Do movies teach stereotypes?

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Hello everyone!

Before I jump into it, I would like to say a few words about myself. I live in Budapest, Hungary. In recent years the city has became quite popular with some directors, which really sparked my interest in filmmaking. I am especially interested in cinematography. I am a sociology student (like Bong Joon-ho once was) and I currently work on my thesis.

For this work I would like to ask for some help. I am conducting a research on how movies can teach a society stereotypes. The main focus of the research is Hungary (a really homogeneous society, in terms of race and ethnicity). However, I just focusing on Hungary would make little sense so I am also interested in the habits and knowledge of the US audiences.

For this reason I am asking members who are from the US (citizens and residents alike) to please help me by filling out my survey. It takes about 5 minutes to complete.

You can find it here:

https://forms.gle/mMwKxjy7KgbLp2wH8

Thank you so much for your help!



Just answering the question prompted, forms aside, I think the answer is obviously: yes. I think they also reflect stereotypes. They feed into each other, the way any generalized knowledge does.



I don't think they teach stereotypes to any greater degree than the audience.



Since we are getting a little political here, i think the root issue is the prejudices that people are trained to have implicitly. I'd rather blame the school system and "the citizens" than cinema for this kind of stuff...but there's an inherent issue with blaming in general.



But yes, film does have a way of perpetuating conventions. The one that I hate so much is this myth that there are really "heroes" and "villains". Get it together hollywood! Real life is so much more interesting and complicated in that regard.



Thank you for all the feedback! The whole point of study is to see if film as a form of media has an effect on peoples' knowledge of stereotypes. Also, this survey is really just for comparison, the main focus is on Hungary, where the population is about 98% White, and people see most African-Americans or African people throug movies and series.



Registered User
This is tough, because films are both reflector and director, mirror and engine. A causes B and B causes A. It's hard to point to a film uniquely causing or substantially influencing "stereotype X." This is a knotty problem.



I don't think movies teach stereotypes. I think the current social trend is that people are tending to shift their responsibilities onto others (and other things). There was a time in the mid 20th century and earlier when taking personal responsibility was important...Today it seems skirting responsibility is a valued skill and placing the blame the norm.

If movies do teach stereotypes then video games teach violence. I don't see how one can be true, the other not. Either people can discern their own truths or they can't.


*I didn't complete your online survey, but if you want to use anything I said here, feel free to do so.



I don't think movies teach stereotypes as much as they use the ones that are already there. You can't do much teaching on anything in a 90 minute movie but, when you want to bring in a new plot element or character and you want it to be instantly recognizable, you use a common stereotype. The list of stereotypes in the movie catalog is very long, they have a lot of use in movies and anybody who's seen more than a dozen movies is subconsciously aware of them. TV does even more with it since their time frame is even shorter.



Please Quote/Tag Or I'll Miss Your Responses
Hello everyone!

Before I jump into it, I would like to say a few words about myself. I live in Budapest, Hungary. In recent years the city has became quite popular with some directors, which really sparked my interest in filmmaking. I am especially interested in cinematography. I am a sociology student (like Bong Joon-ho once was) and I currently work on my thesis.

For this work I would like to ask for some help. I am conducting a research on how movies can teach a society stereotypes. The main focus of the research is Hungary (a really homogeneous society, in terms of race and ethnicity). However, I just focusing on Hungary would make little sense so I am also interested in the habits and knowledge of the US audiences.

For this reason I am asking members who are from the US (citizens and residents alike) to please help me by filling out my survey. It takes about 5 minutes to complete.

You can find it here:

https://forms.gle/mMwKxjy7KgbLp2wH8

Thank you so much for your help!



I filled one of these here months ago by a Hungarian guy who had a similar survey, but I won't stereotype all Magyar for being inquisitive


To answer your question, it's usually the bad stereotypes that are featured. It's unbelievable how .0001% can project the 99%. Movies (or video) are probably the most influential as opposed to the other arts, so I guess it's the most authoritarian.

