Do movies teach stereotypes?

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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?

There was no shortage of comedies when I was growing up in the 80's, where the punch line seemed to be based upon how frightening young black men were to white people. The "roll 'em up" moment in Vacation. The intimidating appearance of the Bernie Casey led Tri Lams at the conclusion of Revenge of the Nerds (complete with slap funk bass). Anthony Michael Hall eventually ingratiating himself to all the patrons of a black bar, who they initially wants to run away from, by smoking weed with them.



Had I had any personal experiences where I should have been led to be frightened of them? Don't think so. Was I told to be wary of black men by my family. Not that I can recall. At least not the ones who raised me. But I understood through these films that in certain parts of town, these were the sorts of people I didn't want to run into. It was treated almost as being common sense. A universal fear I should be made aware of.



Are these movies solely responsible? It's impossible to say, but you could probably argue there are other factors at play. But when I try and trace where any of those childhood prejudices came from, its the moments from these movies that first come to mind. Which has to count for something.


That said, I've always firmly believed what has always been the greater issue at work here, is less that I came in contact with negative stereotypes, but that there was such a staggering lack of positive representations to counteract them. This isn't to defend the use of negative stereotypes, only that their effects become extra insidious when all I am ever seeing of black people in film, is them being shrouded in menace.



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!
The OP is quite broad, but the start of the survey is much more focused. People should be aware of this before they plunge into the survey. “The topic of my thesis is how movies might inform the audience about racial stereotypes and shapes their attitudes towards African-Americans.” emphasis added
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I’m here only on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays. That’s why I’m here now.



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?
I grew up in a very diverse community. My experiences with Black people were almost uniformly positive--they were my teachers, my neighbors, family friends, our school's police officer, and classmates. I have a Black uncle and several biracial cousins.

And yet, until I was lie 12-13, I had this idea (which totally came from TV/movies) that there were these OTHER Black people (and like, really specifically, men between the ages of like 18 and 40) who would do drive-by shootings and try to sell me drugs and would try to mug me or my family. When I would be walking down the street or walking home from the subway and a strange car would suddenly roll up on me or I would hear footsteps quickly approaching behind me, the fear I had was definitely the vision of the non-white gangster that I'd seen so many times in TV/movies. It was a phobia that had zero root in personal experiences, in fact that existed despite my own personal experiences. I tended to regard art (books/movies/TV) as a window into situations I just didn't know about. So if a school in a film/show wasn't like my school, my reaction was "Oh, their school must be like that" and not "Wait! That's not what school is like!".



When I would be walking down the street or walking home from the subway and a strange car would suddenly roll up on me or I would hear footsteps quickly approaching behind me, the fear I had was definitely the vision of the non-white gangster that I'd seen so many times in TV/movies. It was a phobia that had zero root in personal experiences, in fact that existed despite my own personal experiences.
So if these things happened that frightened you, you wouldn’t be frightened if it were a white person? I don’t see this as a “phobia”; rather a basic instinct to survive.

What most women are frightened of IMO is predatory men of all colors, including white.



So if these things happened that frightened you, you wouldn’t be frightened if it were a white person? I don’t see this as a “phobia”; rather a basic instinct to survive.

What most women are frightened of IMO is predatory men of all colors, including white.
I'm saying that the mental image I would have of the person before I saw who was driving the car or walking up behind me was always a typical "street thug" character from TV/movies. For lack of a better word, TV/movies provided me with a "face" to put on my fear response before I knew the nature of the threat (or if it even was a threat).

Once I hit about the age of 12-13, I discovered that actually men of all ages and races had no hesitations about cat-calling or propositioning me from their cars. But the anxiety I developed around that came from actual experiences, and not what I was seeing on film/TV.



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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.

The thing is that the hairdresser's sexual preference isn't mentioned in the movie. In fact, most "gay" characters in movies never mention their sexual preference. Beverly hills cop has Serge, and the guy working the fruit section of the restaurant, but never once is their sexuality mentioned, even though they're "obvious".


