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The Role of Art and Cinema in Shaping The Societies

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In 2012 (The act of killing) a very controversial documentary was released to the public. The movie was about the Indonesian mass killing of the communists in (1965-1966). Before, the genocide was ignored by Indonesia and the world, not only this but celebrated locally! Although some documents were made available for the public about the role of the Indonesian government, the US, and the UK on the genocide, but actually no one cared!The documentary created a universal recognition of the crimes committed, and drew light again to what is forgotten. It prompted debates between the Indonesians, and the role of the US was again questioned. The movie was nominated for the academy award and won a lot of the world’s prestigious cinema awards, but the biggest effect was the bringing again of this terrifying, forgotten part of history, the generation of the need to hold the responsible parties accountable for the crimes they committed, and the opening of conversations among psychologists and the public of the complex nature of mass murderers, and their psychology.

The act of killing is a clear example of how cinema and art can be used as proactive tools for positive change. It’s proven in psychology that human’s decisions is largely motivated by emotions. The ground breaking discovery made by Damasios the neuroscientist clearly demonstrates this. Antonio Damasios analyzed the patients with damaged areas of the brain responsible for coding emotions, whom substantially couldn’t make decisions as simple as what to eat! This discovery illustrated that logic, and rationalization usually comes after the emotional motive. Art deals with this aspect of human nature. . .


We notice that people can see horrible news on TV, on a daily basis, and are indifferent about it. But when they watch a movie about the same event, that is well written and acted, they will be moved, and are no more indifferent, and this will trigger the urge to act and do something about it.

The other’s life is not just WATCHED on the news, but rather FELT and experienced. Art mitigates the numbing effect of data. Even documentary movies are better than the news! Because they give you the feeling of engagement and that you are part of the event presented. That’s why art is a vehicle for social change. Art preserve the collective memory of the society, people can plagiarize the historical facts, and the most powerful can always manipulate how history is written and transmitted to the next generations. But when it comes to art, art not only gives THE FACT about how people lived, but also how it FELT to be there and experience that particular time and place. Art is not only the collective memory but as well the collective consciousness of the society, the voice of the voiceless, their expression of how they feel about the now and the moment.

Graffiti and Art Street is a good representative of such. Graffiti which was invented in 1968 as a mean of expression, an advocate for personal and political opinions… has democratized art and made it approachable and accessible to all. It has questioned what art is, and how people communicate, and how they express political views. Street art went beyond the confines of the expected, used ART FOR GOOD and for a better future, art as the voice of the voiceless and a way to change the rhetoric, and comment on the ironies of the today’s modern world.

Shepherd Fairy the street artist made a poster called (HOPE) featuring Obama. HOPE has become one of the most famous symbols of Obama`s campaign, and lately been used in Barak`s official presidential election campaign. And the exceptional work of the street artist JR on RIO`s favelas created in this disenfranchised place gave the residents a sense of pride. Another example is the berlin center for political beauty which is a German art group that has been causing a lot of irritations in the public sphere. They use theatre and political poetry to re-introduce sensitive topics to the public awareness such as the holocaust and the issue of immigration and refugees. Art as we see from the above examples creates awareness, voice thoughts, and express the collective consciousness of the now and the moment. Art fosters the basic human need of self-expression. It’s well known that art affects the fundamental sense of self, but this is true as well in relation to the society as a whole. People express themselves by means of art (painting, sculpture, music,), this act of expression helps the society to confirm their identity and enhance their sense of self, which is very important when it comes to keeping the integrity, cohesion, and the unity of the group. Because of this fact people are complaining about the policies of the media, which shows only the story of the most powerful. And other’s stories and arts are not given the way to be expressed and exchanged with the rest of the world. This lead to one of the negative consequences of globalization which is the marginalization of some cultures, leading to the freezing of that cultures, and their art and traditions and special way of living is no longer transferred to the next generations. From a larger perspective it also leads to the generation of the one dimension globalized human being who is the same everywhere, demolishing the beauty of diversity!Cinema shapes identities and conceptions, that’s why a lot of critique has been raised against it especially regarding the portrayal of women, and colored people.

The images consumed by the popular culture influence the dominant discourse that circulates about life and the other. Feminists long ago launched many battles against Hollywood and film industry, claiming that cinema is one of the social institutions, and represents one of the definers of gender roles, and gender expectations. Women in Hollywood are mostly portrayed sexually and used for increasing the profits by manipulating human’s feelings and desires. Although women constitute 37% of professors they rarely gain this level of representation in Hollywood. Women professionals must fight against the public conception of them (being unhappy outside the academia, lonely, and socially unacceptable). They always have to defend themselves and explain themselves and prove -whenever there is a chance- that they do have families and they celebrate the family life!Women of color has long ago suffered from the stereotypes and generalizations of the cinema. They are usually pictured as dependent, angry, loud, materialistic, uncivilized using cruel words and exaggerated body language, lack self-control, and vulgar.

