GRSJ 300 902: Hollywood as an Environment of Oppression 04/14/21
Interlocking Forms of Oppression & Intersectionality: What it Means to Us
While navigating the current literature on intersectionality, it was described that the concept of interlocking forms of oppression is a precursor to intersectionality, first introduced in social movement contexts by the Combahee River Collective (CRC) in 1983. This is a significant finding, as it recognizes that the concept of interlocking forms of oppression predates ideas of intersectionality, a notion that is more recently used and understood today. Within a white-dominated society filled with New Left and socialist politics, the CRC acknowledged that others face and experience struggle based on racial, sexual, heterosocial, and class oppression, requiring an integrated analysis (Combahee River Collective 210). Through investigating how interlocking forms of oppression entrench power and marginalization, it shines a light on the varying methods that these systems also produce knowledge and politics normalizing such dynamics. Although intersectionality in oppression is distinguished based on one's identities, including the systems of oppression, thereby theorizing them as interlocking due to the inability to isolate the effects of them individually (May 18). With developing ideas of interlocking forms of oppression from the CRC, which further our understanding of intersectionality, more and more authors acknowledge that systems of oppression cannot be isolated. When understanding the dominant people and ideals in society, it is difficult to distinguish how different races separate from class and how those separate from sex oppression. As alluded to, they are most often experienced all together at the same time (Carbado et al. 307).
An analysis that incorporates describing experiences acknowledging how many structures of oppression and struggles are linked creates allies around how various groups may have shared experiences of discrimination and marginalization. Similarly, this form of analysis also shines a light on the groups who share a common state of privilege. Therefore, research and past literature have allowed us to see the result and importance of interlocking forms of oppression which creates a multi-faceted analysis, identifying shared experiences in both victimhood and privilege. Using intersectionality as a tool of analysis for aspects of popular culture, specifically Hollywood and certain TV shows, all us to critically distinguish the multi-faceted identities and certain limits of intersectionality as a framework.
Intersectionality in Hollywood
Hollywood takes up an instrumental role within the conceptualization of popular culture, both domestic and overseas. White supremacy has permeated and constructed the narratives of Hollywood's cultural production, diminishing women and racial minorities' prominences. Though Hollywood has progressively opened its gate for people of colour, they are intrinsically not welcomed and oftentimes characterized based on certain stereotypes and face perpetual discrimination in the workplace. The white supremacy ideology structures an exclusive apparatus where non-white producers are often absent from writing and actors of colour take up tokenized and misrepresented roles onscreen. Black actors are generally type-casted in popular films as associated with ghetto behaviours, and Asian actors are type-casted as foreign and speak with accents (Erigha 82). Some white actors caricature stereotypical characters to mock others' cultures or casting people of colour, leaving the latter with fewer opportunities. The whiteness of Hollywood is also perpetuated through the unspoken tradition of more prominent industries, namely, the lack of recognition of non-white success. Non-white filmmakers are rarely awarded or nominated by the Academy Awards, and actors of colour are recognized for performing stereotypes.
The film industry is innately patriarchal; it's phenomenal that women dominate wardrobe and make-up, yet, they are barely present as crucial creative roles. Women are often more qualified- such as having higher degrees than their male colleagues- and are more likely to undertake professional training. On average, they earn 15% less than their male counterparts and are less likely to be promoted to higher positions (Gill 513). Sexism and racism are often interlocked in many simultaneous systems of oppression. The centrality of representation determines how major groups are to the institution; research has shown that it is challenging for women and racial minorities to enter the industry's core than white males, and the former is more likely to work with marginal companies (Erigha 79). Similar to racial minorities, women are constrained from the genres and roles they play in Hollywood. For instance, female directors are underrepresented in sci-fi and action genres; meanwhile, they essentially constitute the romance genre. They are often cast as stereotypical and misogynic roles of women being overly emotional and tempered (Erigha 84). Films with female characters as leading roles open on fewer screens, last shorter in the theatres, and earn fewer box office grosses (Erigha 85). A lack of diversity behind Hollywood's scenes makes it harder for women and racial minorities to dismantle the problematic cultural products.
Women with disabilities are marginalized both because of the dual discriminations against their gender and disability; for instance, a mother or wife with a disability may be seen as failing the gender expectations (Jordan 2018). Rather than normalizing the disabilities, the media represents physically disabled people as "unhelpful" and mentally disabled as associated with violent tendencies, which deepen the conventional biases and stigmatize those who struggle with disabilities. Another problematic narrative in popular franchises is the dramatization and fetishization of the struggles of disabilities, often portrayed by non-disabled actors. This pleases the able-bodied audiences while downplays the hardships disabled people undergo. Therefore, the film industry needs to be ethical in representing women, people of colour, and disabled people properly and provide equal opportunities to minorities both behind the scenes and onscreen.
