ESSAY ASSIGNMENT FTVE 210-9349: AMERICAN ETHNIC CULTURESyorker
5-PAGE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT
FTVE 210-9349: AMERICAN ETHNIC CULTURES
Fall Semester 2019
Description: A five-page analysis of at least one US movie that deals with an ethnic issue.
Required: Compare two films. One of the films doesn't have to fit the above description (it can be non-US, for example). The essay must contain a focused, debatable thesis that you defend with evidence from the film(s). You can compare 2 films by the same director, 2 films featuring the same actor, 2 films from different cultures, 2 films treating a similar issue, 2 films from the same culture, 2 films in the same genre, 2 films telling a similar story or containing the same character, 2 films that use one device in different or similar ways, etc. You don't need to get my approval for films, as long as they fit the above descriptions. Always keep the main ethnic message or intended effect of the film(s) in mind while writing; always keep your thesis in the forefront of your reader's mind. Include at least one paragraph that connects your thesis to the filmmaker's overall intent for the film. You do not have to mention any outside sources on the film, but if you use one you should properly cite it with a consistent citation style like MLA or APA.
Typed, stapled, double-spaced, 12-point font, proofread word by word (not just spellchecked)
Identify the film/year in the first paragraph of the essay; italicize title throughout (no "quotation marks" or underlining), describe action in the present tense (not past), use characters’ and not actors’ names.
Five points off automatically if you don’t follow these directions.
Attach Essay Checklist to the back of your essay, with all items checked off to show you did them right.
Avoid plot summary—provide a description only to advance your thesis. Keep a copy for yourself. Email me if you're having problems ([email protected]). If you want feedback, email me a proposed thesis or first paragraph (not an entire rough draft) no later than 48 hours before the due date. Failure to use quotation marks and cite the original author's name, or other symptoms of plagiarism when using others' words, will result in an immediate F in the course.
Films to write about: Look at Interracial Film List in Canvas Files for ideas. This is a list I’m porting from CSUEB, so disregard instructions at top of list.
Optional ideas for the essay: For all of the below, the comparison/analysis must produce a specifically focused thesis that you support throughout.
The Role of Cars in Quinceañera, Edge of America, Mississippi Masala – The Magical Negro
The Role of the Elder in Ethnic Teen Films - The Mexican spitfire stereotype
The alcoholic parent in American ethnic films - Arab terrorist stereotype
Compare the heroine's journey in songs from Pocahontas and Moana – The Ideal Ethnic Home
How an interracial romance catalyzes the message of Mississippi Masala
Foreign Exchange Students in American Teen Films - Image of the high school in films about ethnic teens
The Asian Avenger Figure – Images of Russian criminals in film – images of the Arabic interpreter
The American Neorealist Ethnic Film: Killer of Sheep, Exiles, Precious, Fruitvale Station, Moonlight
Slow Motion in the American Ethnic Documentary, fiction film – ethnicity in prison films
Image of the South Asian techie in film or TV – Ethnic characters on drugs
Images of Irish Catholics in films – Images of Italian-Americans – Images of Scandinavian-Americans
The Chinese Dragon Lady Stereotype – the Chinese landlady – the Asian American TV anchor
The Interracial Buddy Action Film – its ideology / how it’s changed over time
The Asian Adoptee in American Films – The mail-order bride – the Asian/Persian entrepreneur
Montage Sequences from Better Luck Tomorrow, A Better Life, Mississippi Masala
The Racial Vigilante in Hollywood – Death Wish, Dirty Harry, Falling Down
SAMPLE COMPARATIVE 5-PAGE ESSAY
Failure to Update Outdated African American Tropes Reinforces Negative Stereotypes:
The Missed Opportunity in the Latest Ghostbusters Film
[this essay is single-spaced—yours will be double-spaced]
Ghostbusters (2016) brings new life to the Ghostbusters series by casting an all-female paranormal investigation quartet to tackle a ghost invasion in Manhattan, New York. Each female on the team is modeled after one of the original four leads in Ghostbusters (1984). For Leslie Jones’ character Patty Tolan, this means racist stereotypes and a lack of inclusion were present yet again for the film’s single person of color. Writers and directors had an opportunity to promote Patty, the African American lead, to a level her predecessor Winston Zeddemore, played by Ernie Hudson, was deprived of. Instead of making her equal to her white colleagues, Patty is unfairly written as a stereotype of an uneducated, boisterous, large, flamboyant, African American woman.
