Friday, April 2, 2010

What Gets Sold

Representations in the Media

Following up with my previous post on Spike Lee's talk at the University of Arizona, I wanted to illustrate an interesting point Lee made regarding representation in his film Bamboozled. He commented that he wanted the film to provide an example of not just how African Americans have been portrayed, but also how negative representations of women, Asians, Native Americans and other marginalized groups are perpetuated in the media.

During the Q&A session, someone asked what they called the 'obligatory question' about Lee's criticism of Tyler Perry's films and movies for their perpetuation of some hurtful stereotypes. Lee pointed out that from that interview, people have focused on his negative remarks, even though he complimented how Perry has created his own audience and his business savvy. Lee said that he understands that everyone doesn't have the same tastes, but he also understands that there are overlapping fans who like his work, and those who like Perry and other filmmakers like John Singleton.

This is an issue that Native American writer Sherman Alexie addresses in his essay "I Hated Tonto (Still Do)", in which Alexie writes about enjoying cowboy and Indian movies even though the representations of Native Americans were stereotypical. Alexie writes, ""Well, it's better than nothing."Yes, that became our battle cry."

A theory in Cognitive Sciences explains this phenomenon as the members of the group preferring a negative representation rather than a feeling of invisibility. As the Damon Wayans character in the trailer explains, selling positive representations of marginalized groups in film can be extremely difficult. In his discussion Spike Lee explained how he had to seek alternative funding for Malcolm X, and how he hasn't been able to get other epics about other prominent African Americans green lit to be made.

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