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2010 GRIID Film Study

December 8, 2010

This film study was a project done primarily by GVSU student John DeRuiter, with assistance by Jeff Smith. The last film study GRIID conducted was of films was in 2003, with reports done on Race Representation in Film, Product Placement, Tobacco Use and Hyper-sexual content.

The American movie industry influences millions of people in the U.S. and abroad. The movie industry is wildly lucrative, and incredibly powerful. These movies have the ability to normalize how we see ourselves and the world around us.  Also, movies usually have a product or idea to sell to the audience, and they have the capabilities to make people want and need these products and ideas. To understand what the corporate movie industry projects as reality and what ideas or products are being sold, it is important to look at films collectively over a period of time and not just on an individual basis.

This study examined five distinct areas of movies, the areas are: the racial make-up of the cast, the amount of sexual objectification, the amount of gratuitous violence, the amount of product placement, and how the movie dealt with American foreign and domestic policy.

The study investigated 42 movies released on DVD in the first four months of 2010. The movies are:

2012     Armored    Amelia    Astro Boy    A Serious Man    Avatar

Bitch Slap    Black Dynamite    Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Couples Retreat    Crazy Heart    Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Everybody’s Fine    Fantastic Mr. Fox    Gamer    Halloween II

Law Abiding Citizen    Ninja Assassin    Old Dogs    Planet 51

Ponyo    Post Grad    Sherlock Holmes    Sorority Row

Surrogates    The Blind Side    The Box    The Final Destination

The Hurt Locker    The Informant!    The Invention of Lying

The Lovely Bones    The Men Who Stare at Goats    The Princess and the Frog

The Stepfather    The Time Travelers Wife    The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Tyler Perry’s I Can do Bad All by Myself    Up in the Air    Where the Wild Things Are

Whip It!    Zombieland

Racial and Gender Make-Up of the Cast

This section of the study looked at who (what race) played what roles, and how the various races and genders were presented to the audience. This section also looked for examples of racism. Racism is any negative comment or portrayal of any minority race. Racism in movies is usually subtle and furthers the notion of white supremacy, with the hopes of normalizing the idea through constant repetition. Prejudices towards whites, though not as common, were also noted. Also, situations that portray physical handicaps in a negative light were considered racism.

The racism in Hollywood movies is not usually in the form of openly racist comments or actions, but is of a more subtle kind. The racism is built in and is not entirely noticed when viewing just one or two movies, but when a large group of movies is studied the racism is evident. This is what would be called systemic racism.

Of the 42 movies studied, 28 (66%) had a white male lead. 36 (85%) contained a white lead, male or female.

The following movies with an asterisk contained a non white lead, and the movies with a double asterisk contained a female lead.


Amelia **

Armored*

AvatarBitch Slap **

Black Dynamite*

Did You Hear About the Morgans? **

Halloween II **

Ninja Assassin*

The Princess and the Frog*

Ponyo**

Post Grad **

Sorority Row **

The Blind Side*

The Box **

The Lovely Bones **

The Princess and the Frog* **

The Time Travelers Wife **

Tyler Perry’s I Can do Bad All by Myself* **

Whip It! **

This means that of the 42 films in the study only 6 movies had non-white lead characters and only 11 had lead female characters. These movies are clearly weighted with white males, and do not paint an accurate picture of the make-up of the diversity in the US population and abroad. They do however paint an accurate description of the white-male dominated movie industry.

Examples and Highlights:

SurrogatesIn this film the African American police chief is corrupt and the militant leader of the anti-surrogate community is Black. However, the anti-surrogate Black leader ends up being just a surrogate of a White inventor and is used for political purposes. This is in contrast to the hero, a White cop played by Bruce Willis.

The Men Who Stare at Goats: the only movie studied which contained any Arab characters, and not surprisingly the characters were often depicted as terrorists.

I Can Do Bad all by Myself: This movie contains an almost entirely minority cast and crew. While this movie may have been intended to give minorities a better opportunity to be in a Hollywood production, it does nothing to break down the walls of division, which so clearly stand in American media.