I think the secret can be found in Some like it hot. Two heterosexual guys have to dress up as women and act like women. It's not that movies teach that stereotype, but rather women do. Effeminate gay men act like over-the-top women, and that can be hysterical. How funny would the birdcage have been if it had been played straight? Would Mrs. Doubtfire have been funny if the roles had been reversed and Sally Fields had to pretend to be a man?



So why aren't there movies of women acting like men? Yentl is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, but it's far from a comedy.



I grew up in a very diverse community. My experiences with Black people were almost uniformly positive--they were my teachers, my neighbors, family friends, our school's police officer, and classmates. I have a Black uncle and several biracial cousins.

And yet, until I was lie 12-13, I had this idea (which totally came from TV/movies) that there were these OTHER Black people (and like, really specifically, men between the ages of like 18 and 40) who would do drive-by shootings and try to sell me drugs and would try to mug me or my family. When I would be walking down the street or walking home from the subway and a strange car would suddenly roll up on me or I would hear footsteps quickly approaching behind me, the fear I had was definitely the vision of the non-white gangster that I'd seen so many times in TV/movies. It was a phobia that had zero root in personal experiences, in fact that existed despite my own personal experiences. I tended to regard art (books/movies/TV) as a window into situations I just didn't know about. So if a school in a film/show wasn't like my school, my reaction was "Oh, their school must be like that" and not "Wait! That's not what school is like!".
To be honest with you, I kind of just automatically envisioned you as being Black because of your avatar...






I grew up in a very diverse community. My experiences with Black people were almost uniformly positive--they were my teachers, my neighbors, family friends, our school's police officer, and classmates. I have a Black uncle and several biracial cousins.

And yet, until I was lie 12-13, I had this idea (which totally came from TV/movies) that there were these OTHER Black people (and like, really specifically, men between the ages of like 18 and 40) who would do drive-by shootings and try to sell me drugs and would try to mug me or my family. When I would be walking down the street or walking home from the subway and a strange car would suddenly roll up on me or I would hear footsteps quickly approaching behind me, the fear I had was definitely the vision of the non-white gangster that I'd seen so many times in TV/movies. It was a phobia that had zero root in personal experiences, in fact that existed despite my own personal experiences. I tended to regard art (books/movies/TV) as a window into situations I just didn't know about. So if a school in a film/show wasn't like my school, my reaction was "Oh, their school must be like that" and not "Wait! That's not what school is like!".
Thanks for the reply Takoma. I always appreciate responses that come from someone's personal take.

For me, I never related to movies like other people here at MoFo seem to do. I don't have any movies than I love. I don't rewatch movies over and over. I don't escape into movies or take them too seriously. From my time here at MoFo I get feeling a lot of MoFos do escape into movies and so literally view them very deeply. But I don't and that's why the idea that a movie would teach me a stereo type doesn't resonate (for me). I've tried to think of a stereotype I learned from a movie and I can't. That's not to say that movies haven't colored my viewpoint as all external input can color our own psyche.



To be honest with you, I kind of just automatically envisioned you as being Black because of your avatar...



If you want to think of me as the Sorceress, please carry on.

I like that image because it's how I imagine my students see me sometimes (I am very tall, they are . . . not).



It's an old, castigated term that used to refer to suspected communists, but in regard to stereotypes, movies seem to be the "Fellow Travelers". They didn't invent the stereotypes, nor do they teach anything, but in their short run-time, they use stereotypes all the time, for better OR worse, to identify a character without creating a time consuming plot line for the character. Having a viewing history of movies going all the way back to the beginning, I'd estimate that the stereotyping is less awful than it once was and somewhat more diverse, if that makes any sense. There are all sorts of stereotypes now, not just the racial ones of the past that the word generally suggests.

This would be a very long article, probably book length if I listed out all of the stereotypes I can think of, but we can take some comfort in the idea that there are not just a few stereotypes as there were 75 years ago. Having some for every race, ethnicity and gender means that none of them work as well as they did when we had just a few of them targeted on one group of people. It also suggests that movie makers realize that we all can become stereotypes when viewed from "the other side". None of that makes us a perfect species quite yet, but there is reason for optimism in the fact that we are here having this discussion.