The stereotype famous for the ANGRY BLACK WOMAN or the BLACK BITCH. One can watch the movie (Diaries of a mad black woman) if in suspicion, or the title alone is sufficient I think!Even the successful black women were not safe from stereotyping in media, as they are usually portrayed in movies as bitter, overachieving, and narcissistic. These stereotypes made black women lives difficult as they always try to avoid judgment by suppressing their feelings, and activating the no emotions mode. This repression lead to mental health problems, and uneasiness of life. And in general blacks as a race suffered from being pictured as drug dealers, addicts, violent, homeless, subway muggers, and passive. They are perceived as athletes but never academics or intellectuals. They are stupid, and their intellectual capacities is questioned. This de emphasized the importance of academia to the young black and motivated them to search for careers in sports and physically demanding jobs. These examples show that art not only shape the society in a positive way but a negative as well. Art and cinema has a substantial effect on my local region. In Africa: Chinua Achebe the great Nigerian author, and the writer of the masterpiece Things fall apart, was called by the Guardian (the man who gave Africa a voice)! They stated: “Achebe accorded the religion, culture, and domestic economies of everyday Igbo lives a level of intimacy and humanity that rendered their experience universal, boldly shifting the boundaries of perspective”.

Things fall apart introduced readers to the continent, and a lot of writers said that it has changed the way they see and understand not only Africa but the world. A lot of African writers has been given the chance after Achebe, and above all … things fall apart repaired some of the damages by the European depicts of Africans. In the Middle East North Africa region Egyptian cinema and art has affected the societies tremendously. Egypt not only has the largest population in the MENA region but as well produces the largest amount of movies, melodrama, music, television, and comedy. It is perceived as the Arab’s cultural powerhouse. Egyptian films are distributed and watched throughout the MENA region. You can stop any one randomly in the street and he will tell you about Adil Imam, Ahmed Zaki and Fatin Hmama, he may even recite some of their acting dialogues. Egyptian television as well, one can never ignore how Layali AlHelmia, Abbas Alabyad Fe Alyom Alaswad, and AlHaj Motwali affected our lives and the way we perceive the world. Egypt lead the Arab music renaissance in the 19th century, and the recent Arabic pop music in the 70th. Egyptian arts and cinema raised the awareness of Arabs about the political and social issues, these issues were discussed and analyzed through the movies. They represented the Arabian and Islamic heritage in pictures that sticks to the mind which worth thousands of words. And watching these pieces of art provoked the Arabs sense of identity, and their love of the country. In Sudan theatre has positively changed the collective consciousness, and when we mention Sudanese theatre one cannot forget AlFadil Saeed, one of the pioneers in this area. AlFadil in the 50th used his plays to influence the political scene in Sudan. He was an actor, director, producer, and a writer. Alfadil introduced new artistic way of expression which is the Monologue, and by using comedy, irony, and sarcasm he delivered strong and influential messages to the public. AlFadil went all over the country from Halfa to Numili, and used the layman`s words and language, the power of irony and comedy in changing the public atmosphere. Another example of the powerful effect of art in Sudanese society is the negative influence of ALHakamat.

AlHakamat are a group of women who are local poets, they rhyme poems to encourage men to fight and engage in war. They over emphasize the manhood and the heroicness and courage of fighters, and negatively talk about men who prefer peace, and call them cowardice. Hakamat has been one of the main causes of sustaining the humanitarian crisis, and the massacre of Darfur. And a lot of initiatives has targeted them to help spread the culture of peace in these troubled areas of the country. Since 2015 many of the University Medical Sciences and technology students joined ISIS the Islamic state of Iraq and AL Sham. Over 70 of them did. The Sudanese community was surprised and shocked by this fact, especially that Sudanese mainstream culture is a culture of mutual respect, acceptance, and tolerance. After further investigations on the occasion scholars has put the responsibility on the fact that the university forbids any cultural, artistic, or any extracurricular activities, to allow students to focus on their academic performance. This lead to the generation of shallow minded students, who are more susceptible to be convinced by the terroristic ideas and ideology.

As the Sudanese says the head which left to be empty can be filled with any rubbish!Students of the University Medical Sciences and technology has made the Sudanese rethink of the importance of art, as a way of self-expression, and a guard against terrorism and other detrimental ideologies. At the end we conclude that cinema and art has a lot of positive aspects regarding shaping the societies. They constitute a proactive tool for positive change and a vehicle for social change. They preserve the collective memory of the society, and express the collective consciousness. As well create awareness and voice thoughts. Art as well keep the cohesion of the society by the enhancing of their sense of self. We also went through the negative effects of art, which is the spreading of stereotypes and generalizations especially towards women and people of color. Lastly we mentioned some of the influential pieces of art from Africa, MENA region and Sudan.

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The Role Of Art And Cinema In Shaping The Societies. (2020, February 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from
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