Category Archives: Cultural Study Activities

Talking about The Farewell and being Chinese/American

Nimen hao,

First let’s do the quiz on the reading ‘cultural racism’.

OK, we’re going to have some discussions about The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang.

Lulu Wang says the film is based on ‘a real lie’. Her family is from Changchun and the story is based on her own family’s story.

So far the film won the audience favourite award at the Sundance film festival, and the best feature film award at the Atlanta film festival.

A key concept to think with: Hybridity

A hybrid is a mixture of two different kinds of plants that when you grow them together, form a new kind of plant. We have one in my father’s garden, it’s an orange-lemon fruit tree. Makes delicious juice.

Western humanties social science academics use the concept of hybridity to talk about mixing of cultures. Mostly they think about it in terms of migrants.

In this movie we have Chinese and American culture.

Is Billi Chinese? Is she American? Or is she both?

The Western social scientists would say she has hybridity, she is Chinese-American and has some of both cultures. That makes her a little different from Americans, and from Chinese.

Let’s remind ourselves of the locations and the characters.




The Family

Nai Nai. Forceful, energetic and funny grandma (father’s mother).
Xiao Nai Nai Lu Hong (Nai Nai de mei mei).


Hai Yan. Billi de Baba. Warm, kind, a little boozy.
Lu Jian. Billi de mama. Strict, rational,  a little repressed?.
Aunty Ling, Haibin’s wif


Hai Bin. Billi de uncle. Lives and works in Japan. Smart, kind, sentimental, a little boozy.


Billi, a struggling, artistically minded New Yorker who emigrated from China with her parents as a young child six years old.
Hao Hao. Billi de cousin. Sweet, simple. Aiko. Japanese girlfriend. Confused, overwhelmed.



Discussion 1. The story

Tell the story of the film. What happens, how does the film show what happens (how does it tell the story). What genre is/genres are used in the film?

In some ways, Billi is closer to her grandmother who lives in the northern Chinese city of Changchun and speaks no English, than to her own mother or father.


Discussion 2: generational relations.

Describe and compare Billi’s relationship with her Nai Nai to her relationships with her parents.

The criers

Discussion 3: Chinese/American identities.

“Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die,” says Billi’s mother. “But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” Billi disagrees, arguing that Nai Nai has the right to confront her fate.

Nai Nai’s illness and the family’s response create a situation in which Billi’s “Chineseness” and “Americanness” (no, those aren’t real words) come into conflict.

1.Describe how the film shows those different identities and the tensions between them. You might think about different cultural values and practices.

2.Discuss Billi’s ideas and feelings about China (and Changchun in particular).

3. She’s your grandmother. What would you do?

Discussion 4. The dinner party (talking about China and America)

Watch this clip of the dinner party (39.20-43.20). Jian and Yuping and the family are talking about America and China.

Tell us about the discussion (what do they say, what are their points of view?).

What do you think about their views?

Discussion 5: the forced marriage.

Billi’s cousin and his Japanese girlfriend have been dating for three months and then are required to marry (the family makes them).

Discuss your thoughts on the marriage. Is that good?  Would you agree to marry like they have? Will the marriage succeed? Are arranged marriages typical in China?Did they used to be?

A reading. ‘Young people at the Family Gathering’

The situations below describe a series of family attitudes faced by young Chinese adults at New Year family gatherings.

1.Upon arriving at the family gathering, seldom-seen older relatives will ask: ‘Are you married and do you have a child?’

2. If you have a spouse, then older relatives will want to know everything about them, especially how much money they earn.

3. If you have a child, then the child will have to perform for them, for example, by singing, dancing, telling jokes or demonstrating their ability to speak English.

4. In contrast, if you are married but do not have a child, then older relatives will urge you to get ‘pregnant’ that very day; and, if you are not married then they will beseech you to get married and have a child without delay.

5. If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, you will be told to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ rather than risk rejection by your partner and being unable to find another partner, then ultimately becoming old and unmarried, and socially ostracized as someone who obviously has ‘a problem’. The following discussion about the inevitable awfulness of becoming a social outcast should you delay in marrying will make you promise to register to get married the following day.

6. If you do not have a boyfriend/girlfriend then you will be told to find one immediately because being single contravenes the laws of nature, civilization and science, and is basically an ‘anti-revolutionary’ crime that harms the well-being of ‘one’s parents, grandparents, Chinese society, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese nation!’

7. Your older relatives will conclude by offering to introduce you straightaway to a suitable person whom you should promptly marry, and have a child with, to stop everyone from worrying that you will grow old alone and be forced to ‘beg for food on the streets’.

do your parents push youThese situations were jokingly called ‘Chinese-style forced marriage’ (Zhongguo shi bihun).  It suggests that young adults are often reluctant to attend New Year family gatherings because, unless they are married with a child, their older relatives will compel them to become so.

Discussion 6: some reading questions

a. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of single young adult children in the reading above?

b. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of young adult children’s girlfriends and boyfriends in the reading above?

c. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of married young adult children in the reading above?

d. The reading is meant to be a little bit humorous but also true. What do you think? Is it accurate?


Watch Crazy Rich Asians.

If Beale Street Could Talk: Character list

If Beale Street Could Talk

Tish (Clementine)

A nineteen-year-old black woman living in Harlem, and the narrator of If Beale Street Could Talk. Despite her age, Tish is quite mature

Fonny (Alonzo Hunt)

A twenty-two-year-old black man in prison because he has been wrongfully accused of raping Mrs. Rogers. Shortly before his arrest, Fonny asks Tish—whom he has known since he was a child—to marry him.


Tish’s mother. Sharon is a kind and accepting woman who doesn’t judge Tish for getting pregnant with Fonny’s baby. Instead, she tells Tish not to think of herself as a “bad girl.


Tish’s father, and Sharon’s husband. Like Sharon, Joseph is an unjudgmental person who readily accepts people and their problems. In keeping with this, he insists that he doesn’t think Tish is a “bad”

Ernestine (Sis)

Tish’s older sister. Ernestine is a confident and persuasive young woman who works as an advocate for sick and neglected children. Because of this job, she has many connections with lawyers.