Anybody who wants to dig back into the Bad Ole Days for 90 minutes doesn't need to go much further than to stream the 1930's movie Judge Priest, which is in PD and available on Youtube. It stars Will Rogers and Lincoln Perry, AKA Stepinfetchit. You can probably imagine, but most people are still surprised to see what was considered to be benign humor at that time. I can't imagine seeing anything like that in a theater today unless it was intended to be a lesson in the past. The thing about this one that amazes me is that Rogers was a "saint" at that time, Perry was a very well paid actor, but that both of them managed to make something like this and that it showed in theaters and later in TV presentations. They were actually personal friends off the set.

At least we've progressed a little bit since 1934.



I grew up in a very diverse community. My experiences with Black people were almost uniformly positive--they were my teachers, my neighbors, family friends, our school's police officer, and classmates. I have a Black uncle and several biracial cousins.

And yet, until I was lie 12-13, I had this idea (which totally came from TV/movies) that there were these OTHER Black people (and like, really specifically, men between the ages of like 18 and 40) who would do drive-by shootings and try to sell me drugs and would try to mug me or my family. When I would be walking down the street or walking home from the subway and a strange car would suddenly roll up on me or I would hear footsteps quickly approaching behind me, the fear I had was definitely the vision of the non-white gangster that I'd seen so many times in TV/movies. It was a phobia that had zero root in personal experiences, in fact that existed despite my own personal experiences. I tended to regard art (books/movies/TV) as a window into situations I just didn't know about. So if a school in a film/show wasn't like my school, my reaction was "Oh, their school must be like that" and not "Wait! That's not what school is like!".

Yeah that "street thug" stereotype is a pretty big one in the minds of americans, and there are a lot of people (some of them young black men) who like to talk tough and play into that stereotype as a defense mechanism. I don't really blame them considering that people can be very judgemental...also, if you do grow up in a rough neighborhood, there is this pressure not to show too much weakness.



i guess if we are blaming movies for these stereotypes, we should also blame the music industry, we should blame all media for crafting the fantasy worlds we live in. This is part of the reason why books are so interesting to me, at least when someone is reading they are creating the fantasy world as they go.



Once I hit about the age of 12-13, I discovered that actually men of all ages and races had no hesitations about cat-calling or propositioning me from their cars.
Same here. Mine started when I got my first job delivering newspapers. We delivered them on foot. I could not believe how many men in cars were blowing their horns & wolf whistling at me. They were going mental & this was every day. FGS, I was a child!

I don't escape into movies or take them too seriously.
Gosh, I do. I need to escape into a movie, lose myself in it, take me someplace else. Whatever you want to call it. A respite from the stresses of life especially in the past 12 months or so.



They didn't invent the stereotypes, nor do they teach anything
I think that movies do teach things, especially to kids. Lots of teaching is indirect. Learning is the process of taking in information/stimulus and creating an internal logic or pattern based on that information. Movies teach us things like what romance looks like, or how "cool" kids act, etc. I constantly see my students mimicking behaviors from movies/TV, and I'm blanking, but the other day we were talking about something and one child literally said, "When you see it in movies it's always . . . "

I agree that most stereotypes don't originate with films. But if you parrot an idea enough, I do think that it can have the effect of teaching about a group of people, especially if the viewers have no "counter-programming" giving them different examples/representations.



It’s an odd topic. I think there’s a tendency in the post-modern world to ridicule films and to mock people who derive their sense of reality from them. As in, oh, you watched too much Miami Vice, he-he. But in my experience, a great many ‘conventions’ in popular culture are often reflected in reality; in fact, I often marvel at how true to life this or that ‘cliche’ is. I don’t think the particular trope being discussed has any reflection in reality, but I don’t see why learning from films needs to be seen as inherently bad.

We then get into which films, which is trickier, but I would honestly rather my children learnt about the world through films instead of, I don’t know, social media.

What concerns me is this new proselytising idea that everything in art needs to be educational to an extent and needs to bear in mind that ‘attitudes are shaped by it’, and all that palaver. I mean, if I want to make a film that shows people being not the way they necessarily should be, whatever that means, can I not do that without worrying about someone’s children getting the wrong idea? I feel like it’s a slippery slope of sorts to say that only the kind of attitudes we want to see people exhibit going forward should gain representation in film. That would take away so much from cinema to my mind.



