Sunday, April 3, 2016

Core Post #5 Race and Masculinity

Susan Jefford's article, Terminal Masculinity, describes how ideas of masculinity have changed from the 80's to 90's but have always involved whiteness.  Interestingly, it seems like in society this image has changed now to include African American men, but film has not reflected this societal shift.  Looking at films like The X-Men, Captain America, The Martian, etc., the male hero never fails to be white.  In one of the rare films with a black hero, Creed, the protagonist is masculine because he uses his sheer man power to beat up other men.  Masculinity is tied greatest to his body, not his intellect or heart.  Or, films like Concussion and Straight Outta Compton are not given the attention they deserve in the Oscars and awards circuit perhaps because their heroes are socially aware.  In society, an African American man is president and a white man is making a fool of himself running for presidency.  Although wrong as it is, African American men are portrayed as highly masculine in terms of aggression and strength in the mainstream news media to the point where they are threatening.  The definition of masculinity is a shifting one but Jeffords notes that "masculinity (as portrayed in The Terminator 2) transcends racial boundaries."  But perhaps the masculinity Jeffords speaks of when she notes Schwarzenegger's smaller chest, paternal qualities, and decision to injure instead of kill is a definition of masculinity that only applies to white males now.  In the film, the scientist, Dyson, is considered masculine because he helps to save humanity, but he nonetheless is following the lead of Schwarzenegger.

It seems like the only space for African American men to be considered masculine is through their bodies.  Either as threats to society or skilled athletes, masculinity does not mean being a provider for a family or a father figure.  How can these men transform from the Beast we have characterized them as into the prince if we don't give them the chance to show their hearts?  Jeffords speaks of how the ideas of masculinity reflected the political climate at the time.  During the Reagan administration, family values were promoted so masculinity was seen in bread winners.  With today's statistics of rising divorce and acceptance of non-heterosexual parents, traditional masculinity has taken on a more muddled definition, but it still revolves around the body and whiteness. Or at least that's the agenda of film and media in an attempt to maintain dominance of those in power.

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