Frank Hunt

Fonny’s father. Frank is quite unlike his wife, Mrs. Hunt, especially since he isn’t religious. Whereas Mrs. Hunt is a “sanctified woman,” he spends his time getting drunk.

Victoria Rogers

A Puerto Rican woman who has accused Fonny of raping her. Mrs. Rogers moved to New York City six years before she was raped, coming to the city with an American engineer she met.

Daniel Carty

Fonny’s friend. After many years apart, Daniel and Fonny run into one another on the street not long before Fonny is arrested. Going back to Fonny’s apartment, they drink beer and talk about Daniel’s conviction for a crime he didn’t commit.

Officer Bell

The racist police officer who claims to have seen Fonny running from the scene of the crime after Mrs. Rogers was raped. This is untrue, but Officer Bell wants to take revenge on Fonny.

Mrs. Hunt

Fonny’s mother and Frank’s resentful wife. Mrs. Hunt is a highly religious woman who disapproves of Tish and her family’s lifestyle, believing that Tish has ruined her son’s life because she has agreed to marry him.

Adrienne Hunt

One of Fonny’s sisters. Like her mother, Mrs. Hunt, Adrienne is a prim and proper woman who dislikes Tish and her family because they aren’t religious. Unsurprisingly, she disapproves of Tish’s pregnancy.

Sheila Hunt

One of Fonny’s sisters, who is very religious like her mother and sister Adrienne. Also like Adrienne and Mrs. Hunt, Sheila disapproves of Tish and her family because they aren’t religious.

Arnold Hayward

The white lawyer who takes on Fonny’s case. Although at first Tish is skeptical about whether or not Hayward actually cares about Fonny’s trial, she soon sees he is genuinely concerned/


A waiter at the Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village, where Fonny is a regular. Pedrocito is a kind man who allows Fonny and Tish to eat without paying for their meal after Officer Bell harasses them.


A landlord who agrees to rent his loft space to Fonny and Tish. In contrast to the many landlords who refuse to rent property to them because they’re black, Levy is happy to have the lovers rent his loft.


One of Tish’s childhood friends. An opinionated girl, Geneva gets in a fight with Daniel, ultimately dragging Tish into the altercation. During this fight, Tish ends up hitting Fonny with a board.

Minor Characters


The young man who drives Sharon around when she goes to Puerto Rico to find Mrs. Rogers. Although he hardly knows her, Jaime quickly comes to respect Sharon, which is why he devotes himself to helping her in any way he can.


Mrs. Rogers’s “common-law husband,” who works at a night club in Puerto Rico.



The Hate U Give characters

Starr Carter –  The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Starr is a sixteen-year-old black high school student who spends her life divided between the poor, primarily black neighborhood of Garden Heights and Williamson Prep, a wealthy, primarily white school. Starr is analytical and sharp, but because she narrates events as she experiences them, her emotions are immediate and unfiltered. Traumatized after witnessing the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil, Starr blames herself for not being there for Khalil prior to his death. As Starr gains the courage to testify at the grand jury hearing for One-Fifteen and grapples with how being black affects all aspects of her life, she grows more outspoken, refusing to accept the way racism hurts her.Read an in-depth analysis of Starr Carter.

Khalil Harris –  Starr’s childhood best friend who is shot by One-Fifteen during a traffic stop. After Khalil’s death, rumors spread that Khalil dealt drugs and participated in the King Lords gang, placing his character in question. However, Starr remembers Khalil primarily as the sweet friend she knew growing up. Kenya and DeVante attest that Khalil often spoke fondly of Starr, and that he cared about her very much. Toward the end of the novel, DeVante reveals that Khalil took great care of his family and only sold drugs to pay off his mother’s debt to King.Read an in-depth analysis of Khalil Harris.

Maverick “Big Mav” Carter –  Starr, Seven, and Sekani’s father, an outspoken and philosophical man who runs a small grocery store in Garden Heights. Despite his dark past as a member of the King Lords gang and a short stint in prison, Maverick is an engaged father who devotes himself fully to his family and his neighborhood. Maverick inspires Starr by educating her on Black Power philosophy, but he struggles with balancing his values of black liberation with the reality that those values put him and his family in danger. His strong beliefs often get him into arguments with Uncle Carlos, who helped care for Maverick’s children while Maverick was in prison.Read an in-depth analysis of Maverick “Big Mav” Carter.

Lisa Carter –  Mother to Starr and Sekani, and step-mother to Seven. Lisa is a nurse and a loving but firm mother. Although she comes off as strict, Lisa has a compassionate heart and teaches the importance of forgiveness and second chances. She fiercely protects her children and always reminds her husband, Maverick, not to push the children too far into dangerous activism.Read an in-depth analysis of Lisa Carter.

