About BMC 277: Media and Diversity

This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black, White, and Racist All over: An Analysis of Interracial Couples in Film.

By: Kristen Piasecki

Film is a pedagogical tool that teaches our society about relationships. The romantic comedy genre, in particular, is the most prevalent genre that is exploited in films. Typically, the target audience for modern day romantic comedies films is young females, (Stoneking, 2010). However, a substantial amount of males are also exposed to these films. These films somehow subconsciously, yet blatantly teach our audiences particular ideologies about love and relationships. These films build an ideology of what love is supposed to look like, and what an ideal and socially acceptable couple is supposed to look like. Overwhelmingly, it appears that relationships are habitually between the same racial demographics. Couples in films of different socioeconomic classes are depicted to be socially acceptable. The exact opposite can be applied for interracial couples; the media depicts interracial couples as being out of the norm. When interracial couples are involved, their relationship becomes the conflict of the film, and the film’s narrative then centers around this constructed problem. This analysis will further elaborate on the film “Guess Who.” This film was selected because it is the most recent film in which portrays interracial couples. This film’s narratives also deal with the “problem” of enduring an interracial relationship.

It is a valid argument to imply that our society does see some interracial couples in mainstream films; however, how many of those interracial couples are dealing with a problem other than simply being? The film “Guess Who” will accurately demonstrate this question. The film’s tagline is indiscreetly thought provoking. The tagline states “Some in-laws were meant to be broken” (20th Century Fox, 2005). While this tagline is visibly direct in context, meaning that Theresa’s parents, or, the in-laws need to be broken; however, it appears there is an unresolved underlying message. The term in-law is seemingly identical to the word laws; the law being a taboo for interracial couples, and that is the law that is meant to be broken. The tagline alone is insinuating that racism is an unwritten law of our society, and our society is consciously aware of this. Although the tagline does not directly imply this, it is exposed to our society as a double entendre. Audiences are also made aware that this tagline can have two interpretive meanings.

In the film “Guess Who” the premise is another example of interracial taboo. The film portrays a young, Caucasian male, Simon Green, who is engaged to an African-American female, Theresa Jones. The conflict of this film is that Theresa’s family is unaware that her fiancĂ© is white; and this, is a problem (20th Century Fox, 2005). The film’s entire premise consists of the dilemma of if the Caucasian male will finally be accepted into the African-American family. There is one scene, in particular, in which depicts universal racism; “black jokes at the dinner table.” In this scene, Simon Green is sharing dinner and stories with Theresa’s family. Theresa’s grandfather is rather racist and upset that she has not chosen an African-American man. Shortly after, Simon interrupts and declares that his grandmother, in fact, holds a similar racial attitude for Theresa. Simon and Theresa both laugh the comments off, and assign the racism on a generational gap. There are several moments of awkward silence, and then “black jokes” is the next topic of conversation. Dinner takes a turn for the comedic better, however, results in an unfortunate conclusion when a joke takes a turn for the worst. Simon begins by sharing seemingly light-hearted jokes that Theresa’s family humorously excuses as “cute.” Oblivious to the African-American cultural, Simon shares a joke that demeans the character of Theresa’s father and grandfather, and the evening ends in silent disaster. This scene acknowledges that the racism is as equally prevalent in the Caucasian culture, as it is on the African-American culture. Racism is an action that impacts individuals on a personal level, and is experienced differently depending on each person.

Another common trend that is portrayed throughout films containing interracial couples is the set up of a black female paired with a white male. In films, the black female is portrayed to be weak, and defenseless, and the white male is portrayed to be dominate and hero –like. All movie posters are portrayed in a manner that the black female is weak and is in need of rescuing, and the white male is willing to step up and rescue her. This trend is not only racially stereotypical, it is gender stereotypical. Women are portrayed to be weak. Having a film with a weak black female is not only weakening a gender, it is weakening a race. So, when considering interracial couples, why is the female typically African-American, and the male is typically Caucasian? Perhaps it is an inaccurate stereotype that the Caucasian males are perceived to be dominate, and African-American women are perceived to be passive.

Considering an article on the 2005 film, Crash, it states “In this frame, a wealthy, light-skinned black- woman named Christine clings to a strong, comforting policeman named Ryan. Her wedding band figures prominently in the image, and her face is a mask of distress, shock, or grief But otherwise, the embrace seems intimate—almost erotic; their lips just shy of touching, the couple seems on the verge of kissing (as couples tend to do on movie posters). Ryan's face, too, seems guarded, a mask of determination—of heroism, really, for Ryan has just risked his life to drag the woman out of her burning, overturned car, and despite his fellow officers' attempts to pull him away. The sequence leading up to this shot emphasizes Ryan's heroism” (Hsu, 2). Again, this photograph depicts a weak African-American female being rescued by a Caucasian male, perceived to be a hero.

When audiences view an interracial couple in a film, the film industry frames the plotline to portray the couple to be “dealing” with the problem of being an interracial couple; but who says being an interracial couple is a problem at all? The film industry says so. It is obvious in our culture that our society tends to believe most of what is shown by the media; even fictional media (All Academic, 2009). Our society is repeatedly being shown the problems that unravel when an interracial couple develops. As a result, our society learns to adopt the fictional belief that interracial relationships are abnormal, black women are weak, white males are strong, and the ideal couple is of the same race.

Work Cited
Mulligan, Ken. and Habel, Philip. "The Effects of Fictional Media on\Real World Beliefs in Conspiracy Theories" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association 67th Annual National Conference, The Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL, Apr 02, 2009 . 2010-09-29 http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p364525_index.html

Stoneking, Publishers. "Divorced Dudes." Stoneking (2010): n. pag. Web. 07 Oct 2010. .

