Ethnic Notions By Marlon Riggs Essay Format

Response to Movie Ethnic Notions Essay example

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Response to Movie "Ethnic Notions"

The movie 'Ethnic Notions' describes different ways in which African-Americans were presented during the 19th and 20th centuries. It traces and presents the evolution of the rooted stereotypes which have created prejudice towards African-Americans. This documentary movie is narrated to take the spectator back to the antebellum roots of African-American stereotypical names such as boy, girl, auntie, uncle, Sprinkling Sambo, Mammy Yams, the Salt and Pepper Shakers, etc. It does so by presenting us with multiple dehumanized characters and cartons portraying African-Americans as carefree Sambos, faithful Mammies, savage Brutes, and wide-eyed Pickaninnies. These representations of African-Americans roll…show more content…

If a movie of this sort had such an emotional impact on me, it is no wonder people embraced these ideas back then. The use of new and popular media methods in those days was more than adequate in transferring the black inferiority ideas to the general public. Beginning at the early 19th century with the happy, dancing, toothless, drunken Negro with big, bold and white lips to the image of the mid 21st century African-American, the media has always used these images to convey inferiority. These images implied inherent traits in the black community. This whole community was represented in the new media as one who can not be collateralized and integrated in to society without being happily enslaved. Most of these images had great commercial values that made it all the more impossible for the rest of the nation not to embrace the African American stereotypes.

According to my understanding, commercialization justified and imposed negative usage of black images as an example of the entire black community. The tremendous commercial value it had is what enabled the marketing industry to give good reason for the use of the above mentioned negative images of blacks. Although words are not used, the sudden attitude changes and actions indicate what could be easily translated by the use of the ?n-word?, ?boy? or other obvious language. What is outraging is that most of those nicknames can still be found in our contemporary society covertly if not overtly. Black

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National Emmy Winner


To honor Marlon Riggs� important cultural legacy as well as to facilitate the appreciation for and use of his work, we have created a Marlon Riggs Critical Resource page featuring articles, guides, transcripts and media. We are streaming for free the 58 minute personal and artistic biography of Marlon Riggs, I SHALL NOT BE REMOVED by filmmaker Karen Everett.

Ethnic Notions is Marlon Riggs' Emmy-winning documentary that takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing for the first time the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled anti-black prejudice. Through these images we can begin to understand the evolution of racial consciousness in America.

Loyal Toms, carefree Sambos, faithful Mammies, grinning Coons, savage Brutes, and wide-eyed Pickaninnies roll across the screen in cartoons, feature films, popular songs, minstrel shows, advertisements, folklore, household artifacts, even children's rhymes. These dehumanizing caricatures permeated popular culture from the 1820s to the Civil Rights period and implanted themselves deep in the American psyche.

Narration by Esther Rolle and commentary by respected scholars shed light on the origins and devastating consequences of this 150 yearlong parade of bigotry. Ethnic Notions situates each stereotype historically in white society's shifting needs to justify racist oppression from slavery to the present day. The insidious images exacted a devastating toll on black Americans and continue to undermine race relations.

Ethnic Notions has quickly become a mainstay of university, high school, and public library collections. It is a basic audio visual text for American History, Sociology, Black Studies, Anthropology, Social Psychology, Media Studies, and any training program concerned with stereotyping and cross-cultural understanding.

Approaching a complex and delicate subject with great sensitivity, Ethnic Notions equips viewers to view media and other cultural representations with a more critical eye. It's a direct challenge to those who say, "It was just a joke."

For more information about Marlon Riggs visit:
  • Biography of Marlon Riggs
  • Interview with Marlon Riggs
  • Article by Marlon Riggs, 1992


    For further information on racist representations of African Americans throughout history visit:
  • The Jim Crow Racist Memorabilia Museum

    To honor Marlon Riggs� important cultural legacy as well as to facilitate the appreciation for and use of his work, we have created a Marlon Riggs Critical Resource page featuring articles, guides, transcripts and media.

  • "Riggs packs enough in one hour to fill a documentary three times its length! Hearing the songs, watching the films and seeing all the artifacts are what make Ethnic Notions roll with the power of a juggernaut... It’s nothing short of astounding."
    New York Post
    "Decades of studying Afro-American history did not prepare me for the devastating impact of one-and-one-half centuries' worth of vicious racial stereotyping. Anyone claiming to understand out nation's past must see this documentary."
    Nell Irvin Painter, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
    "Downright superb! The visual presentation packs a wallop that would be impossible with worlds alone. Because it covers the entire course of American history from the 1820s, it will be useful for US history survey courses, as well as sociology and social psychology. I can think of very few people who would not benefit from seeing it."
    Winthrop Jordan, University of Mississippi
    "Disturbing but absorbing! With no rancor and considerable scholarship it lays out how stereotypes helped white society justify slavery, segregation and even lynchings."
    Los Angeles Times
    "A classic! Should be required viewing for every American. It helps us better understand the dangers of Black stereotypes so deeply rooted in our culture."
    William Ferris, former Executive Director, National Endowment for the Humanities
    "A historically accurate, thoughtful, skillfully-crafted treatment of the racial stereotypes and images that have plagued Black people since slavery. It is a compelling documentary, a superb teaching aid, and an impressive work of art."
    Darlene Clark Hine, Northwestern University


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