Uncle Carlos –  Starr’s maternal uncle, a police officer. Uncle Carlos served as a father figure in Starr’s life, particularly while Maverick was in prison. With his job as a police officer and a home in a suburban, gated community, Uncle Carlos assimilates into the white community, and encourages Lisa to do the same with her family, leading to conflict with Maverick.
Seven Carter –  Starr’s older half-brother, son of Maverick and Iesha. Seven is the oldest of the Carter children and fiercely protects all his siblings. He worries particularly for Kenya and Lyric, his half-sisters through Iesha, because of their dangerous home environment with King.
King –  The leader of the King Lords gang. King profits off the drug dealings in Garden Heights, but does not care about the community, threatening elderly men and teenagers alike to protect his hold over the neighborhood. King abuses his girlfriend, Iesha, and daughters, Kenya and Lyric.
Chris –  Starr’s boyfriend, a wealthy white boy from Williamson Prep. The two initially bonded over a love of the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Chris often raps the theme song to make Starr smile. Chris adores Starr and tries to make her feel comfortable being her entire self around him, which Starr struggles with throughout the novel.
One-Fifteen –  The white police officer who shoots and kills Khalil. Although the media portrays him as a caring father and good police officer, One-Fifteen lies to his colleagues about the events of the night of Khalil’s death. Throughout the novel, One-Fifteen represents systemic racism and corruption in law enforcement.
Hailey Grant –  Starr’s friend from Williamson Prep, a wealthy, white teenage girl who feels uncomfortable when confronted with the racism affecting Starr’s life. In the past, Hailey expected Starr and Maya to go along with her dictates, and finds Starr’s new outspokenness threatening.
DeVante –  A black teenage boy from Garden Heights and member of the King Lords gang. DeVante attempts to leave the King Lords after King gives him an assignment that DeVante knows will lead to his own death. Despite his cocky exterior, DeVante cares deeply for his family and others. He has a crush on Kenya.
Kenya –  Starr’s friend from Garden Heights and Seven’s half-sister through Iesha. Kenya is assertive and calls Starr out for not spending as much time with people in Garden Heights since Starr started going to Williamson Prep. Kenya also urges Starr to speak out on behalf of Khalil.
Mr. Lewis –  The neighborhood barber, an older black man and resident of Garden Heights. Mr. Lewis loudly complains about the effects of gang violence in the neighborhood and often clashes with Maverick because of Maverick’s past membership in the King Lords. The King Lords later beat up Mr. Lewis after he betrays King on television.
Maya Yang –  A close friend of Starr and Hailey’s at Williamson Prep. Maya is the peacekeeper of the trio, always trying to get Starr and Hailey to communicate. After Maya confesses that Hailey made racist comments about Maya’s Asian American heritage, Starr and Maya form an alliance to fight Hailey’s racism.
April Ofrah –  Starr’s lawyer, a community organizer who leads Just Us for Justice. She encourages Starr to use her voice for activism.
Iesha –  Mother to Seven, Kenya, and Lyric, a sex worker who is dating King. Iesha puts her relationship with King over the safety of her children, but she is also a victim of King’s abuse.
Sekani Carter –  Starr’s younger brother. Maverick and Lisa protect Sekani from a lot of the dangers around him and Sekani maintains a childish innocence throughout the novel.
Natasha –  Starr’s childhood friend who was shot by accident at the age of ten during a gang-related shootout in Garden Heights.
Ms. Rosalie –  Khalil’s loving grandmother who often looked after Starr and Sekani when they were young.
Brenda Harris –  Khalil’s mother, a drug addict who was often absent during Khalil’s childhood.
Lyric –  Seven’s youngest half-sister.
Remy –  Hailey’s brother who starts a protest at Williamson to get out of class.

Racism and policing in American Movies: The Hate U Give and If Beale Street Could Talk

Nimen Hao,

let’s start today with a little background.

Racial inequality in the U.S.

According to a Census Bureau Current Population survey, for every $100 in income earned by white families, black families earn only $57.30, and for every $100 of wealth held by white families, black families have only $5.04.

African-American communities suffer entrenched and ongoing disadvantages in education, health, housing, labour, income and criminal justice.  (Krivo and Peterson, 2010).

25 per cent of the people in the world who are incarcerated are incarcerated in the U.S. Yet the U.S has just 5 per cent of the world’s population.

Today the prison population is more than 2 million. The majority of those imprisoned are African Americans, but African Americans are a minority of all Americans.

Criminal courts sentence black defendants more harshly than white defendants. Many black defendants accept a plea (plea guilty) because they cannot afford competent legal representation.

US leads world in fatal police shootings


Fact: In the first 24 days of 2015, police in the US fatally shot more people than police did in England and Wales, combined, over the past 24 years.

Behind the numbers: According to The Counted, the Guardian’s special project to track every police killing this year, there were 59 fatal police shootings in the US for the days between 1 January and 24 January.

According to data collected by the UK advocacy group Inquest, there have been 55 fatal police shootings – total – in England and Wales from 1990 to 2014.

The US population is roughly six times that of England and Wales. According to the World Bank, the US has a per capita intentional homicide rate five times that of the UK.

Police shooting victims disproportionately black

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

Who is killing all those black men and boys?

Mostly white officers. But in hundreds of instances, black officers, too. Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.

What were the circumstances surrounding all these fatal encounters?

There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were black.

There were many deadly shooting where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.

There were instances where police truly feared for their lives.

Data show that police reported that as the cause of their actions in far greater numbers after the 1985 Supreme Court decision that said police could only justify using deadly force if the suspects posed a threat to the officer or others. From 2005 to 2009, “officer under attack” was cited in 62 percent xxxvii of police killings.

Black Lives Matters

BLM is a protest movement against police brutality, including the unlawful police killing of black people.


Some protesters draw historical parrallels with current murders by police and historical abuses. A famous and typical case was the murder of Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955). Emmet was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. Till posthumously became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.[1]

Let’s watch some clips and get straight into some discussions.

The Hate U Give

The film is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. The author told NPR she was inspired to write The Hate U Give after the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant—a young, African-American man who was killed by a white transit officer in Oakland on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Grant was unarmed when he was shot, and Thomas was struck by the media coverage that focused on Grant’s criminal record rather than the circumstances of his death. “More people were talking about what he had done in his past than the fact that he unjustly lost his life,” Thomas said.


In the film’s story,

Starr Carter, a teenage girl living with her parents and two brothers in the tough (fictional) neighbourhood of Garden Heights.

Her father Maverick is a former gang member turned community leader keen to impress on his children both the importance of black pride and the dangers of being a person of colour in an institutionally racist nation.

Starr is a high-performing student at Williamson Prep, a wealthy, primarily white school. [one of her friends is the blonde girl Hailey, and her boyfriend is xxx].

Hao pengyou. Maya, Starr and Hailey
Chris the boyfriend is a great dancer.

Traumatized after witnessing the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil, Starr blames herself for not being there for Khalil prior to his death.

Starr and Khalil have been friends since childhood
Officer One-Fifteen tells Khalil to wait by the car

As Starr gains the courage to testify at the grand jury hearing and grapples with how being black affects all aspects of her life, she grows more outspoken, refusing to accept the way racism hurts her.

Starr protests against police brutality

Let’s watch some scenes from the movie, pausing for a brief discussion after each of them.

Scene 1: Maverick gives his children “the talk” (to be played in class)

Class discussion one.

What’s “the talk” about?

Why does Maverick need to give it?

Scene 2: Starr and Khalil get stopped by a policeman.

Class discussion two.

Khalil is a drug seller, like Maverick was when he was a young man.

Why does Khalil do it? What do you think about that? What would you do if you were in his shoes?

Why did Maverick do it? Why did he stop? What does he do instead?

