Avatar, the WS character Jake “begins an existence as a double agent, learning the Na’vi ways as an avatar by day, then returning to inhabit his own human body while his avatar sleeps.  But in the grand tradition of colonialist impostors, Jake starts to go native” (Slate Magazine).  Jake’s immersion in the Na’vi culture eventually leads him to change his previous stances about his mission, the Na’vi, and the human race.  The remaining discourses, redeeming the past (n=25) and model citizen (n=5), were identified at a much lower rate.

Also included within this frame are the themes white willingness, white focus, and white sympathyWhite willingness (n=45, 10.1%) refers to those reviews that demonstrate the WS character’s willingness to learn from nonwhites in order to save them from a dire situation.  This theme was most evident in the film Freedom Writers.  As one reviewer described, “[Erin Gruwell] didn’t go into her class with a great plan to reform the kids; she learned from them, and tried to adapt their learning to suit their situation” (Film Judge).

The theme white focus (n=34, 7.6%) emerged when reviewers felt the storyline revolved around the wrong character.  A review of the film The Blindside posted on the website Film Freak Central offers an example: “Completely shoved to the sidelines in a film that’s about him, Big Mike, as he hates to be called, is upstaged by a mugging, white knickerbockers-wearing Sandra Bullock as iron maiden Leigh Anne Tuohy, who one day takes pity on hulking, wet-dog Mike and brings him home to live with her in her mansion.”

The theme dubbed white sympathy (n=28, 6.3%) refers to those reviews that depict the WS character as the recipient of underserved trouble.  Reviews of The Secret Life of Bees, for example, depict the lead character Lily as worthy of sympathy. As one reviewer writes, “…the film follows its white object of compassion, traumatised, vulnerable and motherless 14-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning, the little queen of precociousness) as she escapes the clutches of her abusive po’ farmer father (an unrecognisable Paul Bettany)…” (Time Out London).

White Malevolence/Violence

This frame outlines the ways in which reviews rationalize white characters’ violence or malevolence towards people of color.  Of the themes contained in the white malevolence/violence frame, only one was featured in more than twenty-five percent of the film reviews.  The theme manifest destiny identifies instances when violence towards POC is rationalized through colonialist ideals and was present in 118 (26.5%) reviews.  This theme is present in many reviews of the film Avatar.  Dana Stevens of Slate Magazine offers a description of the film’s plot: “he [James Cameron] sets his story in 2154, when earth’s resources will already have been depleted, turning our species into rapacious galactic colonialists.”

The two themes that most closely follow are white guardian and cultural dysfunction.  The theme white guardian (n=76, 17.0%) is used to identify the times when white savior acts violently towards POC while simultaneously protecting POC from other threats.  Reviews from Avatar and Gran Torino fit into this theme.  In both Avatar and Gran Torino, the main white protagonists engages in malicious actions towards the nonwhite characters (infiltration of the native community to learn its weaknesses for tactical purposes and racially motivated verbal abuse, respectively) but later on protect the same individuals from harm (leading a revolt against the military-industrial complex and fighting back against a local gang).  Cultural dysfunction (n=54, 12.1%) describes instances when malevolence and violence towards POC is rationalized because POC are viewed as culturally backwards and uncivilized. The nonwhite characters in the film Gran Torino were verbally accosted by the white protagonist who would “rail against the decline of our country, wallowing in his racism, seething at his neighborhood’s ghettoization by the influx of Hmong ‘barbarians’” (CinemaViewfinder).  The remaining themes, biological inferiority (n=9, 2.0%) and white paternalism (n=1, 0.2%), were identified in less than three percent of the film reviews.

Dysfunctional Depictions

Reviews that explain the dysfunctional problems among people of color by using or emphasizing race fit within the frame dysfunctional depictions.  This frame was not heavily identified in the film reviews.  Most of the reviews fitting within this frame were concentrated in two themes, pathological people of color and black magic.  When POC of color were depicted as possessing various dysfunctions the film reviews were placed within the theme pathological people of color (n=99, 22.3%).  Discussions of behaviors such as gang membership, acts of violence, and drug use in film reviews depict people of color as pathological.  Gang membership was featured in reviews of Freedom Writers, Gran Torino, and The Blindside and in each film gangs were associated with poor academic performance, responsible for neighborhood terrorism, and presented roadblocks for those seeking upward social mobility.

