This teaching resource uses clips and exercises to highlight how studying the films Hollywood produces can help us understand the formation of cultural politics. It aims to show how film itself holds political value through generating and reflecting cultural attitudes, trends and events. Chosen from a wide variety of popular films, each clip relates to at least one of ten key topics which characterise the cultural politics of Hollywood, including race, class, gender, post-feminist culture, oriental and Euro-centrism, culture wars and the politics of nationhood. Combine them with the supplementary exercises offered below to generate student discussion about the complex interplay between politics and culture in Hollywood’s entertainment industry.
All clips are in the following playlist entitled 'The Cultural Politics of Hollywood Movies' - https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/playlists/317913
Sign-in to BoB once and then refresh the page; this will make all the clips on this page watchable
Question 1: Frozen
This Disney film highlights the cultural politics of contemporary Hollywood by tackling and subverting ideologies in regard to gender norms, romance, and family.
Discussion Question: How does Frozen subvert gender norms compared to previous Disney princess films? Make specific references in regard to the ideology of romance and family.
Question 2: Tangled: Mother knows best
Mother Gothel performs her song ‘Mother knows best’ to Rapunzel. This song highlights the power dynamic between the two characters and portrays Rapunzel as a gullible and naive young girl, strengthening the traditional stereotype of Disney princesses.
How does Mother Gothel’s song ‘Mother knows best’ reinforce traditional gender norms associated with Disney princesses?
Question 3: Tangled: Rapunzel first encounters Flynn Rider
Rapunzel first encounters Flynn Rider. She becomes scared upon meeting this stranger and uses self-defence, knocking him out and tying him up to a chair. This reveals how she is capable of handling and defending herself, defying the typical princess stereotype as passive and lacking agency.
What power dynamic is created between Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in this scene, and how? Compare Rapunzel with other contemporary Disney princesses, such as Elsa, Anna, and Moana. Are there any similarities between these characters? If so, are there certain key characteristics for a ‘modern’ Disney princess?
Question 1: Mean Girls
The focus on hyper-femininity and sexualization in Mean Girls puts a spotlight on key notions of post-feminism and the potential for feminist critique of post-feminism.
Explore the gender politics of girlhood through a character analysis of Regina George in Mean Girls.
Question 2: Legally Blonde
This scene shows Elle Woods’ video essay that got her into Harvard Law School. What is striking here is the contrast between Elle’s hyperfeminine and over-sexualised portrayal and the university board room full of white men, who ultimately hold all the power. It is also interesting to note how Elle’s acceptance into law school is justified by the board with the argument that she is bringing more diversity to the school.
Analyse how Elle is portrayed as a hyperfeminine and oversexualized character. How is Elle’s hyperfeminine character contrasted with the university board? What does this tell us about the overall power dynamic/hierarchy in this scene?
Question 1: Happy Feet
This film presents a contemporary example of Hollywood animation, which features neo-minstrelsy, whereby, in this case, digital animation and anthropomorphism are used as a form of ‘blackface’, thereby highlighting the film’s politics of race.
What instances can you point to in the film where race or racial discourse is present but invisible?
Question 2: Shrek: Donkey and Shrek’s relationship
This clip shows the power dynamic between Shrek and Donkey, which reflects those of a master and a submissive.
What is the power dynamic between Shrek and Donkey in this scene and how is this communicated to the audience?
Question 3: Shrek: ‘Try a little tenderness’
Donkey recites Otis Redding’s ‘Try a little tenderness’, further highlighting how he is racially coded as a black character.
How is Donkey implicitly racially coded in this scene?
Question 4: Madagascar: Argument between animal friends
This scene shows the argument between the animal friends. In particular, it highlights how Gloria’s character is portrayed.
How does Gloria’s character relate to the ‘angry black woman’ and matriarch trope?
Question 5: Madagascar: Gloria’s arrival
In this clip, we see Gloria’s arrival in Madagascar. This short scene highlights how her character is sexualised and how it fits into the racist Jezebel stereotype.