Scene 3: Starr’s uncle Carlos (a policeman) explains how police think when stopping black and white suspects.

 Class discussion three.


What do you think of uncle Carlos’s explanation and Starr’s reaction?

Scene 4: Starr and her friend Hailey fall out.

Class discussion four.

Black Lives Matter and the Bend the Knee Campaign: confronting racial inequality and police brutality

Let’s watch a short video giving a little about social context. . What is “bending a knee”? Why are Colin Kaepernick (and many others) doing it?

What are the links between bend the knee and black lives matter?


If Beale Street Could Talk

The film is based on the novel of the same title by the great American writer James Baldwin (1974).


The film tells the story of Tish, a young woman who, with her family’s support, seeks to clear the name of her wrongly charged lover Fonny and prove his innocence before the birth of their child.

Like many young African American men Fonny (aka Alonzo) has been arrested and jailed on a trumped-up charge (of raping a woman), following a run-in with a grudge-bearing white cop.

Tish is pregnant and promises Fonny he’ll be out and back in Harlem before their baby is born.

Sis, Tish, Sharon.
Sis, Joseph, Sharon.

Tish’s family, led by protective matriarch Sharon and down-to-earth Joseph, are accepting and proud. But Fonny’s religious mother responds with hostility and spite, blaming Tish for her son’s supposed fall from grace.

Fonny’s friend Frank sounds a warning as he had to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, to avoid getting a long sentence in jail.

Fonny, Tish and Daniel

Sharon tracks the rape victim Victoria to her native Puerto Rico, and pleads with her to admit that she made a mistake when she identified Fonny as her rapist.

Fonny talking with Tish at the prison

Let’s have have some discussions.

Themes: Love-male/female & family love; family, friend , or community relationships; powerlessness; racism-cultural & legal system; social injustice; religion; community, church, political, identity formation, etc.

1. Which theme is strongest/ most central? Tell us your thoughts about it.

2.. Would you feel powerless if you were in the same situation as Tish? How likely are those events and occurrences depicted in the book likely to happen today?



Please do the Cultural Racism reading. There will be a class quiz on this next week.

Please also watch the first of our movies on American immigrants. We’ll start with The Farewell.

Cultural Activity Assessment

Dear Students,

The assessment for this semester’s course will be based on a test (90%) and class participation (10%).

The test will be held in the exam period at the end of semester (date will be announced here as soon as possible).

The questions will be based on the movies you have watched, the class discussions we have had, the readings and the lesson notes.

There will be no surprises (all of the questions will be based on the class resources and discussions, so you should be familiar with the question topics).

If you have questions about the test please ask me in class, or via our wechat class groups.


Talking about 12 Years a Slave

Nimen Hao,

today we’ll have the first of a few lessons on race and racism in American Movies.

First, let’s do a quick quiz on the femininity reading.

OK, now let’s talk about the film, race and racism in the U.S., starting with a little background information.

Background: Slavery in the U.S.

Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel enslavement, primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Slavery was based on racism “the division of people in a “race system”( like Apartheid) where certain races are biologically subordinated others. For the dominant race, the purpose was economic.

A slave was treated as a legal form of property and could be bought, sold, or given away like other personal property. Like a horse, a capable slave could be worked or bred.

Slavery had been practiced in British America from early colonial days, and was legal in all Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and their revolutionary colleagues in the Congress of 1776 grounded the new nation’s independence on the declaration “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

It lasted in about half the states until 1865, when it was prohibited nationally by the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

That’s known as emancipation (freedom from slavery).

That amendment meant that slavery could only be practiced as punishment for a crime. What actually happened was that, in the Southern American states at least, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing. Large numbers of African Americans were defined as criminal in some way, and the southern economy was thereby, in practice, able to reneslave them.

By the time of the American Revolution (1775–1783), the status of slave had been institutionalized as a racial caste associated with African ancestry.[1] When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1789, a relatively small number of free people of color were among the voting citizens (male property owners).[2] During and immediately following the Revolutionary War, abolitionist laws were passed in most Northern states and a movement developed to abolish slavery. Northern states depended on free labor and all had abolished slavery in some way by 1805 (some Northern states adopted immediate emancipation, and others had gradual systems of abolition).

The rapid expansion of the cotton industry in the Deep South after the invention of the cotton gin greatly increased demand for slave labor to pick cotton when it all ripened at once, and the Southern states continued as slave societies. By 1850, the newly rich cotton-growing South was threatening to secede from the Union, and tensions continued to rise. Many white Southern Christians, including church ministers, believed that the Bible endorsed slavery.[7]

When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election on a platform of halting the expansion of slavery, seven states broke away to form the Confederacy. Due to Union measures such as the Confiscation Acts and Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the war effectively ended slavery, even before ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865 formally ended the legal institution throughout the United States.


Slave kidnapping and the Underground Railway

While slavery was still legal in the southern states, many African Americans escaped to the north where slavery was illegal. The organisation of those escapes came to be known as ‘the underground railroad’. There’s a great novel by Colson Whitehead called The Underground Railroad‘ (he imagines it literally as like a south-north escape subway), and one of the greatest novels about slavery and its effects on people and their memories is Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853  was the title of Solomon Northup’s memoir, published in 1853. His experience was part of that wider history of kidnapping and re-enslavement as the states contested fought over the issue of slavery.

Group Discussions

Director: Steve McQueen

Featured Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup; Kelsey Scott as Anne Northup; Adepero Oduye as Eliza; Benedict Cumberbatch as Ford; Liza J. Bennett as Mistress Ford; J.D. Evermore as Chapin; Paul Dano as Tibeats; Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps; Sarah Paulson as Mistress Epps; Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey; Alfre Woodard as Mistress Shaw; and Brad Pitt as Bass

Have a look at these images of some of the key characters from the film.

Solomun Northup family
Anne and Solomon Northup and children
Solomon Northup kidnappers
Solomon Northup and the circus kidnappers
The slave auctioneer Mr. Theophilus Freeman
Ford and Solomon
Eliza Weeps
12 Years A Slave
Patsey, Mr Epps and Solomon
Mistress Epps and Patsey
Patsey and Platt

Platt meets Bass

Discussion questions part one.

