Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Juan Battle

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Africana Studies | Ethnic Studies | Film and Media Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies

Keywords

Cinematic character tropes; Racialized character tropes; Biopics; white gaze; whiteness studies, cinematic whiteness

Abstract

Throughout its existence the American film industry has--through the stories it has chosen to tell as well as discriminatory practices such as whitewashing and the erasure of non-White people--enshrined whiteness as the default American racial identity. In multiracial films, Hollywood productions have historically employed racialized character tropes to further emphasize hegemonic American whiteness. This practice continues to the present day with the introduction of the linchpin, a White character who appears in films with majority non-White casts. Although billed and presented as a supporting character, the linchpin’s centrality to a film’s narrative or emotional arc elevates them to main character status.

This thesis will conduct a content analysis of three biopics: 42, Hidden Figures, and Harriet. For each movie, the linchpin character will be examined in how they are used (1) to ensure White centrality, (2) to minimize the Black protagonists, and (3) to present an individual character as being capable of mitigating the effects of deliberate, race-based systemic inequities. Findings further reveal more nuanced ways that biopics, while featuring Black protagonists, can still be firmly rooted in White supremacy; especially if they adhere to the tropes and subscribe to the underlying assumptions of seemingly unimportant linchpin characters.

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