Hypermasculinity and Racism in Films

The topic that we chose was hypermasculinity and racism in film. We chose to do this topic because we were interested in exploring the images that films deliver on a deeper level than what is presented on screen.

The definition of hypermasculinity is the exaggeration of typically masculine behavior. Hypermasculinity doesn’t just affect men, but women as well. It is intersectional so it affects men of different races differently as well.

Because film is a medium that caters to a vast audience, ranging the social spectrum, it affects the world at large. Often times, the news, television, and film are the ways that we learn about other cultures and the opposite sex. In Paul Lester and Susan Ross’  book Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, it states, “The feminist movement helped create changes in the lives of women and some liberation from old stereotypes, but the men’s movement failed to normalize nontraditional roles for males in the areas such as homemaking, child learning or the freedom to express emotions other than anger and lust (173).” The feminist movement helped women gain liberation within the film industry such as in the science fiction genre. Films, like Ridley Scott’s Alien, have a strong female protagonist who corrects the men’s mistakes and essentially saves the Earth from a possible alien invasion. Author Marianne Kac-Vergne writes about the evolution of Hypermasculinity in the science fiction genre. She chronicles hypermasculinity as we know it in films like RoboCop,  to new age films like The Matrix where Neo’s masculinity is “feminized”. Marc E Shaw and Watson Elwood comment on this increasingly feminine masculinity in 90’s films to be exact. In their book, “ Performing American Masculinities: The 21st-century Man in Popular Culture”, they explain that the fifties housewife display of ultra femininity “morphed” into the 90’s men’s “gym-bred display of ultra-masculinity” ( 37). This statement suggests that men were feeling insecure about their place in society as women began to develop more independence so they had to find a way to assert their masculinity once more.

During the research process, we found that Hypermasculinity imposes strict “rules” of what a man should be. This image of a “real man” is a misrepresentation of what a man truly is. Within the hyper masculine trope, men aren’t caretakers. We rarely see images of men being caring fathers in film. We normally equate fatherhood with aggression and rules rather than love and care. Mainstream film paints men as the aggressors who cannot be taken advantage of when in reality, men are also victims of violence (Lester and Ross 174). The images that are presented to us through this media shapes how we view and treat the people within these categories. In the most extreme cases, negative images can lead to the extermination of a people (Lester and Ross 43). Not only can these images lead to genocide, but enslavement, discrimination and financial stability which is the case for African American men in modern times. Racist images and ideologies of African American men as lazy, uneducated primal beings justified slavery and segregation. Even to this day negative images of African American men cause them to fear for their safety and job security on a daily basis. We feel that film industry has made strides in the right direction of more positive representation of men and women as a whole. And even though we have come this far, there is still work to be done to make sure that everyone can see themselves on screen represented in a positive light.

Racialized roles in everyday film have been prevalent throughout the legacy of the industry. The roles of white men are often more powerful and more central to the film than those roles of the African-American men, such as in action films. The main stars of such action films, including Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis, tend to be strong, white, male characters, leaving supporting roles to potential minorities. For example, actors such as Carl Weathers and Reginald VelJohnson play second fiddle to the lead actor in their respective films. These films, while they can be great, reinforce racial stereotyping in this industry and show us how these issues have pervaded into cinema and have become a norm of sorts for movie casting.

There are beloved movie franchises such as Indiana Jones, and James Bond, which encourage men to be hypermasculine womanizers. They are two sides of the same womanizing coin. Jones is a rugged American man played by the handsome Harrison Ford in his prime. He is an adventurer who tries to avoid running, and isn’t afraid of conflict. Bond is a suave man played by suave man after suave man. He is the epitome of smooth-talking gentlemen who take advantage of every weak-willed woman they meet, which is most women to them. These are relatively tame examples, nothing like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, yet they continue the trend of encouraging young boys to idolize hypermasculine white men who take advantage of women.

 

When looking at race and hypermasculinity in film, there are certain things that must be analyzed, certain questions that must be asked.

Hypermasculinity may seem like a male problem, but how does it affect the women in these movies? Quentin Tarantino is a director known for his hypermasculine style which focuses on violence, revenge, sex, and substance abuse. How do female characters in his films handle these stereotypically male tropes and themes? Feminism has been a strong force on all forms of media, and film is no exception. How has the modern feminist movement changed film and how has film changed feminism?

Race in films has always been at the forefront whether audience’s realize it or not. How do the racial stereotypes in film affect audiences without the viewers even being aware? African American men are often forced into very specific roles with very specific stigmas attached to them. Whether they are the “black best friend, or the comic relief, or even the violent thug,” how do these roles affect audiences’ opinions of black men, and what are the social repercussions of such stereotyping.

 

Hypermasculinity is something which has permeated all film since film was first created. Many trends that began in these early days, such as racism, and misogyny have continued to this day. Forms of social activism and broad societal change has caused some major shifts in movies and what is acceptable.

 

WORKS CITED

Kac-Vergne, Marianne. “Losing Visibility? The Rise and Fall of Hypermasculinity in Science Fiction Films.” InMedia. The French Journal of Media and Media Representations. Institut Du Monde Anglophone, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2017. <https://inmedia.revues.org/491>.     

Ross, Susan Dente., and Paul Martin. Lester. Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2011. Print

Watson, Elwood, and Marc E. Shaw. Performing American Masculinities: The 21st-century Man in Popular Culture. Bloomington,: Indiana UP, 2011. Print.

The Indiana Jones Trilogy. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Karen Allen, Alison Doody. Paramount Pictures, 1981-1989. DVD.
The James Bond Franchise. Perf. Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, Roger Moore. Eon Productions, 1962-Present. DVD.

 
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