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Sociology & Anthropology Senior Research Symposium 2022

Poster Session

Katherine Brown

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Racial Ambiguity in Hollywood Films

This research is about racial ambiguity in Hollywood films, and whether this type of representation feels meaningful to the audiences represented. Is it progress, or is it maintaining the status quo of an industry that centers Whiteness? For this research's purposes, racial ambiguity is referring to two phenomena. The first is the visual ambiguity of a character or actor on screen, and the second is the ambiguity in the content of the story in relation to the character's race. This research was conducted through interviews with students who identify and present as people of color. Examples of the types of questions that were asked of them include what a common representation of themselves on screen looks like, what an ideal representation looks like, whether it feels different if a character’s race or ethnicity is acknowledged in the plot versus when it is not, and if film has an impact on broader society. The literature on the topic of racial ambiguity suggests that it is always a damaging representation that diminishes the effect that institutionalized racism has in the real world, while allowing for Hollywood to keep centering Whiteness and avoid truly becoming inclusive. This research reveals that the perspective of audiences is quite different, and that feelings around racially ambiguous representation are very nuanced, and can in fact feel meaningful.