Ernie Hudson’s role in the original Ghostbusters film came after twenty years of acting experience and established success. Though originally excited to work with a cast of well-known actors on what was predicted to be a successful film, Hudson later described his experience as the "most painful" part of his career.1 Though his character is one of the main four on the ghostbusting team, he joins the film after forty minutes, has very few lines, is excluded from heroic scenes, is not present on the movie’s promotional posters, and does not appear in the trailer. In the second Ghostbusters film, Ghostbusters II (1989), the exclusion happened again: he did not appear in the first half of the movie. This omission and lack of equality sparked racism accusations against the studio, Columbia Pictures. Although Hudson denies that race was the reason and says he was lucky to even have been included at all, after the films’ releases his acting career was marked by a three-year drought. He was unable to get interviews for other films. “[Ghostbusters] had the opposite effect to what I thought it would,” Hudson explained.2
The original script Hudson received had Zeddemore written as an ex-Air Force strong man. He was set to enter the movie at the beginning and play a prominent role throughout. The night before filming, Hudson received a new script and was shocked to find his role had changed completely. Instead of lines starting on page eight, he was not in any scenes until page sixty-eight. His backstory was edited out so more screen time could be given to Dr. Peter Venkman because the studio wanted Bill Murray to be the star. Zeddemore enters the film by simply stumbling upon a job posting for the ghostbusting team and going to an interview.3 When asked if he believes in spirits and the supernatural, he responds with his first line of the film, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” Instead of setting him up with credentials and credibility, the writers throw him in and make him sound desperate, not qualified, for the job.4
Thirty-two years after the original movie’s release, significant injustices yet again fall upon the new African American lead. Patty Tolan is given more screen time than Zeddemore, but nearly every aspect of her character is a stereotype. Even the two-and-a-half minute trailer points out the educational accolades of her teammates and downplays her role on the team by showing mostly scenes from before Patty is introduced and including her line, “You guys are really smart about this science stuff, but I know New York and I can borrow a car from my uncle!” as if that is all she brings to the quartet. Her main scene in the trailer is a clip of her realizing a spirit has taken human form in her friend and ghostbusting colleague Abbey Yates. She exclaims, “Aw hell naw, the Devil is a liar! Get out of my friend, ghost!” and slaps Abbey across the face, releasing the ghost. The camera angle shifts to a close-up point-of-view shot from Abbey’s eyes as she lies on the ground and looks up at Patty’s angry face, and Patty then yells, “The power of Patty compels you!” and backhands Abbey across the face again. This clearly sets up Patty as the brute force, not brains, of the team while perpetuating the angry black woman stereotype.
Patty’s size has also been criticized for playing up her racial stereotype. At six feet tall, Leslie Jones towers over her fellow leading ladies, the tallest of whom stands only at five feet and five inches. Her strong, athletic physique has been described by viewers as “ape-like” and “animalistic,” and this quality is exaggerated through the movie with low camera angles, scenes with Patty in the foreground, and the characterization of Patty as beastly, such as the slapping scene featured in the trailer that includes all three. Her fellow Ghostbusters, however, are all portrayed as dainty in comparison. Even Abbey Yates, the biggest of the three, is likened to a deflating balloon as she flies around from being propelled by an unexpectedly strong proton gun’s kickback.
The audience is first introduced to Patty in the film at her place of work: a New York subway station ticket booth. This introduction gives her little credibility compared to her costars, who are all introduced as college professors with previous experience studying the supernatural. Patty is first pictured with neon streaks throughout her braided hair, large gold hoop earrings, and her name on a prominently displayed, diamond-encrusted gold chain that hangs around her neck. She speaks with improper grammar, uses African American Vernacular English, and hollers at passing train riders. Of the four Ghostbusters, Patty is the only one who is not employed as a scientist, similar to Zeddemore in the original film. This inequality is highlighted throughout the film with quotes such as, “You guys are really smart about this science stuff, but I know New York” from Patty herself and, “We are scientists … plus Patty” from her fellow Ghostbuster Erin Gilbert. Though she is modeled after Zeddemore, the writers missed an opportunity to upgrade her status as a Ghostbuster to one who is a strong, intellectual, black female role model, a demographic nearly absent in Hollywood.