Why can it be argued that Gloria’s portrayal in this scene fits into the racist Jezebel stereotype?
Question 1: 300
Zack Snyder’s 300 presents a strong case study film for analysing themes of Orientalism and Eurocentrism, further strengthening an imagined binary between the West and the ‘East’.
In what ways are the Persians depicted in contrast to the ways that the Spartans are depicted? What orientalist themes are represented in 300?
Question 2: Blade Runner: Setting
Blade Runner’s setting presents a dystopian future of Los Angeles in 2019. It highlights the concept of Techno-Orientalism present in most dystopian Hollywood films. Although the setting resembles the features of Chinatown and other different Asian cities, the story is told exclusively through the white protagonist’s (Harrison Ford) eyes.
Techno-Orientalism relates to the phenomenon of imagining Asia through a hyper-technological cultural production. This trope blooms from anxieties and fears of a dying American dominance in cultural and political discourse. How is this reflected in the setting of Blade Runner? How is a Western gaze established in this scene?
Question 1: The Fast and the Furious
This first instalment in the Fast & Furious franchise highlights how multiculturalism and multi-racial identities came to the forefront of Hollywood at the start of the millennium.
What key post-racial themes are represented in the first film of the Fast & Furious franchise? Make reference to specific scenes/characters.
Question 2: Fast & Furious 7: Paul Walker’s last scene
The last scene featuring Paul Walker’s character in the Fast and Furious franchise. It highlights the central part his character played throughout the franchise whilst also presenting the notion of a post-racial and multicultural family.
How does this goodbye scene reinforce the argument that the Fast & Furious franchise is a white-centric narrative? Discuss how the friendship/'brotherhood' between Dom and Brian adds to the glorification of multiculturalism and post-raciality in Hollywood.
Question 1: The Blind Side
The Blind Side raises interesting questions regarding the use of ‘White Saviourism’ within Hollywood movies.
How do you think the representation and attitudes of the majority of white characters aid in the classification of The Blind Side as a ‘white saviour’ film?
Question 2: The Help: Whiteness as universal subject position
The difference in priorities between the scenes highlights the two separate avenues the creators intended to infiltrate: the exploration of black hardships alongside a classic, loveable-white-girl, centred story.
Using this clip as evidence, what racial aspects of this film do you think could have been partly responsible for the success of this movie? Particularly think about Hollywood’s relationship with different audiences.
Question 3: Aibileen and Minnie tell Skeeter to go
The interaction between the characters can be used to demonstrate the ‘tale of white triumph over dark elements’ prevalent in some Hollywood films. The words exchanged justify the overall outcome of the story.
Discuss this clip in relation to the centrality of whiteness in Hollywood. Does this fictional ending seem reasonable when you consider the necessity of Aibileen’s character in the fulfilment of the overall plot? What does this conversation reveal about the main characters of the movie? How does this conversation justify the outcome? Is the outcome even something that needs to be justified?
Question 1: Easy A
Easy A is the ultimate ‘chick flick’, created mostly for a female audience and ironically confronting gender norms and double standards.
Consider the representation of the interactions and relationships between females throughout this film.
Question 2: Olive gets a visitor
A variety of dialogue in this clip and film as a whole explores the priorities and aspirations of modern women presented in Hollywood film, ironically switching between old fashioned and post-modern female desires.
What does this clip suggest about the priorities of women in this movie? What deeper message could the creators have tried to convey through the ironic emphasis on competitive femininity?
Question 3: Olive enters with scarlet A
This clip draws attention to the differing receptions awarded towards female sexual promiscuity.
How can the contradictive reaction to Olive’s entrance be discussed? And how can this be used to explain the social relationships between women?
Question 4: The Stepford Wives (2004)
This clip explores longstanding negative attitudes towards successful career women through the opinion of dissatisfied husbands.
