Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Whiteness in American Film

ENGL 292.920
crosslisted as: FILM 202-920
instructor(s):
TR 5:30-8:40

What is “whiteness”? How did American cinema both contribute to and develop around constructed categories of race? Using current critical race studies as a lens, this course will examine and interrogate the concept of “whiteness,” comparing it with film formulations of Asian, Native, and Black American life. Theoretical selections (for example, Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark) would be supplemented by brief historical passages by W.E.B. Du Bois, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. We will watch historical films like D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul (1925), John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and John Sayles’s The Brother From Another Planet (1984), as well as more contemporary films like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989), Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile (2002), Tony Kaye’s American History X (1998), John Landis’s The Blues Brothers (1980), and John Waters’ Hairspray (1988). We will also analyze current pop culture including The Simpsons, Margaret Cho’s I’m the One I Want (2000) and Chappelle’s Show (2005). Students will be expected to view approximately 10 films. Evaluation will also include a research paper and a final exam.