The directors clearly keep true to the original Ghostbusters series plot by modeling the new characters after the originals and setting the film in Manhattan once again. They give a nod to the original cast by including cameos for all three living actors of the original four Ghostbusters, love interest Sigourney Weaver, receptionist Annie Potts, and the final villain, the Stay Puft ghost. By changing the team to females, the directors wanted to expand the audience to include more than just those who were fans of the first two films. Notes of racism exemplified through Patty, however, overshadow this feminist female team. Modeling the new team after the original was done well for all except Patty. First, the African American in the new film did not need to be modeled after the one in the originals. They could have written a character modeled after Winston Zeddemore and given it to one of the white actresses. Though Zeddemore gets shortchanged in film time, he is not an overly stereotyped black man. Despite being given the perfect opportunity to fix the racial inequalities of Ghostbusters I and II and modernize the movie by removing racial bias, writers shortchanged the black lead yet again. Patty is given more screen time than Zeddemore, but is portrayed much more negatively. This draws focus away from the feminist supernatural investigators and instead to unnecessary, outdated, racial profiling in Hollywood.
Much like the backlash Ernie Hudson received after the release of the original Ghostbusters, Leslie Jones faced harsh criticism for her role in the film. Most of the backlash was via Twitter, where Jones was hit with racist and misogynistic tweets about Patty’s portrayal. Viewers saw Patty as perpetuating negative black stereotypes rather than representing a positive role model, like that of her white costars. Jones responded by tweeting a series of messages containing, “Why can’t a regular person be a ghostbuster. I am confused. I’m playing a hardworking woman. The regular one that rep the people. You guys are the racists by labeling her a lowly MTA worker. Not me. Regular People save the world everyday so if I’m the stereotype!! Then so be it!! We walk among Heroes and take them for granted.”5 Fans reacted positively to her rebuttal and the hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ trended. Though these tweets seem to express Jones’ genuine feelings, speculation surrounds these remarks as well. Since the movie is still in theatres, she is working to promote her character and the film. Some critics question if her stance will change or if her costars will voice their opinions once the film is out of the spotlight.
Though the strides Ghostbusters (2016) made with its all-female cast are not to be discounted, they are overshadowed by racism. Having a female team gives young girls smart, female role models with careers in science, something absent from most Hollywood films, but this movie fails to give girls of color a similar character to aspire to be. The movie’s stereotypical depiction of its African American lead is outdated and perpetuates a social divide between races. No race benefits from seeing another mocked. Instead of having an educated black woman use her brains to better the team, writers demoted Patty to the brute, much like how the original films’ writers relegated Zeddemore to an easily forgotten sidekick.
1. Desborough, James. "EXCLUSIVE: What Happened to Ernie Hudson? Forgotten Fourth Ghostbuster Reveals Franchise Was 'Most Painful' Part of His Career... But He'd Love to Make Another." Mail Online. Daily Mail, 30 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 July 2016.
3. Hudson, Ernie. "The Painful What-if That Haunts 'Ghostbuster' Ernie Hudson." Entertainment Weekly, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 July 2016.
5. Twitter quotes are taken from Leslie Jones’ personal twitter, @Lesdoggg
Make sure you’ve fulfilled these points and check them off if you did.
Staple this sheet to the back of your completed essay.
Five points off your score if you haven’t fulfilled all of these.
_________ Italicized every occurrence of film title; no quotation marks
_________ Put film’s release date in parentheses after first mention of film
_________ Consistently used present tense to describe film events (not past tense)
_________ Summarized plot only to explain an analytical point
_________ Used 12-point font
_________ Proofread word for word (not just spellchecked)