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.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Race, Crime and Film: Examining Menace II Society and A Bronx Tale

By: Andy Weidner

Over the years movies and television have become extremely popular. It is one of the most referenced and talked about themes in a young person’s life. Movies and television are important because as kids become adults they grow up with these movies and learn through movies. Films in a sense become a type of pedagogy, or teaching method. Kids in turn learn how to interact in society with the ideas that films give them. In this paper I will compare and contrast the films "A Bronx Tale" and "Menace II Society", I will discuss how the media views crime in terms of race and shapes the mind of young people through these movies and in turn shapes our society.

I chose "A Bronx Tale" and "Menace II Society" for multiple reasons. The first reason I chose these movies is that they were both released in 1993. "A Bronx Tale" grossed around 18 million dollars and "Menace II Society" grossed around 28 million dollars. The main reason I chose these two movies is because they demonstrate how Hollywood chooses to frame movies and in doing so how they over use the stereotypes.

The movie "A Bronx Tale" tells the story of a young Italian boy growing up in the Bronx. He is faced with two conflicting ideologies about how is to be raised. When he is a young boy he witnesses a local mafia guy kill another guy in the street. When the police question him he denies ever seeing the incident and in turn gains the trust of the mafia and builds a reputation of his own as a loyal guy. His father is happy that he didn’t rat out the mafia man, but he also is upset that his son is running errands for these men. The boy grows up to find that while his father is an honest hardworking guy, the mafia is a lot more flashy and fun. The movie ends with the mafia man dying and father and son attending the funeral apart and leaving together.

The movie was directed by Robert De Niro. He directed the movie to show how flashy the lifestyle of an Italian gangster can be. He deliberately showed how the neighborhood respected the gangsters and relied on them. The gangsters were men of honor and code. They were men that people should aspire to be. The violence that took place in their lives as all gangsters run into was just an occupational hazard and was for the betterment of the neighborhood and society as a whole. This movie plays into the ideology that white crime is better. It is needed for society to run and it is glorified.

Framing is almost as important as the story itself. Rebecca Lind describes Erving Goffman’s classic book of 1974 in her book Race/Gender/Media, published in 2004. “The framing of an event or activity establishes its meaning.” In the movie Menace II Society, directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, Tyrin Turner plays the character Caine who is a young African American trying to make it out of the inner city. Paula Massood describes the genre in her review of the film in 1993, “As with all genres of filmmaking, the hood films can be identified by certain industrial and artistic similarities: they are made by young, film-literate African-American men working with shoestring budgets.” These directors used framing to set the movie in the ghetto and talk about the rigors of ghetto life and how hard it is to make it out of the inner city. The problem is they overused black stereotypes.

Dianne Williams Hayes discusses these stereotypes in her article published in 2007 called, “Athletes, Outcasts, and Partyers – Films about African Americans in Higher Education.” She describes how writers and directors portray African American men in movies and television. “Films about African American in higher education are a relatively new phenomenon but they, like other films about Blacks, still frequently resort to stereotypes.” She went on to say that many of the African American characters in movies about higher education are only there for athletics or to party. "Menace II Society’s" character Stacy is another example of this. He makes it out of Watts, but only because he is an incredible athlete who goes to college on a college scholarship. The remaining characters are either killed or in jail. These are stereotypes that are hard to get over.

Films such as "Menace II Society" set social standards. People struggle their entire life to find a Cultural and Social Identity. Movies like Menace II Society shape these identities. While most people look at this story as a caution of what could happen and what you shouldn’t do. Many people look at this as what I could become, or man I need to stay out of places like that.

Clearly there are differences in how black crimes and white crimes are perceived. Like the news, black crimes are viewed as petty and are overly exaggerated and shown on the media. They are demeaning not only to the people committing the crime, but to black people as a whole. White crimes are perceived with a type of glory. People should aspire to be brilliant enough to come up with a crime like that of the mafia. They are viewed as hard working blue collared Americans, with a flashy twist. When will society view crimes for what they are and not by who commits them? When will Hollywood stop glorifying white crimes and demeaning black crimes? Will it ever happen?


Hayes, D. W. (2007, June 16). Athletes, Outcasts and Partyers - Films about African Americans in Higher Education. Diverse , pp. 1-5.

Hughes, A. a. (Director). (1993). Menace II Society [Motion Picture].

Lind, R. A. (2004). Race/Gender/Media Considering Diversity across Audiences, Content, and Producers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Massood, P. (1993, Spring). Menace II Society. Cineaste , pp. 44-45.

Menace II Society. (1993). Retrieved October 3, 2010, from IMDB: www.imdb.com

Niro, R. D. (Director). (1993). A Bronx Tale [Motion Picture].

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps Hollywood only perpetuates myths that existed before in popular beliefs. The most glorified crime is probably Italian mafia in American biggest cities, often described in movies such as "The Godfather" (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972). This kind of crime is actually more related to political issues likely to glorify them, such as what happened to Lucky Luciano (1897-1962), a sicilian mobster who cooperated with the US government during WW2 to fight against fascist Italy thanks to his own network. On the opposite, black people are still currently more present among working or lower class. For this reason, the crime they commit doesn't get the glory or the classiness of upper-wealthy-class crime. In other words, I mean that the discrimination that you blame is maybe more related to the average social class of every ethnic group than to the ethnic group itself. To implement a more respectful vision of race in its vision of crime, Hollywood should show what should be instead of what is, and give to people new and more respectful cliches instead of perpetuating the one that people like to pay for.