1. Who was Solomon Northup and how did he come to be enslaved?

2. Solomon says ‘I don’t want to survive. I want to live’. What does he mean (what’s the difference)?

3. When Solomon is punished the plantation hands hung him from a tree and only Patsey comes to help. The rest of the slaves do nothing (they continue to go about their business). Whhen Mr. Ells rapes Patsey, none of the slaves try to stop him. Later when Mr. Ells wants Patsey punished for leaving the plantation (she goes to get soap) Solomon reluctantly agrees to whip her, and whips her harder when he is told to.

a. Why do the slaves (including Solomon) not resist?

b. How do you think the enslaved people feel in these (three) situations?

Discussion part two

1. Tell the story of Eliza.

2. Tell the story of Patsey.

3. What do you think about the position of black women in slave society (the plantation society)?

Discussion part three

1. Describe some of the effects of slavery, as practiced in the American South, on the slave owners (male and female) that are exemplified by the characters in this movie.

2. What do you think are the historical legacies of slavery in the United States?


Watch If Beale Street Could Talk and The Hate U Give.


Cultural Racism (Wikipedia)

Cultural racism

Cultural racism is a term used in scientific research to describe a specific type of racism which developed from the generally known form of racism, which is “biological racism”. “Cultural racism” is used by the UN, the swedish Equality Ombudsman and in the scientific world to describe some racist ideologies, ideas, reasoning, arguments, and notions.[1] Citations are made in terms of ideology “culture shock” and that cultural differences legitimize exclusion and discrimination based on racial notions and ranking of culture as higher and lower in relation to each other. Examples of such notions and arguments that are included in these citations could be “many immigrants don’t go to work, and engage in tax evasion”, “many Gypsies have a cultural predisposition to steal”, and “Muslims have a lot of children, take over our country, and evade our culture”.

Racism and culture racism

The Swedish Equality Ombudsman says that racism “originally is a word that describes the division of people in a “race system”( like Apartheid) where certain races are biologically subordinated others. Today we talk more about culture racism – the notion that cultures are absolute, unchangeable and define the individual’s characteristics.”[2]

Culture racism

The term “culture racism” was first used in the beginning of the 1980s. In England and the US the terms new racism (coined by the sociologist Martin Barker) and ethnicization are also used to describe the same phenomenon. During the 1980s and the 1990s, culture racism came to replace the previously generally accepted forms of biological racism.[3]

Culture racism entails an essentialistic view on cultures. Culture racism seeks to ascribe a culture certain (negative) attributes. These are sometimes set against one’s own culture, which is said to be lacking these negative attributes. Those who are accused of culture racism are also often accused of being a closet racist. According to Marcello Vittorio Ferrada de Noli, psychiatrist and professor emeritus in Public health, cultural racism is an expression of “intentional political fraud or of a subconscious xenophobic affective state” and that “the culture racist seldom wants, or rarely can, admit his/her actual biological/ethnical racist attitude”.

Culture racism is related to Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism and Orientalism.[4] The cultural racism that is specifically directed against Jews is called antisemitism. If it is directed against the roma it is called Antiziganism, against Christians christophobia, and if it is directed against muslims it is called islamophobia.

There have been numerous scientific studies that show that racism takes different shapes and expressions, for example: biological, religious, scientific and cultural racism. In the scientific world these terms are separated and are treated like separate entities for racist expressions and guises.[5]


Cultural racism is built upon the idea of a Nation as a cultural entity and it expresses racist principals and thoughts about essences and racial “beings”, hereditary proficiencies and abilities through cultural practices and cultural affiliation, through which differences between people (cultural and others) are explained. Cultural racism refers to cultures instead of the ancestry of different peoples and thus differs from biological racism. Culturally contingent racism includes a belief that one’s own ethnical group’s cultural heritage is above that of other ethnical groups.

Cultural racism is rooted in the teaching, or rather belief, that a culture is a phenomenon with its’ own soul and is “given once forever” (never changes). One’s culture is often portrayed as an innate proficiency/attribute one naturally possesses if one belongs to a certain ethnical group or religion and that one carries one’s “culture” as baggage throughout one’s life. It is seen as a characteristic that stems from a sort of obvious, common identity and origin.[6]

The excluding of the other thus becomes important because the culturally different then become unavoidably problematic for the “national identity”.

Equality Ombudsman describes the cultural racism ideology as follows:

After WWII, as the idea of different biological races became controversial, the term culture received increased significance in racist reasoning. Scientists usually talk about so called “Culture racism”. Instead of starting from biology, culture is used to explain how people are and what they do. Culture is seen as something solid and unchangeable. The rhetoric and the purpose of the division is the same as when talking about biological races though. Stereotypical notions about the cultures of ethnical groups as essentially different and incompatible with the (for example) Swedish culture lies as a foundation of cultural racism. Cultures are seen as unchangeable and very “deciding” for a person’s characteristics.[7]



  1. ? ”Slavery and racism”. Unesco press. Läst 17 december 2013.
  2. ? Diskrimineringsombudsmannen (DO): “Rasism”. Quote: ”Idag pratar man mer om kulturrasism –föreställningen om att kulturer är absoluta, oföränderliga och definierar individens egenskaper.” Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  3. ? Centrum mot rasism: “Kulturrasism”. December 17, 2013.
  4. ? Otterback, Jonas; Bevelander, Pieter (2006). Islamofobi: en studie av begreppet, ungdomars attityder och unga muslimers utsatthet. Stockholm: Forum för levande historia. Libris 10308742. ISBN 91-976073-6-3
  5. ? Centrum mot rasism: “Kulturrasism”. December 17, 2013.
  6. ? SOU 1989:13 (1989). Statens offentliga utredningar, 0375-250X ; 1989:13. Stockholm: Allmänna förlaget. Libris 806678. ISBN 91-38-10289-7
  7. ? Diskrimineringsombudsmannen (DO): “Vardagsrasism”. December 17, 2013.

reproduced from and shared privately for teaching purposes only. Please consult the website for further.

Gendered Superheroes & Spies in American movies

Nimen hao,

welcome to this week’s class.

We will do some work on gender by talking about some American movies (and next week we’ll compare Chinese and American heroes in the Wandering Earth, Superhero movies, and Wolf Warrior movies).

