Category Archives: Cultural Study Activities

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 (the date, time and room will be announced via the Department’s exam timetable).

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

Just to remind you, the movies you watched included:

  • Ladybird
  • Wandering Earth
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Hate U Give
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Farewell
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • The Immigrant

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). You will not have to answer questions about any other movies.

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


Talking about The Immigrant


The opening scenes of the movie are set in New York harbour, where we first see the Statue of Liberty as the boat comes in.

The Immigrant’s American Dream

In American mythology, the U.S. is, as the national anthem puts it, “the land of the free / And the home of the brave!”

It’s a land in which in which all citizens are thought of as being equal and free. As Thomas Jefferson wrote

We hold these truths to be self-evident: 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.  (Declaration of Independence, 1776).

The American dream is encapsulated in the idea that every individual American should have an equal right to become her or his best self. Citizens have the right to try to realize their hopes.


Historically, a key element of the American myth of a land of hope and freedom is the idea that America gave welcome to the world’s migrants. For many foreigners, the idea of American freedom has been a magnet attracting them to migrate to the United States.

New York’s Statue of Liberty is a famous icon that represented welcome to the 19th century immigrants who later became American citizens.


For generations, America has served as a beacon of hope and freedom for those outside her borders, and as a land of limitless opportunity for those risking everything to seek a better life. (U.S. Congressman Spencer Bachus).

Some would argue that the Congressman’s story of American welcome is a myth (i.e., it’s a lie). Chinese people might have thought that, historically. For example, just as America was welcoming masses of European migrants in the 19th and 2oth century, it enforced measures to exclude Chinese migrants, including most famously the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). So, the idea that all men were created equal didn’t include Chinese people (until 1943).

Just as the Statue of Liberty is an icon of the myth of welcome to the land of the free, New York’s Ellis island and San Francisco’s Angel island immigration prison are historical symbols of one of the gaps in American equality.


Let’s remind ourselves of the characters and then have some discussions.









Discussion 1.

  • What is The Immigrant about?
  • What happens (what is the story)?
  • What genre/s is/are used for this movie?


Discussion 2.

Eva and Magda escape poverty in Poland, after the first World War. They come to New York by boat and try to pass through the immigration process on Ellis island.

The immigration guards were going to detain Eva and return her to Europe because something happened on the boat journey that suggests she is a woman of low morals. Her uncle and aunt who live in New York have not come to collect them, so the immigration guards believe Eva has nowhere to stay and no legal way of supporting herself.

Eva’s sister Magda is detained in the Ellis Island hospital because her illness might be contagious. The only way to get her out is to pay a lot of money as a bribe.

Magda meets Bruno Weiss from the Travelers Aid Society who offers to help get her into New York. It turns out he runs burlesque shows and girls and makes extra money from selling booze (alcohol). Bruno gives Eva food and board and work, but the work is prostitution.

The questions:

  • Eva becomes a prostitute. Hao bu hao? Why/why not?
  • If Magda was your sister, what would you do?


Discussion 3.

At the end of the movie Bruno takes Eva back to Ellis island. Eva talks with Bruno before she rescues Magda by paying a bribe with the money her aunt gave her.

Bruno tells all her all the bad things he did to her and says, ‘forget about me, I’m nothing’. He refuses to go with them to California. Eva tells him he’s not nothing and kisses his hands.

What did he do to or for Eva? Was he right or wrong to do so? Who is right? Is Bruno, as he says, “worth nothing”?


Discussion 4.

The Immigrant is about the American Dream, the dream that American is a land of opportunity and freedom for immigrants. The statue of Liberty in the first images of the movie are a symbol of that dream, and Orland/Emile tells the immigrants on Ellis island to keep believing in their dream.

In recent years, political talk about migrants has made the American Dream for migrants seem to be ‘fake news’.


Making American Great Again: some strands of Trump’s political discourse


“When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” (Trump, 2016).

Trump, Muslims

During a discussion about migrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa, Trump fumed: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”


The question:

Trump’s views on immigrants. Hao bu hao? Wei shenme?



Talking about Crazy Rich Asians

The movie is director Jon M Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians.

The movie has been much discussed in terms of being a Hollywood-made representation of “Asianness” (not a real word). It’s the first Hollywood studio movie to feature a majority Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club in 1993. That’s more than 26 years ago.

Like The Farewell, it is in someways a trans-cultural family story, set in New York and Singapore (The Farewell was set in New York and Changchun).

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the main characters

Crazy Rich Asians partially a tale Chinese-American migrants (Rachel) and her mother who migrated from China.




eleanore rachel nick



Peik Lin Goh



eleanore party




Michael Astrid

Astrid Michael

Astrid and Rachel


rachel wedding

jealous b



Discussion questions 1. What’s going on?

What is the story about? What happens? What genres is the movie?

Discussion Questions 2. Culture clashes?

The film shows a version of Asianness, Americanness, and maybe Chinese-Americanness and some Chinese Englishness, but not other cultures like, for example, Malaysianness ( the ….nesses are not real words).

How does the film show/represent these cultures?

What do you think about how the film represents these cultures and their values? Hao bu Hao?

Discussion Questions 3. A suitable Girl?

This is the third movie about Grandmothers and mothers. In The Hate U Give Khalil deals so he can look after his grandma (she has cancer). In The Farewell the family lies so they can look after their Nai Nai (she has cancer).

In this movie Nick’s grandmother and Mother (Eleanor) don’t want Eleanore to marry Nick. Why not?

Hao bu hao?

Rachel gives up her boyfriend Nick because his Nai Nai doesn’t want him to marry her.

Hao bu Hao?

Discussion Question 3. The Farewell versus Crazy Rich Asians

Both The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians are Chinese-American family stories involving big weddings. Decide which one is better and give your reasons.


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.

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).