It’s an odd topic. I think there’s a tendency in the post-modern world to ridicule films and to mock people who derive their sense of reality from them. As in, oh, you watched too much Miami Vice, he-he. But in my experience, a great many ‘conventions’ in popular culture are often reflected in reality; in fact, I often marvel at how true to life this or that ‘cliche’ is. I don’t think the particular trope being discussed has any reflection in reality, but I don’t see why learning from films needs to be seen as inherently bad. We then get into which films, which is trickier, but I would honestly rather my children learnt about the world through films instead of, I don’t know, social media.
Ha. I watched way too much of The Sopranos & now curse like a Jersey longshore man.



What concerns me is this new proselytising idea that everything in art needs to be educational to an extent and needs to bear in mind that ‘attitudes are shaped by it’, and all that palaver. I mean, if I want to make a film that shows people being not the way they necessarily should be, whatever that means, can I not do that without worrying about someone’s children getting the wrong idea? I feel like it’s a slippery slope of sorts to say that only the kind of attitudes we want to see people exhibit going forward should gain representation in film. That would take away so much from cinema to my mind.
Is anyone actually saying that art needs to be educational?

And in terms of bearing in mind that attitudes can be shaped by art, that doesn't become an issue if you have a wide diversity of representation. The problem is when someone wants to put a stereotype in their film (even if it is a stereotype that is true of some actual people) and doesn't reflect on whether that same stereotype has already appeared in a ton of other films.

Consider a subgroup to which I belong: teachers. Teachers in film range from self-sacrificing saints to evil power-hungry abusers. But what if 95% of teachers in films were portrayed as abusive or child molesters? I would argue that if a writer/director was writing a film with yet another teacher character like that, it might be good to reflect on why that character is being written that way. Art doesn't exist in a vacuum, and I think that it is a responsibility of a creator to consider context. Is the character you are creating true to your story, or is it just an easy crutch to get a predictable reaction out of an audience?

And this is especially the case if you are not a member of the demographic you are portraying and don't have any real understanding of the impact of the stereotypes you are perpetuating.



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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?
When I was younger I watched a lot of movies like Animal House and Stripes. I thought women were only good for sex. Then I got married and learned they can cook too.



Is anyone actually saying that art needs to be educational?
Well, to my mind, these things are related. Reminds me of all the talk that Rockwell shouldn’t have got his Oscar because his Billboards... character is racist. It’s easy to blur the lines and begin to argue only ‘good’ or ‘positive’ portrayals of all sorts of things should be allowed, which then does make art educational, because we are implicitly telling the viewer, ‘See, everyone is represented equally, women are strong and independent, etc, etc, this is how we like the world to be.’

This is actually happening, the younger generation will listen to Eminem for the first time or watch Pretty Woman and ask in earnest (usually on Twitter), ‘Oh my gosh, how is this ALLOWED? It’s negative about women! Call the police!’

And in terms of bearing in mind that attitudes can be shaped by art, that doesn't become an issue if you have a wide diversity of representation. The problem is when someone wants to put a stereotype in their film (even if it is a stereotype that is true of some actual people) and doesn't reflect on whether that same stereotype has already appeared in a ton of other films.

Consider a subgroup to which I belong: teachers. Teachers in film range from self-sacrificing saints to evil power-hungry abusers. But what if 95% of teachers in films were portrayed as abusive or child molesters? I would argue that if a writer/director was writing a film with yet another teacher character like that, it might be good to reflect on why that character is being written that way. Art doesn't exist in a vacuum, and I think that it is a responsibility of a creator to consider context. Is the character you are creating true to your story, or is it just an easy crutch to get a predictable reaction out of an audience?
I’ve just had to remind myself you haven’t seen Breaking Bad. Talk about blowing up teacher stereotypes with a grenade. It’s a serious point, by the way: sometimes something so good comes out that it affects stereotypes about the said thing for a very long time.