Today we will look at series of images and movie clips from American Spy and Superheroes movies and discuss their representation of gender (representations of masculinity, femininity, maleness and femaleness and other gender identities and the relations between them).

Feminine = a constructed (made) representation

Before we do that let’s just have a quick think about gender as something that is represented in language, as something that is constructed … rather than an expression of a natural essence.

Femininity is socially constructed, but made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors. This makes it distinct from the definition of the biological female sex, as, for example, biological males, trans and females can exhibit feminine traits.

Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity, though traits associated with femininity vary depending on location and context, and are influenced by a variety of social and cultural factors.[9]

Difference, and oppositional difference (dichotomy) is one of the key organizing principles of language representational systems. Its true, for example, of the Wolf Warrior movies where good guys are defined as kinds of opposites of the bad guys. Opposites are often employed in the ways that gender is thought of, spoken and written about, and shown too.

Let’s take a moment to think of the meanings we think might be associated with femininity and masculinity and see if they look like they’re governed by oppositional difference.

Spy films (comparison 1: Bond v Blonde)

As you watch the clips, keep in mind some of the elements that constitute a movie review:

  • Creative craft elements (including, for example, quality of script, direction and performances, visual design and cinematography,  lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up, special effects, sound, music, editing.
  • Story, plot, genre, style.
  • Social themes and significance.

“The name is Bond, James Bond.”

Lets start by having a look at this clip from Spectre, one of the recent Bond series movies. First a brief synopsis:

British spy chief “M,” Moneypenny and Q are fighting for survival against an ambitious government mandarin with plans to shut down the 00 agent program and replace it with his own high-tech surveillance network. Bond (007) has to track down a sinister Austrian kingpin at the heart of Spectre, an evil organisation with tentacular reach and extensive personnel. If he succeeds, then the 00 system might be saved, and the new computer surveillance system rejected.

During his quest, Bond goes to Austria where he encounters his main love interest, Dr Madeleine Swann (the woman in the car in this scene). The pair manage to get away to Tangier on a train journey after a punch-up with a beefy henchman. Later, they are captured by and have to overcome the evil Oberhauser, Spectre’s CEO.

Clip1: Spectre.


Now let’s have a look at a clip from Atomic Blonde. (clip from 01:10). Again, let’s read a brief synopsis first.

The setting is Berlin just before the fall of the Wall; the paranoid hangover of the cold war is giving way to a new era of hungry opportunism. A British agent has been murdered; a valuable list is missing. And MI5 asset Lorraine Broughton … is flown in to clear up the mess. There she butts heads with fellow agent David Percival … and has a fling with rookie French spy Delphine ….In this scene the East German security guards are trying to prevent a spy leaving for the West. By killing him ….

Clip 2: Atomic Blonde scene to be played in class.

Discussion: work in your small groups to compare the two scenes.

  • Describe each of the scenes: what kind of a scene is it; who are the protagonists; what happened?
  • Discuss the scenes in terms of their gendered representations

Superhero films (comparison 2: Superman v. Batman V. Superman + Suicide Squad + Avengers: Infinity War).

Let’s begin this comparison by watching “mild mannered reporter Clark Kent” Superman do some super stuff while Lois Lane (Clark Kent’s colleague/Superman’s love interest) does what she does (from Superman, 1978).


Now let’s watch these three clips from Batman V. Superman.

Clip 4. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice scene 1.


Clip 5. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice scene 2.


Clip 6. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, scene 3.


Discussion: work in your small groups to compare the scene from Superman the Movie with the those from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

  • Describe each of the scenes: who are the protagonists; what happened?
  • Evaluate the scenes from the two movies in terms of the way that gender is represented in the two movies?

Female Superheroes

Marvel and DC comics have each made their own world of superheroes in comics and film. In each there are interesting representations of women. Let’s have a look a “mash-up” of some of some the DC Comics Gotham City girls and Captain Marvel.

Clip 7: Gotham City Girls


Clip 8. Captain Marvel (to be played in class).

Discussion: Superwomen? Gotham City Sirens + Captain Marvel.

Work in your small groups to describe the female characters represented in the Gotham City Sirens and the Captain Marvel clip

Comparison: Suicide Squad v. Avengers: Infinity War

Now let’s watch these clip from Suicide Squad.

First read this synopsis.

Suicide Squad takes place after the events of “BvS.” Davis’ Amanda Waller gets the idea to pluck the worst of the worst villains from prison and give them a chance to reduce their sentences. In return, they must help the state fight its trickiest foes. Their first assignment is to take down a seemingly insurmountable, supernatural figure: the ancient Enchantress, who can time travel and zip through space and manipulate metal and has all kinds of impressive, dangerous skills.

Clip 9-10: Suicide Squad scene to be played in class.

Now let’s have a look at a scene from Avengers: Infinity War. Here’s a brief synopsis.

Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and the rest of the Avengers unite to battle their most powerful enemy yet — the evil Thanos. On a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones, Thanos plans to use the artifacts to inflict his twisted will on reality. The fate of the planet and existence itself has never been more uncertain as everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment.

Clip11: Avengers: Infinity War

Discussion: Suicide Squad + Avengers: Infinity War.

Work in your small groups to compare the scenes from Suicide Squad with the that from Avengers: Infinity War.

  • Describe each of the scenes: what kind of a scene is it; who are the protagonists; what happened? What were the craft elements and what did you think of them?
  • Discuss the scenes from the two movies in terms of their gender representations.

See a character list for Avengers here.

Or here.


Please do the reading on femininity (sent to our wechat group).

Reviewing “Ladybird” (Cultural study activities autumn-winter 2019-20)

Dear Students,

we’re going to talk about the film Lady Bird today. First though, a quick review of the concept of culture and few words about movie reviewing.


  • A variety of cultural artworks and activities (like movies, going to the movies). Not high or low culture, but artworks and activities we can judge on their own merits.
  • A way of life
  • A society’s values

Movie reviewing

  • Title, topic, release date, country of production.
  • Story, plot, characters.
  • Genre (type of movie, see definition below), style.
  • Creative craft elements including, for example, quality of script, direction and performances, visual design and cinematography,  lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up, special effects, sound, music, editing.
  • Social, historical, cultural, political themes and significance. 
  • Your relationship to/perspective on the film.

