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1 Lecture 2: Integrating Race into the Narrative System Professor Michael Green Broken Blossoms (1919) Directed by D.W. Griffith.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Lecture 2: Integrating Race into the Narrative System Professor Michael Green Broken Blossoms (1919) Directed by D.W. Griffith."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Lecture 2: Integrating Race into the Narrative System Professor Michael Green Broken Blossoms (1919) Directed by D.W. Griffith

2 2 Previous Lecture What Kind of Distance Learning Course is this and How can You Succeed in it? Why Study Race and Gender in American Film? Categorizing the Other Episode I and The Birth of a Nation

3 3 This Lecture The Meaning of Whiteness The Voice of Whiteness in Griffiths Biograph Films The Artful racism of Broken Blossoms Writing about Film Lesson #1

4 4 The Meaning of Whiteness Lecture 2: Part I Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) Directed by George Lucas

5 5 What is Whiteness? Whiteness is Not Biology –Science of Whiteness is Ideological –Ideologies are Historical –Whiteness is a Historical Ideology Whiteness is Not an Illusion –Whiteness is an Identity –Whiteness is Social History Whiteness is Power & Privilege Whiteness is Pain & Pride

6 6 The Discourse of Whiteness Whiteness gains its power and legitimacy from the politico-scientific myth that "whites " are innately superior, the ultimate result of divine intervention, natural selection, or cultural preeminence. Like all myths, white superiority legitimizes the ideological as biblical or evolutionary: the right of the chosen/ survival of the fittest. The [myth rests] on the reciprocal ideology that people who do not count as white are... inferior. –Daniel Bernardi, The Voice of Whiteness

7 7 Who Counts as White? This is a historical question. –The Case of Jewish Americans –The Case of Italian Americans –The Case of Latino/as –How about Arab and Persian Americans? Its also a question of assimilation. –Losing Culture –Participating in White Racism –Acting/Performing as White

8 8 Whiteness and Race As long as race is something applied to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people. –Richard Dyer, White … most white Americans either do not think of their whiteness or think of it as neutral. –Hernán Vera and Andrew Gordon, Screen Saviors

9 9 Whiteness is a Choice There are no whites, only those who pass for white. –Daniel Bernardi, Classic Hollywood, Classic Whiteness Counting or not counting as white changes with time and space. At the turn of the century, Jews and Italians didnt count as white. Today, far too many American Jews and Italians believe they are white.

10 10 Phenotypes and Signs of Race Phenotypes –Skin Color –Hair and Facial Features Signs (a little theory) –Signifier –Signified –Arbitrary Relationship (i.e., historical)

11 11 Examples of Phenotypes in Film

12 12 White is Defined Against Color At the interpersonal level, the biological trait or set of traits thought to reveal race are used as assumptions about other physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual traits of a person with those characteristics. In the U.S., for example, those who are not considered white are often automatically assumed to be smelly, greasy, less intelligent, lazy, dirty, not in control of their emotions, unreliable, and so on. – Hernán Vera and Andrew Gordon, Screen Saviors

13 13 Summary of Points Whiteness is not biology, but rather identity and social history. Whiteness gains its power and legitimacy from the myth that whites are superior. Who counts as white is a historical question. Whiteness is often seen as an invisible norm. Whiteness is a choice. Phenotypes are often used as racial signs.

14 14 The Voice of Whiteness in D.W. Griffiths Biograph Films Lecture 2: Part II The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith

15 15 Griffith Bio David Wark Griffith (1875 – 1948), born in Kentucky to a former Confederate Colonel. Began his career as actor and playwright, sold scenarios to Edwin Porter and then to Biograph, where he became a director. He made over 400 films for Biograph, most of them one-reel short films. He went on to make feature films, including The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Co-founded United Artists

16 16 Supported by History Various factors propagated white supremacy before and during Griffiths Biograph tenure. –Supreme court rulings –American Imperialism and propaganda –Intellectual and academic activity –Rise of the KKK –Anxiety over immigration D.W. Griffith

17 17 More Socio-historical Context The rise of Democrats to Congressional power in 1910 and the presidency of Woodrow Wilson in 1912 brought a return of Southern patriarchal and racist beliefs and practices to political prominence. Growing anxiety over the influx of Southern European and Jewish immigrants and the migration of African Americans to Northern cities was used to support separate and unequal practices.

