Portrayal of Social Issues in the Movies ‘Crash’, ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘American History X’ and ‘In & Out’

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Movies shine a light on current issues in society. A society is a group of people united in culture, location and language based on their identities. Anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists present various explanations and interpretations of the behavior and cultural patterns of individuals and the groups they belong to. This is portrayed in the five films watched in class. The movies were: ‘The Hidden Figures’, ‘Crash’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘In & Out’ and ‘American History X’. The presence of the three social science disciplines helps give a better insight into understanding the films and the messages they were trying to convey. Gender roles, discrimination and changes in human behavior in different societies are the themes that are most evident in the films.

Anthropology is the study of cultural patterns, societal developments and the evolution of humans all over the globe. Gender roles can be defined as the nurtured characteristics, that are in accordance with the cultural norms in a society, which is then taught to an individual based on their biological sex. Functionalism is the theoretical school of thought that considers culture to be an interrelated whole, rather than a collection of isolated traits. Functionalists also believe that acting according to the beliefs and customs of the culture is very necessary for stability in society. Therefore, functionalism and gender roles correspond with one another because it could be claimed that having roles assigned to each of the genders creates a purpose for the sexes, and provides stability in society. In the movie ‘Pleasantville’, when George finds out that his wife had not prepared dinner, it created an alarm in the community, because such deviant behavior had never been witnessed before. He reports her to the mayor, instead of trying to make himself something to eat. This shows that something as simple as preparing dinner, is capable of creating chaos in Society. In the movie ‘American History X’, Derek comes home from Prison, and immediately takes on the role of the father, or the man of the house, by trying to guide his younger brother away from the hateful group he was slowly becoming a part of, while also trying to help his family recover from their poor finances and poor living conditions. Derek’s mother, Doris, was at home and is capable of doing what Derek has been trying to do since he came home from prison, but one can argue that Doris' reason for not stepping up is because it does not fit her role as a female. In the movie ‘In & Out’, Mr. Hackett starts to believe he might be gay, he purchases an audio tape that teaches how to be a 'manly man'. As he listened to the tape, he has a hard time following along. The person acting in deviance, in this case, Mr. Hackett, is to understand his role as a man and act accordingly to keep his society stable. In the movie ‘Hidden Figures’, Mary Jackson’s character is in a gender role situation when her husband forces their son to eat his vegetables and Mary says that it’s okay if he doesn’t eat them, but her husband insists and says that she would know that children need their vegetables if she were ever home. This proves that Mary’s husband is not happy with the fact that she is never home, to play her role as the mother, and is always working. This is a complete reversal of the societal standards set. In the movie ‘Crash’, Officer Ryan sexually assaults Cameron's wife on their way home from an award show. Cameron's wife, Christine, was very disappointed in her husband and accused him of doing nothing to save her from the officer's assault. This shows that society has assigned men the heroic role. Christine refused to believe that her husband was as helpless as she was, meaning that she expected him to have been a 'man' about it and save her from her abuser.

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Sociology is the study of societies and how humans act in groups. Feminist theorists focuses on sex and gender issues believing that women have traditionally been disadvantaged in society because men have discriminated against them. Women, throughout history, have always been at a disadvantage, making them an easy target for oppression, and marginalization. Gender roles and the feminist theory correspond with one another because the roles are often assigned by men, and the women are often at a disadvantage. In the film ‘Pleasantville’, George works and comes home, expecting to be served by his wife, every day. Her role is essentially to be at his beck and call and failure to do so causes chaos. In the movie ‘Crash’, Christine’s character is portrayed as a helpless vulnerable female, as Officer Ryan rescues her from a fatal car accident. As usual, the female is incapable of saving herself but needs her prince charming to be the hero. In the film ‘American History X’, Derek is very controlling of his sister and mother. This is portrayed in the movie by his aggressiveness towards his sister and mother when they spoke against his hateful attitude towards minorities. In the film ‘In & Out’, Emily’s character is crushed after learning that she was not going to get married because her fiance came out as gay. This depicts her character to be in need of a man’s presence and projects her to be helpless in society without a husband which isn’t necessarily true. Finally, in ‘Hidden Figures’, the film portrays the inequalities that go on in a male-dominated environment like NASA, putting the main characters, who happen to be women at a disadvantage. When Katherine was assigned to calculate for the launching and landing of the shuttle, she was kept in the dark about certain equations which keeps her out of the circle, although she needed those pieces of information in order to continue with her calculations.