20th Century Fox, . "Guess Who." n. pag. Web. 07 Oct 2010. .


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You mentioned that "All movie posters are portrayed in a manner that the black female is weak and is in need of rescuing, and the white male is willing to step up and rescue her." I have not seen many movie posters that portray this image (or any, but that is probably because I don't watch many movies so I don't pay attention), but I am interested in seeing them if you can provide them for me. Maybe that is another point to make about interracial couples; they're not just seen as abnormal, but interracial couples are very rarely seen in the media AT ALL.
    Also, the photo you posted from Crash was said to be a "widely circulated publicity image" for the movie (Hsu 132). Do you know anything about this, such as where it was shown and if there was any text with it, or how people reacted to it? I am curious about this because, frankly, when I read the article you mentioned I did not like the analysis of the image. I agree with the points the author makes about how Christine appears helpless and Ryan is the savior, but I think the image itself portrays a message that is not necessarily true. That particular scene in Crash, I believe, is more about how both Ryan and Christine overcome their racism and former beliefs; Christine can trust the man who violated her, and Ryan can make up for his act against her and her husband. I think the image portrayed as a “helpless woman being saved,” or as a comment on interracial couples, takes away from the “racial reconciliation ” that is the scene’s ultimate point (Hsu 133). If this image was being shown without one knowing its background, viewers may take it to mean something different than the director intended.

    Works Cited

    Hsu, Hsuan L. . (n.d.). Racial privacy, the l.a. ensemble film, and paul haggis's crash. Retrieved from https://bb.bw.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=null&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_1215_1%26url%3D

  3. Growing up in an interracial family, I can tell you first hand that there are a lot of problems to overcome in the relationship. Society has a more tolerant view on interracial couples, but not everyone in America accepts their relationships. When you have some cultures preferring their people marry within their own culture, change will not be easily accepted. The white male is very dominate in the media, and plays the role in a position of power. So when there is an interracial couple on TV, it depicts the sense of the white man still being in charge of the relationship. Debbie Owens brought up a good point in the book, "As a condition of racism, "Whiteness" is the cultural norm in our society; thus, people of color are characterized as being non-normative ("other") in comparison to Whites. Non-Whites are labeled as inferior to Whites, who seek to maintain their dominant position in society by subordinating others with either physical threat or by exerting economic or social control over them" (p. 81). The only way we will continue to see interracial couples in movies is when the male is white and dominant, so he can show that Whiteness is still superior in America.

    Lind,A.R (2010). Race gender media: Considering diversity across
    audiences, content, and producers (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

  4. I was particularly interested in this blog topic since I had never taken notice of the arguments made. I have watched numerous movies, but never had a stopped to acknowledge the darker shade of an African American man's skin or the weakness portrayed by an African American woman paired with a white man's "heroism" and strength. The idea that movies and the media have made us so visually and observationally impaired is very frightening. It reminds me of the movie we watched in class of the women who were walking around dressed innappropriately and being harassed by men, but were unaware it was because of their clothing that they were being disrespected. Again, the media seems to have warped our minds.

    The portion of the blog relating to movies involving interracial couples and their "strife" because of their differing cultures and color is a topic I actually have noticed. This is due mostly because I am sick of the story line, but also because I think we are at a point in society where we are past that. We can have two people participate in an interracial relationship without feeling the need to explain it with the story line. It doesn't need to be addressed, we have certainly evolved enough.

  5. Amanda: Some of the recent movie posters that depict your questioned statement can be shown below
    Note in Lakeview Terrace, the black female is behind the dominant white male. He has a stern and forceful emotion on his face, while the female looks helpless, and in need of saving.
    In this picture above, the white male is portrayed as the dominant in his positioning. The look on his face is stern, and his eyes are open. The black female, however, has a passive look on her face, while her eyes remain closed. While this was not the box office poster for Mission Impossible 2, it was still offered as a poster.
    The film above shows Avatar. Although they are shown as "Blue People" the Man is portrayed by a white male, and the woman is portrayed by a African-American female. As you can easily see by the look on their faces, the man appears dominant and the female as helpless… which is actually the opposite in the film. In the film, the woman is the one training and saving the male.

    You’d be surprised on how many inaccuracies you can find when paying close attention to films. The reason this problem occurs most with interracial couples is because we normally see same race couples. Maybe the trend will break in the future.

    Leslie: I completely agree with your comment, and statement made within the book. As both you and the author stated "As a condition of racism, "Whiteness" is the cultural norm in our society; thus, people of color are characterized as being non-normative ("other") in comparison to Whites. Non-Whites are labeled as inferior to Whites, who seek to maintain their dominant position in society by subordinating others with either physical threat or by exerting economic or social control over them" (p. 81). The only way we will continue to see interracial couples in movies is when the male is white and dominant, so he can show that Whiteness is still superior in America. It appears as though the white man needs to be rescuing, kind, and superior over black women, and simply women in general. This is an interesting point to have been made. In all examples I have provided above the male (who is white) appears to be dominant and superior to the woman standing next to him. Perhaps this is creating an inaccurate illusion towards our youth and society.

    Sarah: I also found this topic to be very interesting and frustrating at the same time. Whenever I watch films about interracial couples they are typically funny and exploiting the taboo factor of the relationship itself. I did not, however, consider how offensive this must be towards actual interracial couples. Without question, these movies are humorous; however, they are the only movies that actually show interracial couples. Suppose there were many other movies which had interracial couples dealing with normal problems, other than the problem of simply being. If there were other films, I don’t think this would be as large of an issue as it is with there being so few interracial couples. Hopefully in the future our society will begin to see more interracial couples in films.

    Lind,A.R (2010). Race gender media: Considering diversity across
    audiences, content, and producers.. Boston, MA: Pearson.