One thing I learned from traveling was that people referenced movies as if it were fact, despite some of them prefacing with "I know it's just a movie, but...". I guess its easier than capturing the zeitgeist, which takes a lot of work.
Actually, I spent 2 weeks in Budapest and wouldn't attempt to define the people or culture, since I think the internet has made things more conformist since people are reading/watching/listening to the same things, but the internet also gives a place to hopefully find a community you might fit in with.. I loved the movie, "The Fifth Seal" but didn't see any stereotypes with that one.. If you know great movies like those, please let me/us know.


Hope you stick around..



Some films absolutely teach stereotypes, in the sense that some people rely on media/art (films/books/TV) as their way of encountering and learning about certain demographics.

For an example, if you looked at 20 films from the 80s/90s that featured gay male characters, you'd hit a LOT of effeminate mannerisms. Are there effeminate gay men? Absolutely. But are most or all gay men like that? Not in my experience. But a person who has not been around many out gay people is probably going to have this association in their head. One of my students recently confided to me that she had told a boy she liked him, but that he told her he liked another boy. She was confused by this because he doesn't "seem gay."

Stereotypes are often based in some kernel of truth, and the problem is that in film these tropes/stereotypes become a convenient shorthand. The use of stereotypes can orient you to a film's cast in mere moments (the uptight girl! The jock! The nerd! The gay guy! The angry feminist! The midwestern mom! The rigid ex-military teacher! etc), so it's not surprising that they are used so much.

Lindsay Ellis did an essay a short while ago about the history of transphobia in film. And she talks about how in Silence of the Lambs, the film actually takes time to clarify that most transgender people are not violent and that the killer himself may not actually be transgender, and yet the horror of a man torturing and murdering women in pursuit of a "female body" is the main thing people remember. (I myself totally did not remember the short disclaimer sequence). Transpeople are actually a pretty good example of a group where the portrayal in film is overwhelmingly negative and at best neutral in most films AND a demographic that, because of their statistical minority, many people do not have much personal experience with.

And I think that part of the problem is that the effect can be cumulative. So one film featuring member of XYZ demographic in a negative way can almost certainly be justified by its creators. But it becomes a problem when there are 100 movies featuring that demographic and 90% of them are negative. When most/all of the creators of that content do not belong to that group (ie straight people writing gay characters or write people writing non-white characters) it's even more important to take a critical eye.



Registered User
I imagine they do "teach" certain stereotypes through exaggeration. There is a form of culture shock known as the Paris syndrome which travelers sometimes suffer from because the reality is different from their preconceptions. A good example of that is european vacation. The Griswalds all have these daydreams of what it's going to be like, and the juxtaposition is what drives the movie's humor.



The question is whether those preconceptions can come from movies, and I imagine that is the case in many instances.



I think that films feature and prolong existing stereotypes, oftentimes past the very time that those stereotypes have started to wane.


OTOH many folks are comfortable with stereotypes simply because they're so accustomed to them. In fact one could argue that movies would not be so popular if stereotypes weren't featured.



Some films absolutely teach stereotypes, in the sense that some people rely on media/art (films/books/TV) as their way of encountering and learning about certain demographics.

For an example, if you looked at 20 films from the 80s/90s that featured gay male characters, you'd hit a LOT of effeminate mannerisms. Are there effeminate gay men? Absolutely. But are most or all gay men like that? Not in my experience. But a person who has not been around many out gay people is probably going to have this association in their head. One of my students recently confided to me that she had told a boy she liked him, but that he told her he liked another boy. She was confused by this because he doesn't "seem gay."

Stereotypes are often based in some kernel of truth, and the problem is that in film these tropes/stereotypes become a convenient shorthand. The use of stereotypes can orient you to a film's cast in mere moments (the uptight girl! The jock! The nerd! The gay guy! The angry feminist! The midwestern mom! The rigid ex-military teacher! etc), so it's not surprising that they are used so much.

