Apr 30, 2020 in Review

American Histories in Visual Representations

Introduction

The United States of America had seen many difficult periods before it became the country it is today. The same relates to the history of the development of visual entertainment. This paper will explore four films and their historical relevance, and that four movies will be 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Lone Ranger (1956), Agent Carter (2015), and The Great Gatsby (2013). The paper will also analyze each of chosen movies with a view at main social issues that played a significant role in various periods of American history.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

The story depicted in the movie happened between 1841 and 1853. The main character, Solomon Northup, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. In the North, where he lived, Solomon had been a free man for his whole life, a respected member of society, and he had a wife, children, and a nice house. Therefore, his life as a slave brought him much struggle. The film has shown a significant difference between the North, where slavery and racial discrimination were not accepted, and the South, where blacks were treated as their master’s property as a whole, without any rights and opportunities. They had to either work or be punished. While he was a slave, Northup also encountered aggression because of being black since whites were higher in the hierarchy and they had often oppressed blacks. In addition to that, even though Northup was a “senior” slave and he had some power over other black slaves, he was still treated like property by his white masters. As the movie is based on a diary that belongs to a real person who was a slave, all scenes of the movie are painted from the real-life incidents. The American history proves that with the fact that at that time (and long time after it), white elites divided their laborers into white ones and black ones by race. The good point in addition to the above-mentioned is that blacks were not just discriminated by race and all laborers by class, but all whites actually had a racial solidarity. More to say, there was a tendency for white workers and poor people to pay less attention to being singled out into a separate economic class and more to their “long-standing antipathy for blacks and their disagreements with the north”. Undoubtedly, the plot of the movie, the art of direction, and the actors playing all together have perfectly mirrored the tragic page of history, which contains the race discrimination and slavery in South America of the 1860s.

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The Lone Ranger (1949-1957)

“The Lone Ranger” is an American drama TV show of 1950s, which tells the story of the Lone Ranger named Reid and his assistant Tonto. The Lone Ranger was the last of six Texas Rangers who had been killed by Cavendish gang. According to the laws of the genre, Tonto appears in the story when the Lone Ranger needs medical attention and Tonto becomes the one who saves his life. After this episode, they become friends and partners in Ranger’s justice activity. In the TV show, Reid is showed as a very brave, intelligent, smart, and healthy man in the mask who also uses perfect grammar and sticks to a strict moral code. At the same time, his right hand Tonto is a silent, stoic, and inaccessible Native American who speaks broken English. Tonto is shown as the “white man’s Indian” and he differs with his incapability to vote or have any point of view – he just follows the Ranger wherever he goes and makes everything the Ranger asks. Even Tonto’s name is discriminative as it translates into Spanish like “stupid” or “ignorant.” In addition to that, while the Lone Ranger’s name is white and he has a horse name of “Silver,” Tonto’s horse is simpler and has no name at all. The significance of such a kind of Native Americans’ image in visual items is that those items provide a specific image of all Indians in general. As Kilpatrick states, “the film is more that the instrument of representation; it is also the object of representation”. As for the Lone Ranger, he is also showed inadequately on purpose, and his image is also quite stereotyped; he represents a perfect European-American hero. The movie shows the offensive attitude in regard of Indian Americans in all its ugliness when the white man is seen as an almost perfect person, and the Indian is shown as a bigoted one, just as it happened to be in the 1950s in the USA. 

Agent Carter (2015)

Agent Carter is a TV show, whose main character Peggy Carter is a secret agent in a Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) in the United States of the 1940s. Although the show has plural fantastic aspects, the image of a protagonist is shown quite accurately. Working in the SSR with the office of male colleagues, Peggy encounters numerous instances microaggression from her co-workers. Peggy is shown as a beautiful, strong, and confident woman, who is also a wonderful professional in her area, but her workmates show no respect to her and treat her like a simple secretary who can only bring coffee to everybody and do paperwork. The image of Peggy Carter represents a corresponding position of women in American society of the 1940s when a woman was barely more than a guardian of health at home. Peggy is a typical illustration of the woman who tries to balance her career and personal life. Back in the 1930s, the exceptions of this social injustice were only old women or very young women. Peggy has shown a high level of physical and mental background, as she was an active participant in World War II. During the war, she met a man who disappears with the end of the war. That is how Peggy suffers both from the loss of her beloved and from the end of war. The end of the war was a good thing, but for Peggy, it became the end of dynamic activities and the beginning of being unwanted. During the series, Peggy tries her best to prove to her male colleagues that she is equal, but she proves that she is better than them. Despite its fantastic genre, the movie is pretty accurate with showing the live of a regular American woman of 1940s who has to overcome many obstacles in her way of becoming a confident woman.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The film is centered on the love story of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Many years ago, were in a relationship, but somehow they lost the connection. Now, Jay has a priority to find Daisy and be with her again. The plot takes place at the “Golden Beach” of Long Island in 1992. The background of the film has a purpose to show the social history of America after the chaos of World War I - the Roaring Twenties with their economy growth, and Prohibition that had provoked the development of organized crime and turned many bootlegging into millionaires. The film shows the beauty of rich life and the moral crisis with unlimited materialism at the same time. The film represents the time and conditions when many Americans cared much more about their goods, sometimes even unnecessary goods, and much less about their morality. The latter is shown on the example of Daisy, who considers if she should reunite with Gatsby; her husband Tom, who starts a scandal because of Daisy’s relationships with Gatsby, but who sees his lover regularly; Tom’s lover, who is a married woman too, and so on. Apart from the main story of the plot, “The great Gatsby” is filmed given the original conditions of the social and economic live in America in the period of Roaring Twenties.

Conclusion

Movie industry can be a key for a better understanding of many social issues but also a great propaganda vehicle. That is why, directors and producers must pay much attention to what they show and how they show it, especially when it concerns history and social lives. The four movies discussed in this paper, namely12 Years a Slave (2013), The Lone Ranger (1956), Agent Carter (2015), and The Great Gatsby (2013) can teach something, but the important point would be the quality of the study. The analysis shows how some movies could be improved, but it also tells how society can be improved by watching those movies. In addition, it is very important to separate films with good and bad influences and understand all positive lessons that cinema teaches.

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