The theme black magic (n=107, 24.0%) captures those reviews that depict nonwhite culture as exotic, carnal, foreign, etc.  The native inhabitants of Pandora in the film Avatar are the “archetypal Noble Savages, living at one with nature and the planet” (Decent Films Guide) and “the center of life for the natives is an untouchable holy tree where tribal memories and the wisdom of their ancestors can be tapped into” (Ozus World Movie Reviews).

The remaining themes focus on identifying reviews that depict a lack of social, economic, or political progress among POC (lack of progress) and flagging instances when reviews suggest that races are fundamentally different and hierarchically ordered (doing difference). The theme lack of progress (n=54, 12.1%) is present in reviews of Freedom Writers. Paul Hurley describes the students as unwilling to get along with people of different racial backgrounds writing that the students are “radically separated along self-imposed ethnic lines” (Tiscali UK).  Reviews of the film The Secret Life of Bees note nonwhites’ lack of political progress in comparison to whites when they describe the fierce and violent opposition that the main white protagonist’s black maid, Rosaleen, faced when she tried to register to vote.  The theme doing difference identifies occasions when reviews describe assert that races are inherently different and that POC are inferior to whites.  This theme was present in only 2 reviews (0.4%).

(In)Authentic Representations

This frame examines instances when the authenticity of people of color is called into question.  Only three of the five frames included in the coding scheme were identified within our sample of film reviews.  The themes structured silence and wordplay were identified at a similar rate. Structured silence (n=27, 5.6%) draws attention to one-dimensional representations and apparent lack of agency among people of color.  Aaron Cutler of Slant Magazine reviews the film The Blindside and elaborates upon the theme:

Even more amazing than the fact that we never see Michael talk to any schoolmates besides the Tuohy children is his seemingly total lack of agency. There’s no scene of him choosing to go to the prep school, nor to play football. White adults continually choose for him, he smiling happily… In the last half-hour, characters start realizing they never asked Michael what he wanted, but the movie’s also been blind to it; and when they finally do ask him what he wants, he says that he wants what his new family wants for him.

The theme wordplay was located in 24 (5.4%) film reviews and refers to instances when authenticity among people of color is defined by a “native” language or dialect.  The nonwhite characters in Avatar (the native Na’vi) and Gran Torino (the Hmong neighbors) speak a native language.  Indeed, the director of Avatar went so far as to invent a new language specifically for the film with the help of University of Southern California linguist professor Paul Frommer.

Anglo assimilation is the last theme identified within the frame (in)authentic representations (n=15, 3.4%).   Reviews of The Blindside pointed out the ways in which Big Mike struggled to fit into the white, Christian school he attended.  As Cynthia Fuchs of Popmatters writes:

He appears in a sea of small Caucasians, the camera pointed up to emphasize his humungousness. In class, he’s silent and polite, and his teachers worry. What’s he thinking, anyway? They get a gander when Mrs. Boswell (Kim Dickens) reads his essay for a group in the teachers’ lounge: “I see white everywhere. The teachers do not know that I have no idea of anything they’re talking about. I go to the bathroom, I look in the mirror and say, ‘This is not me’” (Popmatters).

Acknowledgement of WSF

Acknowledgement of WSF, captures those instances when the WS genre is directly acknowledged by the reviewer.  This frame in conceptualized through the three themes.  The most commonly found theme was that of colorblind tales (n=216, 48.3%).  This theme is comprised of four smaller discourses with the majority of reviews falling into one of two categories, based on a true story and helping hands.  Reviews that fit into the discourse based on a true story (n=115, 25.8%) describe the film as an unbiased retelling of events.  For example, David Medsker writes:

Someone out there is going to smear “Freedom Writers” for being one of those movies where the white person comes along to save the day for the poor, helpless minorities. Don’t listen to such cynical, self-congratulatory nonsense, as it’s an insult to what Gruwell accomplished and what LaGravenese and Swank did to tell her story (Bullzeye).

The discourse we label helping hands (n=110, 22.4%) eschews race by focusing on the film’s story of cooperation.  One film reviewer from the Washington Post recognizes that viewers may become suspicious of the way the film deals with issues related to race and class, but argues that viewers “can’t help but be enormously entertained and moved by its irresistible story. Especially in the film’s soaring, triumphant final moments, viewers get the sense that this isn’t a story about race or redemption or the complexities of class and culture. It’s a story about the authentic, compassionate response to vulnerability and need. It’s a story about family.”