Small group discussion 1: Hometowns and high schools

“Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento” Joan Didion
  • What kind of a hometown is Sacramento for the character Lady Bird/Christine?
  • Where does she want to go? What kind of a place is that?
  • What is your hometown? Where is it? What is it like? How does it compare to big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin?
  • What was your high school like? Do you miss anything about it? If so, what or who? How does it compare to the high school in Lady Bird?
  • If/when you were to go to America to study what kind of a city would you like to go and live in while studying?

Group discussion 2: Lady Bird characters

Marion and Christine McPherson
lb friends
Lady Bird and Julie
Larry McPherson
Manuel & Shelly
Father Leviatch
Sister Sarah Joan

1.Who are they and what are they like?

2. What are the main relationships in Lady Bird. What is the story of those relationships (what happens)?

3. What do you think of the way the film shows the different romantic relationships and gender identities (male, female, gay)?

4. How do the relationships in the film compare to your experience of or ideas about Chinese relationships?

Craft elements of the film.

  1. Genre and style.

Genre is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or entertainment, e.g. music, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria, particular forms and particular kinds of content.

Genres are formed by conventions (ways of doing things/showing or expressing things) that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued.

Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.

Discussion questions:

  1. What kinds of genre(s) does Lady Bird use?
  2. Can you talk about parts of the film where you thought the visual design and cinematography was especially interesting or good?
  3. What other craft elements did you think were interesting or particularly good in the film? (reminder, craft elements include quality of script, direction and performances,  lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up, special effects, sound, music, editing.

Questions for bookworms.

These lines are recited at the beginning of the film.

Her hand moved behind his head and supported it

Her fingers moved gently in his hair

She looked up and across the barn

And her lips came together

And smiled mysteriously.

Q: What novel do they come from, who is the author and where in the novel do they come?

Lady Bird and the different concepts of Culture

1. We’ve discussed aspects of Lady Bird as an artwork, as a filmic text with various artistic qualities.

2. We’ve also discussed Lady Bird in terms of various forms of the American (teenage, family, working/middle class, urban) way of life.

3. What about Lady Bird and culture in terms of values. What American values can you see in the movie?

America vs China: the Movies (Cultural study Activities Autumn Winter 2019-20)

 Dear students,

welcome to the course.

We’re going learn about American culture by watching and discussing American movies and comparing them with Chinese movies. To inform our discussions, we’ll draw on the some of the key categories of cultural studies analysis, equality, ‘race’, class, and gender, as well as rural/urban divisions.

So, we will be learning and practicing  a little bit of the craft of movie reviewing, and a little bit of theory and method of cultural studies.

Each week I will give several movies to watch (you can copy them week by week). So, next week, can some of you bring your usbs? Then maybe the class can share on qq.

Some weeks I will give you some short readings and we will have in class quizzes on these, and on your knowledge of the films.

So I can share the lessons and materials with you, let’s make a wechat group.

Course aims:

The main purpose of this course is to strengthen your cultural, language communication and thinking competence.

The core of this course will contain a lot of practical work which will require you to speak thoughtfully, to use cultural study concepts in discussions [like culture, gender, race], and demonstrate your knowledge and understanding. 

Learning process:

The main objectives of the course are to facilitate the students in gaining further language-and-cultural knowledge thought a series of linked activities including English language (American) movie watching, class and group discussions, quizzes and tests etc.

You will learn to make informed and reasonable spoken word comparisons between Chinese and American cultural texts. In doing so, you will have the opportunity to speak more fluently and accurately, expressing your  ideas and opinions in a culturally informed and thoughtful manner.

Study Materials:

[1] American and Chinese film texts relating to issues of gender, race and rural/urban divisions.

[2] select readings


This course will focus on careful viewing of the films, small group and class discussions, and demonstration of understanding via quizzes and tests. Students are expected to come to class prepared to talk. To succeed in this class, you will be expected to do the following things:

  • Participate actively in speaking activities including group and class discussion.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the film texts and short conceptual readings.
  • Develop their ability to speak thoughtfully, demonstrating sound observation and reasoning skills.

Grade Breakdown

Full score 100%

  • Class participation 10%
  • First assignment                                  45%
  • Final Assignment                                 45%

There will be two tests that will examine your knowledge and understanding of the films we have watched and the concepts we have used to understand them. Each test will be worth 45%.

There will be assessment for attendance and participation as well (10%)

Note. Students are expected to attend all classes unless there are exceptional circumstances, to inform the teacher of the reasons for any absences and provide documentation when required. Failure to do so will result penalties against the grade.


The course will have five parts.

Part 1. Introduction: Culture and film, American college

An introduction to the concept of culture, and the craft of movie reviewing.

Lady Bird

Part 2. American and Chinese Heroes and Gender

The Wandering Earth, Hero, Wolf Warrior 1, Wolf Warrior 2Captain Marvel, Superman, the Movie, and other superhero movies

Part 3. American Race/racism.

12 Years a Slave, Do the Right Thing,

On Beale Street, The Hate You Give

Part 4. America and immigrants

Crazy Rich Asians, Roma, The Immigrant, The Farewell

Part 5. Chinese and American rural/urban culture

Blind Mountain, An Elephant Sitting Still.

(Note, films subject to change)


Brief readings on the cultural studies concepts (for example, racism, gender) will be given as homework throughout the semester.

Defining Culture

‘Culture’ is one of the most difficult concepts in the human and social sciences
and there are many different ways of defining it.

In more traditional definitions of the term, culture is said to embody the ‘best that has been thought and said’ in a society. It is the sum of the great ideas, as represented in the classic works of literature, painting, music and philosophy- the ‘high culture· of an age.

Belonging to the same frame of reference, but more ‘modern’ in its associations, is the use of ‘culture’ to refer to the widely distributed forms of popular music, publishing, art, design and literature, or the activities of leisure-time and entertainment. which make up the everyday lives of the majority of ‘ordinary people’- what is called the ‘mass culture’ or the ‘popular culture’ of an age.

High culture versus popular culture was, for many years, the classic way of framing the debate about culture- the terms carrying a powerfully evaluative charge (roughly, high= good: popular= debased).