Lindsay Ellis did an essay a short while ago about the history of transphobia in film. And she talks about how in Silence of the Lambs, the film actually takes time to clarify that most transgender people are not violent and that the killer himself may not actually be transgender, and yet the horror of a man torturing and murdering women in pursuit of a "female body" is the main thing people remember. (I myself totally did not remember the short disclaimer sequence). Transpeople are actually a pretty good example of a group where the portrayal in film is overwhelmingly negative and at best neutral in most films AND a demographic that, because of their statistical minority, many people do not have much personal experience with.

And I think that part of the problem is that the effect can be cumulative. So one film featuring member of XYZ demographic in a negative way can almost certainly be justified by its creators. But it becomes a problem when there are 100 movies featuring that demographic and 90% of them are negative. When most/all of the creators of that content do not belong to that group (ie straight people writing gay characters or write people writing non-white characters) it's even more important to take a critical eye.

Overall, i feel this hits home in terms of being critical about the stereotypes that movies use. I don't really apply to any of the specific stereotypes you talk about here, but yeah sometimes i've been out talking to strangers, and they say "you are kinda like _______" where blank is that movie/tv reference, and of course i have done the same thing to other people.


In terms of gay people, i've found it extremely accurate, in terms of mental stereotyping (think along the lines "i bet that guy is gay" in your head) is when you hear a guy talk with a lisp. Where does that come from? Is that that just gay people conforming to the stereotype as style? Who knows...but it's definitely the case that a lot of guys who regularly like guys do not have lisps and are not "effeminate" at all. Part of my post is pointing out that all conventions are somewhat artificial anyways: what you expect is what you get.



In terms of gay people, i've found it extremely accurate, in terms of mental stereotyping (think along the lines "i bet that guy is gay" in your head) is when you hear a guy talk with a lisp. Where does that come from? Is that that just gay people conforming to the stereotype as style? Who knows...but it's definitely the case that a lot of guys who regularly like guys do not have lisps and are not "effeminate" at all. Part of my post is pointing out that all conventions are somewhat artificial anyways: what you expect is what you get.
While it isn't the best film (ie too focused on the filmmaker, when I wanted more from the experts!), you might enjoy the documentary Do I Sound Gay?. My favorite sequence is when he interviews his "gayest sounding straight friend" and his "straightest sounding gay friend".

I think that stereotypes in general can create a "filter" where we then develop a kind of confirmation bias. For example, you might feel like lisping helps with your "gaydar", but there are probably a lot of people you don't think of as being gay because they lack certain indicators.

I also think it's good to acknowledge that films can help to refute stereotypes. In the romantic comedy 4th Man Out, the male lead is athletic and kind of a bro. The film focuses on him coming out as gay, and specifically how it impacts his relationship with his close male friend group. (Though, interestingly, the film can't help but showcase some pretty garish stereotypes in a sequence where the main character goes on a series of dates).



Registered User

In terms of gay people, i've found it extremely accurate, in terms of mental stereotyping (think along the lines "i bet that guy is gay" in your head) is when you hear a guy talk with a lisp. Where does that come from? Is that that just gay people conforming to the stereotype as style? Who knows...but it's definitely the case that a lot of guys who regularly like guys do not have lisps and are not "effeminate" at all. Part of my post is pointing out that all conventions are somewhat artificial anyways: what you expect is what you get.

I don't know where the lisp comes from, but I've got a 100% prediction rate whenever I hear some guy speaking and think "that guy is definitely gay!"



Just the other day, my daughter was watching a youtube video of some guy who talks about interior design. He just sounded fabulous! So I asked if he's gay, and sure enough. Gayer than a British cigarette.



minds his own damn business
I'm not going to submit a response, but I would like to discuss the survey.


Demographically, I am a white male living in a suburb in a mid-sized American state, in the age range of 30-65, a college dropout and of spontaneous pantheist convictions that require no public obligations.


