From the tablet to the TV screen, media are a huge influence on how we see ourselves and our world. Nowhere, perhaps, is that more true than when it comes to gender: media provide many of our ideas of what “male” and “female” are, and many of our models of how to behave, what to avoid doing, and whom to emulate in order to play the role we’ve been assigned.
Since at least the days of Birth of a Nation (1915), Hollywood has turned to history for material. A quick survey of this year’s Academy Award nominations shows that this is as true now as ever, with five out of the nine nominees for Best Picture – Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and odds-on favourite Lincoln – based in history in some way. Their approaches vary, of course, with the history-as-backdrop approach of Les Miserables, the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained, the academic character study of Lincoln, the docudrama of Zero Dark Thirty and the history-as-thriller of Argo.
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.
What colour is an Airbender? If this question is not at the top of your mind, it’s because you haven’t been following the controversy surrounding the casting of the film The Last Airbender, set to premiere in early July. The question of ethnicity in the film’s casting casts a valuable light on many of Hollywood’s decisions when it comes to race and gender – and the attitudes and assumptions that underlie them.
It’s a question that most parents of young daughters face: “Has she hit the ‘princess phase’ yet?” Not all parents are upset by this, of course: many happily buy their girls princess costumes, toys and accessories ranging from shoes to purses, all in pink. Some, though, despair of the powerful gender stereotyping this delivers to young girls and each new piece of princess gear can be a source of conflict.