Quick Discussion question

Can you think of some examples of high culture?

What about low/popular culture?

In a more ·social science’ context, the word ‘culture’ is used to refer to whatever is distinctive about the ‘way of life’ of a people, community, nation or social group) – the ‘anthropological’ definition.

Alternatively. the word can be used to describe the ‘shared values’ of a group or of society (like the anthropological definition. only with a more sociological emphasis).

We can think of Culture as a set of things – novels and paintings or
TV programmes and comics.

But we can also speak of culture as a process. a set of practices and beliefs. In this sense, culture is concerned with the production and the exchange of meanings – the ‘giving and taking of meaning’- between the members of a society or group.

Quick discussion question

What are some common Chinese cultural practices?

What are some common American cultural practices?

Things ‘in themselves’ rarely have any one, single, fixed and unchanging meaning. Even something as obvious as a stone can be a stone, a boundary marker or a piece of sculpture, depending on what it means within a certain context of use.

It is participants in a culture who give meaning to people, objects and events. It is by our use of things, and what we say, think and feel about them – how we represent them – that we give them a meaning. In part, we give objects, people and events meaning by the frameworks of interpretation which we bring to them.

Members of the same culture must share sets of concepts, images and ideas which enable them to think and feel about the world, and thus to interpret the world, in roughly similar ways. They must share, broadly speaking, the same ‘cultural codes.

In this sense, thinking and feeling are ‘systems of representation’, in which our concepts, images and emotions ‘stand for’ or represent, in our mental life, things which are or may be ‘out there’ in the world.

How things/people are represented

  • To represent something is to show it, to portray it, to communicate it, through some kind of “language” (there are many kinds of languages).
  • To talk about how something is represented is to talk about how it is shown, portrayed, or communicated.

Lets have a quick look at a few examples …

  1. Traffic commands represented by traffic lights.

Traffic commands like stop, wait, get ready, go, slow down are basically represented by three colored lights (red, green, amber).

There are more commands than lights, but the three lights are sufficient to communicate the commands because of the way they are used (the how of their representation).

If we were to talk about how the lights represent a range of traffic commands, we could explain that their organization on the basis of the principles of difference and sequence makes their commands intelligible.

For example,

  • red represents stop because it is different from green and amber.
  • amber following green is a sequence indicating it is time to slow down.

Altogether we can say that the lights have been coded by the logic of traffic management which requires that people obey a range of commands. The way they have been coded is through the principles of difference and sequence.

If we wanted to take this example further, we could argue that the representation of traffic commands has become increasingly helpful. In China, many traffic lights now provide a numbered countdown (from ninety to zero), so people know how long they have to wait, and can prepare to get ready. This extra sequence feels very helpful if you are waiting at the lights (if you just had a red light instead, you wouldn’t know how long you have to wait).

Shenzhen traffic offense display screen

But we might also talk about the way that representations related to traffic commands have also become more punitive and inescapable. For example, in some cities there are now large video screens showing images of people who have broken the traffic rules. This kind of representation works to shame people into obeying the commands.

2. Foreigners and national selves represented by political discourse (for example, the words of Donald Trump).

We might talk about the way that discourse (way of talking) of Donald Trump is full of negative representations of foreigners and positive representations of Americans.

In Trump’s political discourse, bad foreigners are represented as posing a serious threat to good American citizens.

His dichotomy between bad foreigners and good Americans works to associate particular characteristics as negative threats to an imagined American way of life.


This political discourse is coded by the principle of difference. The kind of difference being used to organize the opposite terms is cultural racism.

So if Donald Trump’s discourse was the subject of one of our discussions, we could first describe what the discourse is and how it works (as above).

Then, if we were to discuss this discourse further, we could talk about its effects. We might discuss policy effects, including nationalist and protectionist policies like migrant-exclusion and trade wars.

Or we might talk about social effects like the rise of racist discrimination and violence, including the great increase in the number of hate crimes. We might talk about the way that racist coding has become part of popular talking among some American social groups, and how this is being opposed by different forms of counter-discourse.

We might talk about why (or even whether) it matters:

Q. Why would we, as English major students, do any of this (analyzing Trump’s culturally racist representations)?

A. Well, one answer would be to argue that language does not exist independently of the culture it is used in, and if we are studying American English, for example, we can’t claim to understand the language if we don’t understand the culture it is embedded in, and the way that culture is contested and changing over time.


Betty Page, American pin-up
Tai hao le.

3. American femininity represented by barbie dolls, pin ups, and advertising photos of good housewives

Children’s toys, pin-up photos and pictures, and adverts featuring housewives have all been key representations of femininity in popular American culture.

Barbie dolls represent womanhood as something associated with the colour pink, with prettiness, something like a present, something ‘princessy’. Feminists argue that the dolls are representations that encourage little girls to aspire to a model of womanhood in which they are pretty, a present for their man, and a princess towards their father figure. Pin-ups are representations encouraging people (men and women) to value women to the extent that they are desirable sex objects. Housewife adverts are representations that reinforce the idea that a woman’s place is in the home, where she should be happily subservient.

Each of these forms of representation was key to 20th century American popular culture, and together they worked to reinforce particular ideals of what femininity or womanhood should mean or be.These representations are coded according to sexist and sexualizing principles.

So, if this was a topic for discussion, we would start with something like this description of what the representations of femininity are, and how they work (the principles they are organized/coded by).

If we were to talk about this further, we could discuss the way the representations related to social practices, the way they have been contested by feminists, and then how those contests have in turn been contested again (for example, by modern misogynists, or by post-feminists).

We could do that by looking at their representations in, for example, political discourse, or art, or movies, fiction etc.Think, for example, of the more recent (21st century) representations of women given in the movie Atomic Blonde, or Captain Marvel and other recent superhero movies.

We are amateur movie reviewers


Movie discussion elements

  • title, topic, release date
  • Story, plot, genre, style.
  • Social themes and significance; historical context
  • Creative craft elements (including, for example, quality of script, direction and performances, visual design and cinematography,  lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up, special effects, sound, music, editing.

When we think and talk about movies:

  • Reasoning with evidence. You will have given your opinions and reasons throughout, try to make sure you talk logically with enough and appropriate evidence to support your point of view.