18 18 Early Cinematic Racism Racist representations were common in early cinema, and not just in Griffith's films. African Americans, Asian and Latino Americans, and other non-white groups are systematically vilified and negatively stereotyped while whites are shown as heroic, divine and natural leaders. The discourse of whiteness had numerous socio-political, industrial, and individual proponents, beyond Griffith and Biograph.

19 19 A Formal Innovator Griffith did not invent film techniques such as close-ups and parallel editing, but he was an important innovator of Hollywood style. He was a pioneer, helping transform early cinema from a cinema of attractions to a system of narration. The Great Train Robbery (1903) Directed by Edwin Porter

20 20 Ideology in Griffith Many scholars have explicated the racist practices in Griffiths work. Among the most repellent elements in his films (and there are such) we see Griffith as an open apologist for racism, erecting a celluloid monument to the Ku Klux Klan, and joining their attack on Negroes in The Birth of a Nation." –Sergei Eisenstein (filmmaker and theorist)

21 21 Racism in the Biograph Films Throughout the over 450 Biograph films directed by or under the direct supervision of Griffith, racism is a consistent and often explicit formation. Griffith's articulations of style and of race are involved in the same cinematic and discursive processes; pragmatically, they co-constitute the filmmaker's narrative system. –Daniel Bernardi, The Voice of Whiteness

22 22 Melding Form and Content Griffith helped develop stylistic practices in support of storytelling. The storytelling often supported racism and white supremacy. Therefore, argues Bernardi, development of form – how the story is told – is inseparable from the story itself. Griffiths articulations of style and race co- constitute the filmmaker's narrative system.

23 23 Griffiths Discourse of Whiteness Tense, mood and voice work together to integrate whiteness into Griffiths Bio. Films. –Tense refers to the temporal relationship between shots. –Mood refers to "the narration's perspective of the story told," or what American literary criticism terms point of view. –Voice is essentially the ideology of the "narrator," an intervening force visible in the juxtaposition of shots, or editing, and through story structure. 23

24 24Genres According to Bernardi, the voice of whiteness in Griffith's narrative system circulates within three intermixed genres: –Stories of non-white servitude –Stories of colonial love, or turn-of-the-century jungle fever –Stories of the divinity of the white family and serenity of the white woman. He also made "Greaser" films, Indian films, Civil War films and Melodramas.

25 25 Stories of Non-White Servitude Concern a non-white character, usually male who struggles and sacrifices to better serve the clean and civilized space of white society. This character is usually demasculinized to rationalize and justify his service as well as ensure that his motivations are not read as sexually transgressive or miscegenetic. That Chink at Golden Gulch (1910).

26 26 Stories of Colonial Love Race and sexuality are either segregated or represented as immoral and prurient in Griffith's narrative discourse. Non-white male desire for white females is almost always motivated by an intent to rape. White females only desire white males White male desire for non-white females is loosely sanctioned in Griffith ' s narrative system. A Romance of the Western Hills (1910)

27 27 Advocating Segregation In what amounts to colonial love, films from this genre culminate in characterizations and narrative resolutions that maintain and advocate segregation. While a white male can have his way with an Indian female in Griffith's films, their union always ends with the Indian back on the reservation. The narrative in these stories goes out of its way to educate the desiring Other, and the audience, in keeping the races separate. – Daniel Bernardi, The Voice of Whiteness

28 28 The White Family/White Woman These films dramatize the attack on and defense of the integrity of white woman. Male control over the family and women – the divinity of patriarchy – is ultimately at stake in many of Griffith's films When the family in Griffith's story is coded as white, the threat to its dismemberment comes from a savage and lustful non-white male. The Zulus Heart and The Girls and Daddy

29 29 The Big Point Griffith's films employ cinematic technique – from characterization to editing – to tell the story of the inability of non-whites to fully assimilate into white culture and society, and ultimately provide a justification for their servitude, segregation, and punishment. Daniel Bernardi, The Voice of Whiteness

30 30 The Big Point (Continued) Through stories of servitude, colonial love, and the white family/white women, the filmmakerhis voice perpetuated a discourse that cast non-whites as the metonymic and metaphoric threat to the normality and superiority of whiteness. –Daniel Bernardi, The Voice of Whiteness The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith

31 31 The Artful Racism of Broken Blossoms Lecture 2: Part III Broken Blossoms (1919) Directed by D.W. Griffith

32 32 Familiar Sexual Traits According to Julia Lesage, in cinema, male and female film characters are assigned familiar sexual traits that express the cultures commonly held sexual fantasies. The same kind of sexual political story, or assignation of sexual traits, is repeated from film to film, no matter how much the manifest content differs between films. This repetition is not ideologically neutral, but serves to reinforce patriarchal social relations in the world outside the film.

