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Racial and Gender Stereotypes in Film

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. - Chimamanda Ngozi

Films have been on the forefront of perpetuating stereotypes not only in the recent past but also throughout the history of filmmaking. The film industry for a long time has depicted the behaviors and roles of women as well as people of colour in a negative way thus contributing to retrogressive beliefs about them in society.

The way a character speaks, dresses, behaves are all influenced by the desire of the filmmaker. Stereotypes are integrated in films, both purposely and inadvertently, because the film maker’s vision of the character may be a generalised representation based loosely on certain aspects of culture, for example associating African Americans with sports such as basketball. Common stereotypes regarding African Americans are that they are criminals, unintelligent and possess a litany of other negative qualities, all which perpetuate racism. Racial stereotypes in films have occurred among people of color through characters, especially black. For example, The Birth of a Nation (1915) which is notoriously known as one of the most racist films due to its stereotypes of Black people, the depiction of blackface and Ku Klux Klan sympathy.

This has created challenges in opportunities, leading to a prevalence of stereotypes and lack of diversity on-screen, and they have also come a long way with many perspectives in the movie industry. The motion industry has had a long history and been subject to criticism for its racially casting options since it has a significant role in a mass dissemination across the globe to audiences in every generation and has affected people’s belief systems. However, since a development in technologies and human perception, several modern filmmakers have already started to change the old stereotypes to be diverse and more positive. Another example is how native Americans are portrayed. While the media often portrays Indigenous men as warriors and medicine men, their female counterparts are typically portrayed as beautiful objects of desire. This maiden stereotype can be found in Land O’ Lakes butter product labels and promotions, and Hollywood’s various representations of “Pocahontas,”.

As for Asians, they have long been depicted as “perpetual foreigners.” No matter how many generations of citizenship for an Asian character, there is a latent “other” that prevents their written development. They have gone from being the “Yellow Peril” in the Silent Era, to probable spies in the Studio Era, to faceless saboteurs, refugees, and convenience store owners in the Television Era.

More recently, Asian characters are stereotyped as the “model minority”— overachieving, hard-working, and never political. Men, especially, are frequently relegated to decidedly un-sexy, awkward tech geeks and math nerds. For example, Long Duk Dong, portrayed by Gedde Watanabe in the 1984 John Hughes film “Sixteen Candles.” From his first on-screen moment, Dong’s Asian identity is caricatured and played up for laughs, with everything from his name and nerdy middle part to his sexual ineptitude contributing to the joke. Watching today, it seems unbelievable that a literal gong sound plays every time he appears or has a revelation.

In contrast, stereotypes in movies for Asian women characters are highly sexualized. They are frequently portrayed as either domineering (the Dragon Lady) or subservient (the Geisha).

It is important to understand and acknowledge that female stereotypes in movies which have evolved over a period of time, however there are many misleading stereotypes for women in this industry whether this is the funny ‘fat girl’ trope, the the strong woman or the dumb blonde , most of them incorporate the fact that feminity is weak and should be frowned upon. Ironically, the ‘feminist’ films aim to shatter misogyny but end up feeding fuel to them.

Women, who are portrayed to be strong are often associated with more “manly” qualities, and those interested in qualities considered vain and feminine tend to be overshadowed by these women who are not interested in the same things, which makes them more appealing to the male audience.

Coming to the stereotypes regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, there are plenty, and these are perhaps the most common. Throughout film history, queer representation had to be coded, even if the original source material was perfectly clear about who a queer character is. Still topping the list of most common LBGTQIA+ stereotypes in media is the Gay Best Friend. While the Black Best Friend can be assigned to a male or female protagonist, the Gay Best Friend is almost exclusively given to a white female protagonist. He is usually flamboyant and ‘super judgy’, and his main purpose is to give the leading lady advice on everything from what to wear to how to deal with a relationship. For instance, the character of Kevin in the tv show “riverdale” is a clear example of the gay best friend to the white female protagonist, Betty Cooper.

Riverdale: Season 1, Episode 1

As the previous tropes above show and are very clear examples of stereotypes in the film industry, they show us, the readers, that stereotypes are extremely harmful because they perpetuate unattainable beauty standards, colourism and racism. In conclusion, it is important for accurate representation of all characters and it is very good that certain characters break away from these stereotypes.

Written by Avani Raj

Illustrated by Anannya Pincha

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