Psychology is the study of how and why humans act the way they do. The learning theory is a psychological school of thought that says humans are born with very little instinct but more learning abilities. They believe that most human behavior is learned. Factors like family, environment and many more play a role in this. In the movie ‘Pleasantville’, when Jennifer's character is at first portrayed to be boy obsessed, that eventually changes after she finds herself in Pleasantville, with very little interest in boys and more focus on her academics. One can say that this change of attitude is as a result of the environment of Pleasantville. In the film ‘Crash’, Jean holds on to her husband as she walks down the street and sees two black men walking towards them. Jean has nurtured herself to see people of color as a threat rather than just people. In the film ‘American History X’, Derek becomes friends with his laundry partner, a black man, and his ideologies of blacks starts to change as he gains a better understanding of the struggles of being a minority, because of his presence in jail and how he became dominated by other inmates. In the movie ‘In & Out’, the students find out that their teacher is gay, and their attitude towards him changes. Finally, in ‘Hidden Figures’, Mary Jackson's character meets a polish Jew engineer, who inspires her to let go of her fears of the impossible and chase her dream of becoming the first negro engineering woman. Mary's change of environment motivates her to change her mentality of feeling like she could not achieve her goals.

Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. Intuition is a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feelings rather than conscious reasoning. Intuition and discrimination correspond with one another because, people often discriminate based on their own judgement, not considering if it is correct or not. In the movie ‘Crash’ Officer Tom is driving on the highway and sees the character Peter Waters asking for a ride. He agrees to give him the ride, but eventually Officer Tom’s demeanor completely changes. Peter starts to laugh at how much he and Officer Tom had in common and this irritates. Peter attempts to prove that he was not laughing at Officer Tom and tries to pull out a statue out of his pocket. Officer Tom feels threatened and acts on his intuition and pulls out his gun, killing Peter. In the movie ‘Pleasantville’, the changes in Pleasantville leads to people who are in full color to become isolated and harassed by the people that were still in black and white. For example, a sign in the window that said ‘No Coloreds Allowed’. This shows that the people of color were no longer welcomed based on the intuition of the people, who felt like there was something wrong with them. The movie ‘American History X’ shows the presence of discrimination when the main character Derek gives a speech to his hate group fueling their hate for immigrants. He calls immigrants bad, parasites, and threats to the American people. Derek influences his people to go destroy and vandalize a grocery store that belongs to an old Korean man, to let them know that immigrants are not wanted in America. In the movie ‘Hidden Figures’, Katherine's character has to walk over half a mile because ‘colored’ bathrooms were not available at her NASA station. Restricting people of color from using bathrooms is a form of discrimination to a marginalized group like the black women in the movie. The restriction is as a result of acting on intuition because there is no proper reasoning behind it. In the movie in an out after the community learns that Mr. Hackett could possibly be gay, he gets fired from his job as a teacher, at the local high school. He was a student favorite and had done nothing wrong to deserve his termination, but the principal deemed it fit to relieve him of his duties because he was being deviant.

A Hierarchy is a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other based on status or authority. This corresponds with discrimination because those at the top often discriminate against those at the bottom of a hierarchy. In the movie ‘Crash’, discrimination as a result of hierarchal status is evident when Cameron and Christine are pulled over by the cops. Officer Ryan had no legitimate reason to pull them over, except to prove his power as a police officer. One can argue that them being black contributed to the discrimination by the police. The presence of a societal hierarchy is evidence in the movie ‘Hidden Figures’. The main characters of the movie are black women who worked in a white male dominant industry. This gave a lot of room for discrimination based on hierarchy placements to occur. The women were not often given credit for their work and had to work extra hard to be welcomed or recognized like the male employees were. ‘American History X’ portrays hierarchal discrimination by giving an inside look into what the hate groups thought about minorities. The group consisted of white males, who essentially belong to the top of the societal hierarchy. ‘Pleasantville’ also depicts discrimination in a societal hierarchy. When the men of Pleasantville refused to accept the change occurring in their society, they fought back and attacked all the people of color for changing their society and culture. As the people who were on top, they gave themselves the authority to refuse the change and punish anyone who worked towards enforcing it. In the film ‘In & Out’, Cameron Drake announced that Howard is gay. At first, Howard made an effort to prove that he was not to avoid any more discrimination and isolation from his community. One can believe that this is because homosexuals are in the minority and are at the lower levels of the hierarchy.