T.V. Shows: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Popular Culture
The Mindy Project is a TV series surrounding a gynecologist, Mindy, who balances both her professional and personal life. The show was written, produced, and acted by Mindy Kaling, the star of the show. Mindy's intersectional character begins with her identification as being a daughter of two immigrant Indian parents. As aforementioned, she is also a successful doctor practicing at a hospital after graduating from a prestigious school and shares her daily life experiences throughout the episodes. Being a first-generation Indian American is a special appearance for Hollywood TV shows which are typically dominated by White main characters with saviour tropes. As shown in conversations Mindy has within many episodes, she plans to forge an open and strong relationship with her daughter while maintaining her career, breaking previous stereotypes which deem this impossible. The episode "Mindy Lahiri is a white man" the episode tackles interlocking oppression known as intersectionality. This episode brings attention to how workplaces in the United States give privileges to white men, who are more easily promoted in work positions, unlike the oppressed identity as Indian American women ("Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man") . The TV show is unique because it brings attention to the daily life of a first-generation Indian American and how she lives her life facing these systems of oppression, showing how her life is simultaneously affected because of her gender and race. This kind of scenario is not usually captured in popular TV shows and Hollywood movies, making The Mindy Project special.
Although intersectionality is portrayed within the show, there are some limitations of its use within The Mindy Project. While this TV show focuses on Mindy, an intersectional character highlighting the oppression faced in the city and her workspace, the show seemingly fails to represent the life of a woman of colour properly. The majority of the cast is white, making Mindy look like a diverse hire in her show. This is significant as it contributes to the idea that Hollywood struggles to create an equal representation. Furthermore, she is constantly chasing after white men. All of Mindy's love interests fall into the trope of white male supremacy, which may suggest that women of colour prefer and would benefit most from white men.
Additionally, her love life showcases Mindy's potential desire for white approval. This is not to suggest a limitation within intersectionality itself; more so, this points towards a limitation of Hollywood's interpretation of intersectionality. As mentioned before, Hollywood is partially responsible for our understanding of racial and gender issues. Hollywood attempts to branch out in diversity with shows such as The Mindy Project but is done so under a very white-centred framework. The show never truly felt forward-thinking or highly progressive, but it starred a South Asian woman. Hollywood has failed to represent women of colour in directorial roles adequately. However, Mindy Kaling has surpassed the multiple barriers in her life to create a name for herself within Hollywood as a renowned actress, producer, writer, and director.
Jane the Virgin
The show Jane the Virgin is a comedy tv series that draws on themes including culture, race, and socioeconomic statuses to highlight subtle stereotypes in popular culture, specifically Hollywood. The main character, Jane, is a Latino woman who grew up with the guidance of her single mother and widowed grandmother, who all work blue-collar jobs while subsequently dealing with an unexpected pregnancy (Urman et al. 2015). The show emphasizes mother-daughter relationships, promoting a healthy and positive dynamic between the women. With the father of this pregnancy as a wealthy businessman with great privilege, this show draws upon the possible differences in opportunities, opinions, and values held between either side of this dynamic. Continually, this series presents a contrast within the depiction of the women in Jane's family. While they are all the same culture and bilingual, they each represent different views on religion, gender norms, and sexuality. As Jane's mother represents an intersectional character embodying a Christian woman, open about her sexuality and a single mother, she faces many difficulties, which are due to these various aspects simultaneously marginalizing her success. Their relationship navigates these differences in sexuality, career, and residential status in the United States, highlighting the differences in these two women's experiences even with similar intersecting identities. As seen throughout this show, Jane and her mother have a very tight bond; with her mother giving birth to her at a young age due to her sexual adventures, they essentially both grew up together. Although they share the similarity of being young mothers, these characters aim to explore the differences in their personalities, opinions on intimacy, and religion.
Though intersectionality has been portrayed in this show, there is a limitation in the imagination of some aspects of their personalities. Namely, Jane is described as an overly emotional and, at times, eccentric person, which is a stereotype placed on Latina women. Unfortunately, even after women have defended themselves over many decades, there is a constant need in popular culture representation such as in TV shows or movies to place women with this trope, and further, the necessity of a man to calm the "irrational" woman down. Jane's two suitors throughout the show are portrayed as crucial in supporting her, however, it is disappointing to see that even with a show portraying intersecting characters, it reaches a limit in the imagination in describing her emotions and her capability to be self-reliant. This is significant as moving forward, Hollywood TV shows should attempt to capture the level-headedness that many women possess to incorporate a more accurate depiction. As also seen in The Mindy Project, there is a narrow depiction of women of colour within current TV culture.