New Moon – Like the other films in the Twilight series, New Moon promotes racial stereotypes. The Native American characters in the film live in poverty. Quite often the young male Native characters are seen with their shirts off, thus overemphasizing their physical nature. The Native characters are also prone to become angry and lose their tempers easily. This is in sharp contrast to the White vampires in the film, which are economically well off and generally have a calm demeanor.


Sexual Objectification

This section of the study examined the movies looking for examples of sexism. Sexism can relate to remarks and situations that cast women in a negative light. The hyper – sexualization of women and their treatment as mere objects are the foremost examples of sexism. Comments and actions which further the traditional ideas of what a woman or a man should be were also considered sexism. The traditional idea of a woman is that she is: beautiful, caring, dependant, etc.  The traditional idea for a man is that he is: strong, smart, independent, etc.

Of 42 movies studied, 10 (23%) contained scenes or situations where sexual objectification of women occurred. The following movies contained scenes of sexual objectification:

Bitch Slap*

Black Dynamite*

Couples Retreat *

Did You Hear About the Morgans?*

Gamer*

Halloween II*

Sorority Row *

Surrogates *

The Final Destination*

Up in the Air*

Examples and Highlights:

Sorority Row: This movie paints quite a dim view of American sorority girls. All of the girls are incredibly promiscuous, including one who sells herself out to a doctor in exchange for prescriptions.


The Final Destination: This movie portrays both males and females in a demeaning way. There are many scenes with sexualized content, including one scene showing the “hook-up” of two perfect strangers, (the scene does nothing to further the plot and is unnecessary.)

Bitch Slap: The entirety of this movie contains hyper-sexualization of women. The plot details the story of three prostitutes who have become involved with a murder. This movie is so over the top it is easy to see it as a parody, but it still contains a massive amount of sexual objectification.

However, some films did present women as strong, courageous and independent. Two examples of positive depictions of women were:

Whip It – In this film there are numerous examples of women playing non-stereotypical roles. Most of the women in the film are roller derby athletes and the main character (played by Ellen Page) demonstrates a great deal of self-confidence, determination and persistence, despite the personal risks she takes throughout the film. She is assertive with both her parents and holds her boyfriend accountable for his behavior.

Avatar – There are also strong women in the blockbuster movie Avatar. Sigourney Weaver’s character is independent and confident throughout the film and the lead female character (Neytiri) is a confident, courage’s and athletic character that is also very ground in her culture and spirituality. She becomes the mentor to the lead male character Jake, played by Sam Worthington.

Violence

This section looked at the amount of violence in each movie. This section also looked at who was committing these acts of aggression. The excessive amount of violence in our society is in part normalized by the amount of violence present in mainstream movies.

Of the 42 movies studied, 15 (35%) contained scenes of gratuitous violence. Of those 15 movies, only one contained violence committed by a female (Bitch Slap). Also, of the 15 violence containing movies, white males committed 73% of the violence.

The following movies contained gratuitous violence, meaning excessive violence that was not necessary to communicate a certain dynamic in the film.

Armored*

Avatar*

Bitch Slap*

Black Dynamite*

Did You Hear About the Morgans?*

Gamer*

Halloween II*

Law Abiding Citizen*

Ninja Assassin*

Sherlock Holmes*

Sorority Row*

Surrogates*

The Final Destination*

The Hurt Locker*

The Stepfather*

Zombieland*

Examples and Highlights:

Armored: This movie tells the story of a group of armored truck drivers who decide to loot their own cars. The plot slowly gets more violent and culminates in a chaotic shootout.

The Stepfather: This movie is about a psychopathic murderer who tricks women into marrying him and then takes pride in brutally mutilating his new family.

Gamer: This movie can almost been seen as a parody of America’s obsession with violent videogames and can easily be connected to the insensitivity our society has towards violence. In the movie gamers can control real live prison inmates and use them to fight and kill other individuals. While this movie points out flaws in American society, it is itself a component of the violence driven society we live in, because the violence is highlighted and graphic.

Ninja Assassin – This film from start to finish is filled with intense and graphic violence. The film has over 100 murders, some by decapitation.