The second most commonly identified theme is yet another savior (n=70, 15.7%).  Reviews that fit within this frame demonstrate the ways in which the film or characters fit within the white savior trope.  As with the previous frame, there are several discourses that make up the theme.  Of the four discourses, the most cited was over-repetition followed by race in your face wide, wide open whiteness, and unrealistic (n=2, 0.4%).  Reviews fitting within the discourse over-repetition (n=31, 7%) draw reader’s attention to the fact that the film is reusing an over-repeated plot device.  In a critique of the film Freedom Writers, reviewer Brian Orndorf writes, “No matter how you spin it, you’ve seen ‘Freedom Writers’ before.  The story of a teacher inspiring a classroom of underdogs to academic excellence, especially a Caucasian teacher in an urban setting, has been told a hundred times over” (Film Jerk).  The discourse race in your face (n=20, 4.5%) identifies reviews that argue that the character/film perpetuates racism and racist stereotypes.  As one writer said of the film Avatar:

It’s actually worse than Dances with Wolves in terms of cultural imperialism. Like so many other “white guy goes back to nature” movies, it posits that the best native is in fact a white guy gone native. He was raised in the offending culture so he understands how it works, but he’s also able to learn the native culture almost instantly, become an accepted member of that culture, become a better native than the erstwhile best native (usually a young, hot-tempered man), and lead the natives into battle, either showing himself to be an honorable leader or dying valiantly in the attempt. It’s a bunch of racist hoo-haw, even if we’re dealing with made-up blue Gumbys (Goatdogs Movies).

Reviews that explicitly discuss the race of the characters or the importance of race to the film’s storyline while maintaining that the film fits within the white savior genre are placed in the category wide open whiteness (n=17, 3.8%).  In a review of the film Freedom Writers, Vince Leo of Quipster’s Movie Reviews describes the plot and explains its connection to the white savior genre:

As a new, white-skinned, and somewhat naive teacher in Long Beach, California, Erin Gruwell (Swank, The Black Dahlia) has a hard time touching the minds and hearts of her mostly bused-in, minority freshman students in her grammar class… Freedom Writers has been compared to the 1995 film, Dangerous Minds, which featured a similar true-life story of a White, female teacher trying to break through the color barrier in order to educate her inner city students by getting them to believe in themselves.

The last theme, re-categorization, was identified in 34 (7.6%) film reviews.  Reviews that fit within this frame recognize that the characteristics of the film fit within the white savior trope but use different languages and labels to discuss the film.  For example, there are reviews of the film The Blindside in which the races of the characters are explicitly stated and the ways in which the white character helps the nonwhite character is discussed; however, there is no acknowledgement of a WS character or that the film fits within the WS genre.  In other cases, the reviewers acknowledge that the film could be placed within the WS genre but choose not to label it as such.  Chris Hewitt of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes, “There is reason to worry ‘The Blind Side’ will be another white-hero-saves-black-kid movie, but luckily, it’s smarter than that.”

White , Male, Middle-Class Recovery Project

This frame explores how the themes of gender and sexuality, class, and race are used to reaffirm the “normality” of whiteness.  Of the 446 film reviews analyzed for this study, 199 (44.6%) included discussions about traditional gendered and heteronormative behaviors.  The majority of reviews that included the theme of gender and sexuality fit within the two discourses gender relations and objectified love interests.  In reviews that fit within the discourse gender relations (n=72, 16.1%), characters were described as conforming to traditional gendered behaviors.  In the film Gran Torino, the white male protagonist spends time trying to teach the fatherless Hmong boy living next door how to be a man.  For example, reviewer James Bowman describes the process:

Indeed, Walt is supposed to take him [Thao/Toad] on as a protégé precisely in order “to man you up a little bit. Get a little carbon off the valves.” Even Walt’s incessant racial slurs are meant to be seen as nothing but a form of distinctively masculine banter, a subset of the jokey insults he routinely trades with his male friends, which must be taught to the boy along with the use of the tools of manhood put on display for his benefit. Subsequently, the guns and the car and the power tools are joined by WD-40, a vice grip, and a roll of duct tape with which, as Walt tells Toad, “any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem.” Now the fatherless Toad is presumably equipped to take on the world.