I try to watch a film every day, but on average, I probably manage in the 5-6 a week range. My main motivation is pleasant stimulation. My resources for films of interest involve a mix of word-of-mouth, articles and books, and forums such as this one. My methods of viewing are also inclusive of cinema, physical library and streaming, although in the pandemic period, streaming definitely dominated. It might suffice to say that the genres I prefer outnumber those that I do not. It's easier to single out "Family Musicals" for the latter and leave it at that. For expediency, it's also easier to just say that my favorite film and director are 2001 and Stanley Kubrick. The last film I watched was A Page of Madness in order to compare the 59 minute version with the restored 70 minute version.


I do think there are issues with minority representation in films which have seen improvements and misunderstandings in recent years. Speaking specifically of African-Americans, the exclusion of Black voices behind the camera - writers, directors, producers, executives - has historically assured that the subject was easily dismissed. The recent story about Ray Fisher and DC/WB is a sad reminder of a long-standing trend of Black talent being told how to commodify their "blackness" into a form that white audiences (and more frequently international audiences) prefer to consume. The Black talent that has resisted this commodification have found themselves marginalized from the business, usually with having an "angry" reputation. There's what's "black" as a sociological culture, and there's what's "black" as a mainstream entertainment fetish. The latter tends to, by necessity, reflect certain stereotypes which will not challenge the presumptions of the intended patrons. If someone believes that Black men are more prone to violence and criminality, then they might be more likely to think that Training Day is a better film than Malcolm X.


The problem with the word-association portion of the survey is that, I imagine given your focus, the results will only be helpful for those who are only familiar with Black people from film and media. Similar to what Takoma already mentioned about LGBT people, the best remedy against stereotypes would be familiarity with the community. Personally, I've known at least one Black person for each of these descripters that would apply, as many as those who would not. People are people. Are Black people more superstituous than the largely White Ghost Hunting community? I doubt it. More materialistic than the Dougs and Kayleighs eagerly fisting over their dollars for the latest phone or truck? Not likely. So I can't quite answer such questions. One question I can answer is that, no, I do not believe in ethnically congenital virtues. I do not believe that behavior is dictated by melanin any more than, say, blood type or zodiac sign. Turns out, it's the racists who are truly superstitious regarding their desperately chosen magic of genetic moral essence. Let's call it a "fluid".


The next page is a bit simpler to provide precise answers, but there's a couple that I want to focus on. "Blacks have more influence upon school desegregation plans than they ought to have." First, the language of "ought to have" is distasteful, just as later language about what Black people "deserve". Who's arbitrating these standards of entitlement? Beyond that, school desegregation in America has evolved into more relevant issues today, mostly concerning issues like tying property taxes to school funding (making the separation of school quality into a class, rather than race, distinction) and using charter school's civil rights laxity (a loophole of their intended experimental natue) to discriminate specific students frrom attending. But long answer short: No, Black people do not have an undue influence on current education policy. And, no, Black people have not received more money and/or respect than "they deserve". The more relevant question is why someone would assume that they would be undeserving, and if this can be found to be rooted in specific depictions in films or other media, then that's certainly worth exploring/correcting.
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Who here is willing to say that they have personally been taught stereo types by films? Seems to me a lot of the responses are saying movies teach other people stereo types...So who wants to step up and claim their own belief in stereo types via movies?



Who here is willing to say that they have personally been taught stereo types by films? Seems to me a lot of the responses are saying movies teach other people stereo types...So who wants to step up and claim their own belief in stereo types via movies?
While it wasn't the beginning of my extremely regrettable sense of homophobia when I was a pre-teen, I imagine that the portrayal of the lisping, extremely effeminate male hairdresser from San Fransisco in The Rock didn't help me any on that front either.



While it wasn't the beginning of my extremely regrettable sense of homophobia when I was a pre-teen, I imagine that the portrayal of the lisping, extremely effeminate male hairdresser from San Fransisco in The Rock didn't help me any on that front either.
I seen The Rock many years ago but don't remember it well and don't remember the hairdresser at all...but why would that character contribute to your pre-teen fear of homosexuals?



I seen The Rock many years ago but don't remember it well and don't remember the hairdresser at all...but why would that character contribute to your pre-teen fear of homosexuals?
Because it reinforced that stereotype for me.