Research Requirements: At least two course readings, at least three outside sources, two of them scholarly sources.
Toward the end of his 1926 speech, “Criteria of Negro Art,” W.E.B. Du Bois looks forward to a time when audiences say of a black American artist, “He did that because he was an American, not because he was a Negro . . . He is just human; it is the kind of thing you ought to expect.” About seventy years later, Thi Thanh Nga asked of Asian American actors, “Why do we have to be categorized at all?” Let Freedom Sing, however, talks a lot about black radio and black musicians having given African Americans a sense of identity; and Gene Cajayon in The Slanted Screen spoke of how the race of the actors he saw (or didn’t see) in movies and tv as a child affected him. For this paper, you must develop a position on when and whether it’s useful or necessary to categorize minority artists as minority artists. This is a very open question: there’s no “wrong way” to interpret it. Focus on a specific minority and, if possible, a single art form. It should be a minority that’s had to deal with stereotypes, exclusion, and other forms of oppression.
Think about when you’re going to focus on Production/Opportunity and when you’re going to address Content/Imagery: they’re different. A minority artist can get work (Good Opportunity) and perpetuate stereotypes (Bad Imagery); conversely, there have been — for example — straight writers dedicated to improving the images of gay characters in comic books.
Among the possible issues that your paper might end up considering are, How does (or did) the exclusion of minority artists happen? What were the rationales producers and publishers used for it? When did it start to change and how (for example, who funded the National Theatre of the Deaf, and how did Deaf actors decide such a thing was possible)? How are stereotypes in the entertainment media harmful? Who is responsible for them? Is the problem in the movies (for example) themselves, or mostly in the audiences that take them seriously (or sometimes misinterpret them)? Does the success of a minority artist have a uniquely positive effect, and if so, is that effect primarily on the minority community or on society as a whole? What’s so special about minority artists, writers, or filmmakers creating works about “their own people”? Does that solve the problem of negative images? Can you persuade the world you’re your specific social identity doesn’t matter and that you’re “just human”? Can you ignore difference without ignoring oppression, or ignoring history?
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