And this is especially the case if you are not a member of the demographic you are portraying and don't have any real understanding of the impact of the stereotypes you are perpetuating.
This, of course, is mostly incontestable. But I still feel it places an unnecessary restriction on art. I think it’s come up already at some point but take Lionel Shriver. She has no kids. I was at a seminar a few years back where someone with two kids marvelled at how accurate Shriver’s take on the struggles of motherhood is. The same applies to the Ramsay film. But Shriver is technically perpetuating some very uncomfortable and tired stereotypes about having kids, especially the classic one: you have a child and your life is over. I think it can happen regardless of authorial intent. And people around me IRL, all of them with kids, have said, Oh, she’ll make people not want to have kids. I think it can, actually, for once, but is that Ramsay or Shriver’s fault? I do think if you think like that in advance, you won’t get anywhere.

Besides, it’s very hard to judge what causes which reaction. I watched Dante’s Peak when I was about 11 with my father and soon after we went to Germany. When he was driving around mountains, I remember thinking one of them would turn out to be a volcano and erupt. Not even necessarily being scared, just bringing the film into real life in a totally inappropriate way.

Anyway, there’s no denying that if a director can do away with stereotypes, the film will quite possibly be all the better for it.

Quite a few films that came out in the last few years feel like they were designed to shatter stereotypes, such as The Heat... we discussed this in the feminism thread. I think people should focus on making a good piece of art, full stop. Often the concern to not perpetuate the wrong stereotypes bleeds into the narrative, the characters, bleeds into everything, and you end up with a half-baked thing that doesn’t say anything except, Oh, we took all the possible repercussions into consideration before we even got started.



I’ve just had to remind myself you haven’t seen Breaking Bad. Talk about blowing up teacher stereotypes with a grenade. It’s a serious point, by the way: sometimes something so good comes out that it affects stereotypes about the said thing for a very long time.
Heh, yeah; I never looked at Etch-A-Sketches the same way again after what Walter did with 'em on that show.






I think that movies do teach things, especially to kids. Lots of teaching is indirect. Learning is the process of taking in information/stimulus and creating an internal logic or pattern based on that information. Movies teach us things like what romance looks like, or how "cool" kids act, etc. I constantly see my students mimicking behaviors from movies/TV, and I'm blanking, but the other day we were talking about something and one child literally said, "When you see it in movies it's always . . . "

I agree that most stereotypes don't originate with films. But if you parrot an idea enough, I do think that it can have the effect of teaching about a group of people, especially if the viewers have no "counter-programming" giving them different examples/representations.
In my scheme of cultural influences, I do think that movies have moved down the scale over the past 60 years or so, having previously taken some of the influence once had by radio, then themselves being eclipsed by broadcast TV and all of the subsequent media.

Prior to plague time, I went to a lot of movies in real theaters and, aside from occasional kid movies, most of the time people who actually went to movies were, suffice to say, not still in their formative years.

Additionally, there are so many people behind the scenes who want movies to make money, in part by not offending ticket buyers, and so much scrutiny, that stereotyping, in crude terms, just isn't profitable unless its done very carefully, so as to not hurt profitability. This is even more so in broadcast TV, which seems to have a diversity consultant in on every scene, but in the world of web-casting, it's still the wild west.

It would be an interesting thing to study, because I think that traditional media are far more careful than web based outsiders who can do whatever they want, have lower costs and attract an audience that's drawn to their stuff. The bile-filled content there is the drawing card to people who want that and who are put off by the comparatively tame stuff in movies, TV and even cable-only TV and see some sort of Jeffersonian liberty in being offensive. Stereotypes are fodder for uncritical brains, they are cheap and easy, but when they show up in a 40 million dollar movie, the investors get edgy.

I'm assuming that, when the script writers are in the room together, they have some sort of discussion that sounds like -

"We need a villain, we have to identify the villain by body language, clothing, behavior or whatever else, movie goers need to identify the villain in an instant and we have to steer clear of stereotypes unless it's really important to the plot line. It it's a stereotype, we can only have one in 90 minutes. We can't develop the character very much because the audience might humanize that character and we don't want them to feel bad when the cop shoots them, assuming that in this plot, the cop is the good guy."

It's a complicated minefield of a job writing scripts.