The discourse objectified love interests (n=87, 19.5%) refers to the positioning of women as love interests in an effort to reaffirm the white male protagonist’s heterosexuality.  This discourse was most prominent in the film Avatar.  In the film, the WS character meets and falls in love with the princess of a local native tribe.  The other discourses, female morality and gendered assistance round out the theme gender and sexuality.  Films containing the discourse female morality (n=21, 4.7%) discuss the ways women act as moral compasses for the white male protagonist. This discourse is particularly prominent in the film Avatar.  It is through the WS character’s relationship with a female member of the native tribe that he decides to “go native” and fight against the imperialist human race.  Reviews that point out the ways in which females help the white male protagonist throughout the film fit within the discourse gendered assistance (n=19, 4.3%). Again, reviews from the film Avatar offer the most poignant examples of the discourse:

A series of events in the jungle separate Jake from the other avatars and place him in mortal danger. His life is saved by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who distrusts him but believes he is touched by the Na’vi god. She takes him to the “home tree” where he must not only plead for his life but for the opportunity to learn their ways. Neytiri becomes his mentor and he soon finds himself more in sympathy with his blue-skinned “brothers” than with Colonel Quartich, who is planning a massive operation to relocate the Na’vi away from a rich load of ore (Reel Views).

The theme class was featured in 214 (48.0%) film reviews.  As was the case with the previous theme gender, there were two prominent discourses, conspicuous consumption and living standards.  The discourse conspicuous consumption (n=75, 16.8%) flags film reviews that discuss middle class purchasing power.  Generally speaking, the films that contained elements of conspicuous consumption mentioned the type of material objects possessed by white protagonists or their financial ability to purchase such items.  Take for example the film The Blindside.  Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post describes the affluence of the Tuohy family:

[They] provide the homeless classmate of their kids a life that’s a few miles and a lifetime away from a Memphis housing complex called Hurt Village.  Leigh Anne drives a creamy BMW, wears a bling crucifix and Chanel sunglasses. Sean Tuohy has made a pretty penny with a slew of fast-food franchises. Their house looks like one of those modern McMansions, though McDonald’s isn’t one of Tuohy’s chains.

Film reviews that describe the living conditions of the white protagonist in a manner that fits dominant middle class ideals are grouped into the discourse we title living standards (n=73, 16.4%).  WS character Walt Kowalski of Gran Tornio demonstrates the middle class ideal.  He despises his Hmong neighbors who represent “… what’s wrong with modern America, starting with the fact that they don’t keep their lawn mowed or houses painted to the demanding specs he sets for himself” (Hollywood & Fine Reviews).  The other discourses identified in the film reviews are nuclear families (n=44, 9.9%) and American mores (n=22, 4.9%).

The theme race was the most commonly mentioned and was identified in 264 (57.6%) film reviews.  As with the themes of gender and sexuality and class, distributions across the discourses that conceptualize the theme of race was uneven.  The discourse white dysfunction (n=162, 36.3%), the most frequently recognized, described how the white protagonist rectified his/her own moral failings.  In Avatar, the WS character Jake Sully agrees to collect information to be used against the native population in exchange for surgery that would restore his ability to walk.  EFilm Critic AB writes:

[Jake] successfully learns the Na’vi customs, accomplishes the rites of passage and becomes one of the Na’vi. What he hadn’t bargained for is falling in love with Neytiri … Jake’s feelings for Neytiri persuade him to go against his primary mission- that of infiltrating the Na’vi and convincing them to abandon Kelutrel, the hometree of the Na’vi (yet another Indian mythological allusion to the Kalpavriksha- the tree of life), and relocate.

The second and third most employed discourses are white religion and white individuality respectively.  Reviews that suggest that there is a strict association between Christianity and whiteness fit into the discourse white religion (n=47, 10.5%).  In the film The Blindside, the Tuohy family’s willingness to take in a homeless black teen is linked to the family’s Christian background.  As reviewer Eric Snider writes, “Leigh Anne, always on the lookout for an opportunity to be a good Christian, sees Michael walking alone at night, not dressed for the cold weather, and learns he has no place to sleep. She invites him to stay on the couch, only briefly wondering whether it’s a good idea to invite a near-stranger into the family’s home” (The Land of Eric).  The discourse white individuality (n=69, 15.5%) speaks to the white protagonist’s ability to resist engaging in the same racist behaviors exhibited by other white characters.  When teacher Erin Gruwell makes an effort to teach a group of gangbanging minority students she faces opposition and doubt from her husband, other school teachers, and “small-minded and racist administrators, who deny her books and narrow their eyes into hateful slits seemingly every time she opens her mouth” (Jam! Showbiz).  Despite the obstacles, Gruwell is able to secure the resources she needs to inspire and educate the students in her class.

