Politics and Social Issues in Film

1. The Hollywood Jim Crow: the racial politics of the movie industry
Erigha, Maryann. New York University, 2019

Erigha (Univ. of Georgia) is a sociologist, and in this volume she takes a sociological approach to documenting the racial divide that continues to plague the Hollywood film industry. She draws on statistical data related to production budgets, film profits, and domestic/international distribution outlets to substantiate her claim of persistent racial ostracism in Hollywood. In the introduction, Erigha posits that “the making of racial inequality and hierarchy is a process that is explicitly and deliberately constructed by Hollywood insiders” and is “framed around beliefs about cultural and economic value” that have the markings of the “Jim Crow system.
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2. Sofia Coppola: the politics of visual pleasure
Backman Rogers, Anna. Berghahn Books, 2019

Those who expect from this book a familiar approach—biography mixed with production notes and critical analyses—will be surprised. Backman Rogers (feminist philosophy and visual culture, Univ. of Gothenburg, Sweden) is interested in neither biography nor pro-filmic details. It is Coppola’s overall philosophy that fascinates her, and that fascination is very much a part of her subject, starting when she was 17 and sufficiently beguiled by Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) to decide to become a film scholar. Backman Rogers detected in that film and Coppola’s subsequent films a deeply philosophical mind at work, one anxious to engage with postfeminism and existentialism from a specific, unabashed female subjective point of view.
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3. Transgender cinema
Bell-Metereau, Rebecca Louise. Rutgers, 2019

This concise introduction to transgender cinema seems to be at the right place at the right time. Transgender rights and struggles have become amplified in the media, so a guide to the history and depth of transgender cinema is overdue. Bell-Metereau’s overview of the history of transgender film is succinct and valuable, but what is particularly important in this addition to the “Quick Takes” series is the author’s introduction of less-familiar and foreign transgender films to readers who may not be familiar with the mode.
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4. Welcome to fear city: crime film, crisis, and the urban imagination
Holmes, Nathan. SUNY Press, 2018

Holmes (Purchase College, SUNY) delivers a superlative study of early 1970s crime film in Welcome to Fear City. The volume works on so many levels. First, Holmes has the ability to analyze and translate film scenes in a literary yet extremely readable way. Because of his observational technique and descriptive analysis, the book reads like a well-written novel. Second, Holmes’s research borrows from a variety of fields, including urban studies, film history and theory, and political history, a broadness that gives the work a solid, firm foundation. Too many film historians emphasize only one facet of their methodology, but Holmes’s wide knowledge gives a holistic breadth to this study. Third, the emphasis on physical space and place—such as the apartment, the disco, the skyscraper, the well-lit street—is unique and makes the work all the more valuable.
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5. Unwhite: Appalachia, race, and film
McCarroll, Meredith. Georgia, 2018

Drawing on a wealth of historical, theoretical, and critical scholarship, McCarroll (writing and rhetoric, Bowdoin College) provides an excellent and thoughtful examination of how Appalachians have been depicted onscreen. In the introduction, the author writes that she uses the term unwhite as a way to “understand the function of the other through a historicized racial lens, specifically interrogating the investment in Appalachia as poor and white.” Moreover, she argues that “white privilege pervades even in situations of white poverty.” Most interesting is how she equates the Appalachian stereotype to those related to other ethnicities or racialized groups through her identification of types such as the Civil Savage, Vanishing Indian, Disappearing Hillbilly, Monstrous Mountaineer, Appalachian Woman as Mammy, and Mountain Migrant as Mexican Migrant, among others.
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