Product Placement

This section examined each movie looking for examples of product placement. Product placement is the use of products as either background props or more commonly as items that are written into the script with a contractual agreement. These placements are just like any other advertisement where the brand pays for a spot in the movie. These placements are quite common, and our culture of consumption is promoted and normalized by the ubiquity of these products in commerical movies.

Of the 42 movies studied 28 (66%) contained deliberate examples of product placement. The following movies contained product placement:

2012*

Armored*

Black Dynamite*

Couples Retreat *

Crazy Heart*

Did You Hear About the Morgans?*

Everybody’s Fine*

Law Abiding Citizen*

Ninja Assassin*

Old Dogs *

Planet 51*

Post Grad*

Sorority Row *

Surrogates *

The Blind Side*

The Box*

The Final Destination*

The Informant!*

The Invention of Lying*

The Lovely Bones*

The Princess and the Frog*

The Stepfather*

The Time Travelers Wife *

The Twilight Saga: New Moon*

Tyler Perry’s I Can do Bad All by Myself*

Up in the Air*

Whip It!*

Zombieland*

Some of these movies contained very few or very subtle examples of placement, while others contained very obvious examples.  A few highlighted examples of products entering the plot and affecting the movie are:

Up In the Air: this movie seemed to be almost a feature length commercial spot for American Airlines. George Clooney’s character always flies with American Airlines.

Zombieland: In this movie, Woody Harrelson’s character is obsessed with finding Twinkies and spends much time talking about Hostess products in general.

Post Grad: In this movie, Eskimo Pie’s are said to balance “all that is wrong with the universe” and a lengthy promotion of the brand follows.

Couples Retreat: The product placement that took up more actual screen time than any other film during the study was the use of Guitar Hero in the film Couple’s Retreat. Not only do people play the game for several minutes in a row, with parts of the video game are edited in to the film and one of the lead characters (Vince Vaughn) is a video game salesman who actually sells Guitar Hero.

US Militarism

This section investigated the how the US military and militarism were depicted. It has become increasingly clear that when the US military is part of Hollywood film plots that they tend to be presented in a positive way. This is in part due to the US Defense Department’s role in the content of movie scripts as is documented in the book The Hollywood War Machine: U.S. Militarism and Popular Culture, by Carl Boggs.

There were only three films that dealt with the US military or militarism:

Avatar: The plot of this movie places American backed corporations as the antagonist, and the native population of a foreign planet as the protagonist. The final scene ends with the defeat of the Americans and a victory for the natives and their planet. Whether or not the human soldiers in the film are US military or private mercenaries is not clear, but they clearly seemed to be from the US.

The Men who Stare at Goats: This movie is about a secret division of the American military, which had begun research into mind control techniques. The movie makes a farce of the American military and its engagement in the war in Iraq.

The Hurt Locker: This movie takes a very neutral stance about the life of a soldier in the American Military fighting in the war in Iraq.  The movie has a documentary feel to it and casually shows the life of a soldier. The positives and negatives of army life are highlighted. The truth about being in combat and then returning home is shown, and the taxing nature of this is shown.

Conclusion

This report was created to highlight some of the shortcomings of the mainstream film industry. The report is not meant to be definitive evidence, but only to point to some inherent flaws in how Hollywood normalizes certain ways of seeing the world.

This report has shown that white-men dominate the lead roles in most movies; 24 out of the 42 movies studied contained a white male lead. The study also looked at gender representation; males dominated the violence in movies, and women were sexually objectified in many of the films. This reinforces the commonly accepted gender roles in our society; men are strong and independent, and women are sexual dependent objects.

Another element the study focused on was the amount of product placement in movies, (66% contained deliberate product placement). This shows how clearly intertwined corporate America is with Hollywood movies and the growing efforts to commercialize all aspects of public life.

This study has shown that our society is not properly represented by the Hollywood film industry. Our population is not half white men, nor do they commit 73% of the violence. Women are not sexual objects and are clearly capable of an independent life in which they are they lead role. Minorities are grossly underrepresented in all aspects of Hollywood movies, which is not an honest depiction of American society.

This study has found and shown that while these movies may provide a form of entertainment, they perpetuate stereotypes and contribute to a very narrow way of seeing the world, a world that is often white male dominated, with violence and consumerism as behavioral norms.

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