Date of Award

Spring 1991

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1991 Tamara I. King. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Black Studies, English Literature


By excluding certain groups, like African Americans, from favorable and prominent roles in the cinema or casting them in derogatory roles, Hollywood was saying that this group was not important. This is a crucial point because of the way Hollywood conveyed this message of inferiority. African American portrayals were not absent from the cinema, but dignified roles were. Often the movies did not specifically state that African Americans were unimportant, but by not presenting them as heroes and heroines they gave audiences the impression that it was the whites who were deserving of these roles. Furthermore, the fact that the servant, minstrel, slave and comedian roles that were cast to African Americans, gave the impression that a subservient or entertaining role was best for them. Significantly, films depicting African Americans negatively not only reinforced racist attitudes of whites, they hurt the self-image of African-Americans. This fact is because when African-Americans saw white heroes beating off a multitude of African "savages", African Americans identified with the white hero. This identification with the white hero only reinforced the concept that whites were the people whom one should try to emulate. Hollywood did not give African Americans the opportunity to choose form a variety of African American heroes with whom to identify.