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The Importance of Analyzing Racist Depictions in Films

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Racist depictions of characters in films, especially older ones, are common, but as a 21st century viewer, should one ignore these depictions entirely and focus on the main message, or analyze these depictions in context of the film? Some might argue that since a film was made a long time ago, it was normal to depict certain races in negative ways, and being overly “offended” by the depictions distracts from the message the film writers were trying to convey. Maybe if a viewer is watching a film purely for entertainment this outlook holds true, but even in the 21st century, completely ignoring these depictions is lazy, and can even be dangerous. It is important to analyze racist depictions in films to some degree, while not completely losing focus on the message of the film.

An educational setting is the most important setting for complex analysis because it can be a space for conversation about real world problems. School is no longer a place to only learn calculus and chemistry; it has become a space for finding solutions, or even starting points to solve problems outside the educational setting. Even though there has been a somewhat positive shift in the education system in the United States, there is still so much work to be done. Even if it seems benign, ignoring racist depictions in films is a step backwards in racial equality. At the end of a film, is it better to be entertained, or to be educated?

The two options are not mutually exclusive. For example, analyzing the depictions of characters in “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” can start a powerful conversation about race without losing any part of the story itself. In the film, there is a racist connection between ugliness, evil, and black skin. This isn’t a theme that only occurs in the film; it is a theme that occurs in reality. People have a negative tendency to pick certain ideas that support their narrative, without taking context into account. For example, many people hate Colin Kaepernick for protesting racial inequality and say that he is a black man with an abundance of wealth, so he should help his own community instead of just making a ‘desperate grab for attention’. It is convenient for these people to leave out the fact the Kaepernick donated over a million dollars to various non-profits and encouraged others to donate as well. This sort of ignorance is dangerous for a world of equality. Even though it might seem different from ignoring racist portrayals in films, it is actually quite similar. Both consist of ignoring reality in order to avoid complex thought processes because that is much easier than actually trying to solve a problem.

Elimination of ignorance in the western education system is crucial to equality even in modern times. Perhaps the most powerful action is to battle the idea that certain knowledge is deemed legitimate. “Western knowledge” should not be rendered as superior or we will destroy modern progress towards equality.

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