Black-ish follows an upper-middle-class black family led by Andre (Dre) Johnson and Rainbow (Bow) Johnson. The show focuses on the family's lives while addressing personal, racial, and sociopolitical issues. Black-ish fights against the stereotype of the struggling lower-class black family. The show showcases an affluent family supported by two educated and independent black parents present in their children's lives. Most importantly, Black-ish promotes a healthy mother and daughter relationship. Similar to Jane the Virgin, the relationship between Rainbow and her two daughters, Zoe and Diane, exemplifies a push towards a more positive representation of POC family dynamics.
As a means to educate her daughters, in the episode titled 'Femisin't', the cast explores the different dynamics of feminism. Diane admits to not being a feminist due to the negative connotations associated with the word. This prompts Bow to introduce her daughter to her old friends. However, it backfires when Rainbow's friends bring up more racial issues, and the leader of the majority-white feminist group feels like they're trying to deviate from gender issues to race issues. Rainbow tries to explain that she and her girlfriends don't have the privilege of separating their race from their gender as black women. This issue echos the Combahee River Collective statement that "beyond white women's revelations because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as sex" (213). Oppression, as Bow explains, is inseparable from their livelihoods as black women. It is not a simple split of issues; in turn, it is layered and interwoven into their identity.
Through this scene, we can quickly identify an issue within the framework of intersectionality. Bow, a thriving black doctor, has gone through and continues to experience the hardships of being both a woman and black. However, as her white friend helps identify, intersectionality is not adequately understood when the experience is not universal. Since her friend feels as though Bow is taking away from an issue regarding gender and making it about race, we are hit with a roadblock within the framework of intersectionality. A limitation of intersectionality comes from the fact that it is best understood through lived experiences. Without the experience, comprehending the magnitude of layers involved in oppression is difficult. Black-ish evaluates black women through an intersectional lens to illustrate the multiple barriers they must overcome to be successful and respected. This scene both tackles and addresses a limitation within intersectionality and represents the hardships of being a black woman in America.
Popular culture is a valuable tool in connecting people both locally and globally. We consume popular culture every day in various forms, whether through movies, music, or television shows. The wide range of people that popular culture reaches can act as a potent catalyst for meaningful conversations and debates. Social issues and struggles, as discussed, are not independent of each other; many are intersectional and interlocked and occurring simultaneously. As Kimberlé Crenshaw said, "when they enter, we all enter" (Crenshaw 51), alluding to the systems of oppression that all combine to impose marginalization upon many populations. While the portrayal of interlocking forms of oppression in popular culture is essential, the conversations that it sparks are crucial. With mass media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, viewers can share ideas and debate in a way that was not possible before.
From the previous analysis of intersectionality in popular movies and shows, it can be concluded that while some shows are working toward recognizing interlocking oppression, some are encouraging subtle stereotypes and marginalizing identities. Although our analysis was mainly on TV shows that encourage raising awareness of interlocking oppression, Hollywood culture's entirety needs immediate attention to eliminate internalized racism. As popular culture may state that people are bonded through differences in each other's identities, Hollywood should pay closer attention to how the intersectionality of identities familiarizes those who face similar forms of oppression. Per our analysis, it is evident that it is quite common for people of multiple identities to simultaneously face many interlocking forms of oppression through these popular TV shows.
However, even though intersectionality is a great tool of analysis, it comes with its limitations. Intersectionality, in theory, means incorporating all aspects of oppression. Despite that, intersectionality as a framework is different in practice. For example, the television shows mentioned above may not be as inclusive to intersectional analysis as we might perceive them to be. This is because these shows need to prioritize specific issues and "pick their battles."
It is crucial to reinforce the idea to Hollywood that popular culture should eventually become equal with representation, imagination with certain characters, and stray from hurtful stereotypes. By understanding that individuals include many interlocking and unique identities besides the highly documented white character that popular culture consistently portrays in combination with social media awareness, Hollywood has the potential to evolve by including more inclusive representation.
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"Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man." The Mindy Project, season 5, episode 12, Fox, 14 Mar. 2017.
Urman, Jennie S, Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo, Ivonne Coll, Brett Dier, Jaime Camil, Yael Grobglas, and Justin Baldoni. Jane the Virgin, 2015.
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