How does this clip approach prejudice attitudes regarding working women? Besides desiring an obedient wife to control, what is the real reason the men are on board with this way of life? How does that coincide with debates about gender roles in society today?
Question 5: The person behind the scheme revealed
This clip reveals the true cause of the mass patriarchal behaviour which in fact, proves sexist in itself, therefore minimising the initial impact of the prior events shown throughout the movie.
How does this plot twist change the entire meaning of the film in a way which is not as empowering for females as we initially thought? What opinion does the movie have towards intelligent career women? And considering the original was released in 1975, what could this represent/ what could be the reason for this?
Question 1: American Sniper
The central perspective of this movie can be used to discuss nationhood and the unique relationship between some Americans and their nationality and importantly, their depiction of their ‘enemies’.
Does this film present a one-sided perspective on events? If so, how? And can this perhaps explain the movie’s critical success?
Question 2: Avatar: Colonel briefs crew on Pandora
The colonel’s chosen approach during the briefing of the military team can be compared to popular war propaganda techniques which manipulate its audience into perceiving a situation in a particular type of way.
What effect do you think the colonel is trying to create through his briefing on Pandora? How do the contents of the colonel introduction speech/brief differentiate the humans from the Na’vi and how can this be compared to other known occurrences?
Question 3: Avatar: Boss laughs at Na’vi sympathisers
The human’s focus on education, politics and more coincides with traditionalists perspective in which individuals are set in their beliefs and practices and fail to sympathise with the truths of outsiders.
What does this scene tell you about how some Americans view their identity?
Question 1: Mad Max: Fury Road
Criticised by some as ‘feminist propaganda’, this movie can also be said to challenge a range of patriarchal ideals within society, largely through the significant role of Furiosa.
Besides the numerous specific instances of portrayed feminism in the film, how does the movie’s plot in its entirety challenge patriarchy? Particularly consider Furiosa’s role. Are there any occasions where things seem anti-feminist?
Question 2: Wonder Woman: Boat trip to London
This clip features a discussion on the politics of marriage which is common in ‘New Feminism’ Hollywood. Diana exhibits a sense of empowerment and liberation, particularly sexually, in the information she is telling her travel companion and the confusion she has regarding the basics of marriage. The scene rejects Hollywood notions of tragic singlehood in women and the childless career woman.
How does this conversation challenge normative understandings of traditional gender roles? How does Diana’s attitude represent female empowerment?
Question 3: Diana arrives in London
This clip demonstrates a strong female protagonist can still be subject to the passive ‘male gaze’ in Hollywood as well as other restrictive and stereotypical ideologies.
What does this clip suggest about how females are depicted even in a modern-day Hollywood?
Question 1: Get Out
Get Out presents racism in a modern society, highlighting a significant shift towards covert racism and the dangers that creates.
The clip presents a variety of black stereotypes represented in Hollywood that are generally assumed as positive by white people. An example of this is the perception that black people possess stronger athletic abilities and physical build.
This scene explores the ‘post-racial lie’ which assumes that, particularly after the appointment of the first black president of the United States, racism in society is on a significant decline. This clip challenges this, presenting how racism may have developed in modern society and Hollywood as result.
What do the scenes in both clips suggest about racism in the modern era? Has there been a shift towards a different type of racism that can be described as less recognisable or subtle? If so, what evidence is there of this throughout the movie?
Question 2: Suburbicon
The opening scene introduces the film’s intent to subvert the idea of the perfect white suburb and instead explores the toxicity of such racist neighbourhoods.
This clip highlights the longstanding relationship between race, the media and politics.
This scene and concept push back against Hollywood representation of absentee black fatherhood particularly resulting in highly criminal behaviour.
What main difference can you notice between the racism in this movie and racism in Get Out (2017)? How do the purposeful juxtapositions showcased in these clips confront ideas of race in society today? What messages could the creators have aimed to present when you consider the choice of setting in a film released in 2017?