Posts Tagged ‘American South’

The Ethnic in Cinema

January 13, 2011

The good thing about writing this blog are the many ideas I can explore when it comes to pop culture as it relates to movies and collecting. In researching this week’s entry, I came across a notice for an exhibit in suburban Washington D.C. about African-American movie posters from 1915-1975. (To learn more about this exhibit, go to

That got me thinking (uh-oh you must be saying) about how the ethnic is portrayed in film. What do I mean by ethnic? For this blog entry, I mean any non-WASP person that lives in the United States. Yes, that covers a lot of territory. So, what are some of the ways that ethnics have been portrayed?  Well there’s:

Almost every phrase that comes out of the ethnic’s mouth is preceded by a “Yes, sir/Yes, ma’am” and the ethnic knows that it is futile to rock the class boat, so he or she doesn’t. The most famous example of this is Gone with the Wind. Granted GWTW is not history, it is a love story that takes place  during the years before, during and after the American Civil War, still its sanitized view of slavery and life in the American South irritates me.

Old World Ways/New World Opportunity
The paradox that every immigrant to the U.S. faces, how to reconcile the traditional with the modern, what parts of the old must tossed aside and what parts of the new can be integrated with the old. Some, like Charlie Chan in all those Charlie Chan movies seamslessly blend the two and uses them both for his benefit and the benefit of others. (FYI: The character of Charlie Chan was based on a real life Chinese-American police detective from Honolulu by the name of Chang Apana.) Others, like Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding finds her true self in the mix of old and new and uses this knowledge to create a life she can be proud of. Either way, the ethnic does what one can and the ethnic lives happily ever after.

Bright-Eyed Innocent
To steal a line from Russian-American comedian Yakov Smirnoff, “What a country!” Where else can children dress up as monsters and beg candy off of strangers. That’s not the only great thing about the U.S. Some, like the characters in the independent film Amreeka are attracted to the U.S. as a sanctuary against oppression. Others, like the title character in Borat, seek to find out what the U.S. is really like—with comedic results.

Gets the Pie by Hook and Crook (Especially the Crook Part)
No doubt, it is hard to integrate into a new country. Some people when faced with difficulties, work harder to achieve a good life for themselves and their family. Others, when faced with difficulties, turn to criminal activity to achieve a good life for themselves and their family. Films such as Godfather movies, Little Caesar and Scarface (both the 1932 and 1983 versions) show both the rise and fall of these individuals. As the saying goes, “You live by the sword…”

So, there you have it folks, different views of the ethnic. What other views of the ethnic will there be? It all depends on the point the either the movie’s director or screenwriter or actor or actress wants to make.