Conclusion

Results from our analysis suggest that film reviewers support and reproduce the post-racial rhetoric currently occupying the American consciousness.  Many of the reviews framed the films as colorblind tales with morals focused on the humanity of individuals in general – the redemptive qualities of people and the generosity that one individual can show another.

Why do so many latch on to the post-racial rhetoric so enthusiastically?  For many, the promise of a post-racial society means a sort of relief from the racial fatigue that haunts US society.  This discursive respite can be characterized by the belief that there are no laws, policies, histories, actions, or discriminations that exist or effect racial equality today.  For many Americans, post-racialism goes hand in glove with the hyper-individualist “bootstrap” ideology; the belief that nothing but your hard work determines one’s lot in life.  Such a myopic, dishonest, and ahistorical narrative is seductive in its simplicity even as it preys upon well-intentioned people’s desire to live in a harmonious and relatively equal nation.

Interpretive practices guide the meanings of the cinematic text in ways that layperson audiences can easily understand and believe—a decisively social endeavor embedded in post-racial discourse.  Because meanings are always sets of practices whereby reality is created, maintained, and transformed, while undergoing reification into a force seemingly independent of human action, a cultural sociological approach to film reviewers is not only useful, but imperative.

Notes

1. Denzin, Norman K. 2001. ‘Symbolic Interactionism, Poststructuralism, and the Racial Subject.” Symbolic Interaction 24(20): 243-249.  [↑]

2. Motion Picture Association of America. (MPAA). 2010. “2009 Theatrical Market Statistics.” http://www.mpaa.org/Resources/091af5d6-faf7-4f58-9a8e-405466c1c5e5.pdf.  Retrieved 27 August 2010. [↑]

3. Nielsen Media Research. 19 December 2006. “DVR Displaces Video.” MrWeb: The Market Research Industry Online. http://www.mrweb.com/drno/news6258.htm Retrieved on 1 July 2008. [↑]

4. Nielsen Wire. I June 2009. “Across America, HDTV Rapidly Becoming the Standard.” http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/across-america-hd-tv-rapidly-becoming-the-standard.  Retrieved 30 August 2009. [↑]

5. Adkinson, Jr., William F., Thomas M. Lenard, and Michael J. Pickford. 2004. The Digital Economy Fact Book. Washington, DC: The Progress and Freedom Foundation. [↑]

6. Wall Street Journal, The. April 27, 2001. “ ‘Town & Country’ Publicity Proves an Awkward Act.”: B1, B6. [↑]

7. Baumann, Shyonn. 2002. “Marketing, Cultural Hierarchy, and the Relevance of Critics: Film in  the United States, 1935-1980.” Poetics 30: 243-262. [↑]

8. Becker, Howard. 1982. Art Worlds. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [↑]

9. Cameron, Sam. 1995. “On the Role of Critics in the Culture Industry.” Journal of Cultural Economics 19(4): 321-331. [↑]

10. Austin, Bruce. 1983. “A Longitudinal Test of the Taste Culture and Elitist Hypotheses.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 11: 157–167. [↑]

11. Cameron, ibid. [↑]

12. Bell, Joyce & Douglas Hartmann. 2007. “Diversity in Everyday Discourse: The Cultural Ambiguities and Consequences of ‘Happy Talk.’”  American Sociological Review 72: 895-914; Taylor, Charles. 1994. Multiculturalism: Examining The Politics of Recognition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  [↑]

13. Altheide, David. 1996. Qualitative Media Analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. [↑]

14. Altheide, p.31 [↑]

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Matthew W. Hughey received his PhD (Sociology) from the University of Virginia (2009) and is now Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University. His research agenda rests at the intersection of racial identity formation, racialized organizations, and the production, distribution, and consumption of mass mediated racial representations. Department of of Sociology, Mississippi State University P.O. Box C [Postal Delivery] 207 Bowen Hall, Hardy Road [Courier Delivery] Mississippi State, MS 39762 Office: 662.325.2495 | Fax: 662.325.4564 Email: MHughey@soc.msstate.edu Twitter: @ProfHughey
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