33 33 Broken Blossoms Griffith released Broken Blossoms in 1919 as a reaction to his earlier films. He tried to counter the then dominant racist ways of depicting Asians in popular literature, magazines, and film and BB was perceived as a sensitive and humanitarian film. The film features two male protagonists, a poor Chinese shopkeeper and a working class brute named Battling Burrows, who are at odds over Burrows daughter.

34 34 Broken Blossoms Blossoms has a moral message: Asian Buddhist peacefulness is superior to Anglo- Saxon ignorance, brutality and strife. Julia Lesage, Broken Blossoms: Artful Racism, Artful Rape –Lesage Pause the lecture and watch Clip #1 from the movie.

35 35 The Abuses of Masculinity The film is about sex roles as much as it is about race. In particular, it is about masculinity. In the figure of Battling Burrows, the film presents the potential evil of masculinity, here safely attributed to a grotesque Other from the lower classes. Julia Lesage, Broken Blossoms: Artful Racism, Artful Rape

36 36 Battling Burrows Pause the lecture and watch Clip #2 from Broken Blossoms

37 37 The Sensitive Outsider Projected onto the Chinese man's character are all the traits of the 19th cen­tury sensitive outsider, the romantic hero--a self- destructive dreamer who never lives out the fulfillment of his dreams. Julia Lesage, Broken Blossoms: Artful Racism, Artful Rape Pause the lecture and watch Clip #3 from the movie.

38 38 Lesages Reading Both men symbolically consummate sexual contact with Gish. Their slums, brutality, and opium smoking cast them as Others. Griffith safely assigns perversity to other races and to the poor. Lesage sees the two men as representing mens options under capitalism. Using the Asian man as the romantic hero hides the social reality of racism.

39 39 Her Big Point On the superficial level, the film is an anti­ racist text, but the film says nothing from an Asian person's point of view, just as it says nothing from a womans point of view. The images of the East, of Buddhism, of racial traits, and of an oppressed person's reaction to oppression are all drawn from hegemonic, white stereotypes. Julia Lesage, Broken Blossoms: Artful Racism, Artful Rape

40 40 Her Big Point (Continued) In fact, not only is Griffith working only with received opinions and prejudices about Asians, women, and the working class, but when he sets up his basic opposition of brute vs. sensitive man, he is working with a set of oppositions that have nothing to do with race. Julia Lesage, Broken Blossoms: Artful Racism, Artful Rape

41 41 Writing About Film Lesson #1 Lecture 2: Part IV The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith

42 42 Three Types of Film Writing There are three major types of film writing: –Descriptive – a neutral account of the basic characteristics of the film. –Evaluative – which presents a judgment or opinion about a films value. –Interpretive – which presents an argument about a films meaning and significance.

43 43 Descriptive Writing As it suggests, descriptive writing describes a film, without evaluation or judgment. Most descriptions of narrative films relay plot events, while a description of a documentary might describe not only the topic of the film, but also the approach. While descriptions do not offer judgments, they may go beyond plot summary to describe genre.

44 44 Example

45 45 Functions of Descriptive Film Writing Descriptive film writing can be found many places including –Television and movie guides –DVD cases –Programs for film screenings –Books about film Its function is to give potential viewers an idea about what a movie is about.

46 46 Why Descriptive Film Writing is Important Descriptive film writing is the first essential component in all writing about film. You must be able to describe a film before you can say anything evaluative or interpretive about it. Often, descriptive writing is one component of more complex forms of film writing.

47 47 Developing Skills Descriptive writing helps you build skills in –Close viewing –Critical Analysis –Synthesizing and synopsizing You will use descriptive writing in all your critical papers at the university level. Accurate, concise well-articulated description is also crucial to any job, in the film industry or otherwise.

48 48 Choosing Descriptors

49 49 End of Lecture 2 Next Lecture: Romantic Ethnography

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