The Id is the personality component made up of unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs, and desires. The Id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs. Discrimination is a product of a dark mind and the Id can be considered to be the dark part of our unconscious mind. In ‘Pleasantville’, David is brought in front of the mayor to be condemned, for causing change and creating color in Pleasantville. This is a form of discrimination and it comes from a dark side of the mayor. David tries to prove that change is within everyone, so he aggravates the mayor, which brings out the emotion of anger out of him, making him change color. In ‘American History X’, Derek is convicted for killing to black men brutally. He trampled one and shot the other several times. Derek’s Id took over and he lost his sense of reasoning. In ‘Crash’, Officer Ryan sexually assaults Christine to satisfy his dark pleasures of emasculating Cameron, by assaulting his wife in front of him. In ‘In & Out’, Peter sexually assaults Howard because of his vulnerability as a result of his sexual orientation. He acts on his desire to kiss Howard which can pass as a form of discrimination. In ‘Hidden Figures’, Paul consistently makes an effort to make Katherine feel less than. He acts on his pleasurable desire to feel more in charge by isolating and discriminating against Katherine, hence he feels threatened by her presence in NASA.

Discovery is finding something that was previously unknown to the culture. Changes in human behavior and discovery correspond with one another, because change can occur as a result of realizing what was once unknown. In ‘Hidden Figures’, Mr. Harrison breaks down the colored bathroom sign in NASA declares that all workers of NASA are to go to any bathroom that they wish to go to in the campus, after he discovers that Katherine had to walk half a mile to go to the bathroom every day and it started to take a toll on her work. In ‘Pleasantville’, George is a part of the jury and is supposed to persecute David for turning people into color. George’s character discovers his emotions, as he cries while declaring his love for his wife, and this causes a change in his behavior, as he becomes a part of the new era of colored people. In the movie ‘American History X’ Derek’s character comes home from prison and becomes a changed man. He no longer wanted to associate with the people that belonged to the hate group that he was once the leader of. Being in jail has made him discover the struggles of being a part of a minority as he was a part of a minority in jail. In ‘In & Out’, Howard finally confessed to being gay to his community. This discovery made his community accept and defend him. Learning about Howard’s sexual orientation made the community realize that it was nothing to be ashamed of, and other people who had a secret also confessed to them. In ‘Crash’, Jane reaches out to Maria after discovering that she genuinely cared about her and was a lot more than just her maid. Jane’s attitude towards Maria changes for the good because she learned that she had been rude and mistreated her because she saw her as nothing more than an immigrant.

Societies carries with it a system of values. A particular set of values are assigned to each role. The practitioners of these roles are expected to accept and internalize these values. Changes in behaviors often works with values. A change in someone’s values can bring forth changes in their behavior. In ‘American History X’, Derek’s father’s death brings about a change in his values, and behavior, he becomes very hateful towards minorities, especially blacks. In, in and out Cameron drake’s speech causes a turmoil in the society. People start to question and distance themselves from Howard. Howard was once loved by everyone in his community but because his sexual orientation did not fit into the values of the community. In ‘Hidden Figures’ Mr. Harrison’s values change when he calls Katherine back into NASA to continue working for him, after he fired her. He realized that she was a very important asset to NASA and decided not to continue to pretend that she wasn’t needed anymore. In ‘Pleasantville’, the society had to collectively agree that change is good and this brought about a change in their behaviors which is why they now accepted the people of color and the various other changes that occurred in their society. ‘Crash’ portrays the change in behavior according to values. When Anthony, a robber, promised never to steal from other black people has an encounter with Cameron, a fellow black man, he is forced to turn his life around and stop stealing completely.

Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. This corresponds with behavior change, because people often want to change attitudes and beliefs that do not align with their actions. In ‘Crash’ Officer Tom tries to be nice to Peter by giving him a ride to the valley, only for him to kill him and plant a gun on him, shortly after. In ‘Hidden Figures’ Mr. Harrison fires Kathrine even though he was proud of the work she had done. His actions do not match his beliefs. In ‘American History X’ Derek’s character leaves a neo-Nazi group for associating with minorities in jail, only to become friends with a black man after. Derek’s attitude towards minorities changes completely. ‘In & Out’ shows cognitive dissonance, when Howard ‘acts gay’, but doesn’t believe that he actually was. Becoming aware of his dissonance made him realize that he actually was gay. Finally, ‘Pleasantville’ also depicts dissonance, when David claims to love and know the show very well, only for him to come in and change the course of the show. This brings out change within David and the society of Pleasantville.

In conclusion, the films, ‘Crash’, ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘American History X’ and ‘In & Out’ portrays social issues through the social discipline lenses. Through providing proof and analysis, the presence of the themes gender roles, discrimination and changes in human behavior is very clear and has helped have a better understanding of the social science disciplines and how they apply to real-life situations.

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Portrayal of Social Issues in the Movies ‘Crash’, ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘American History X’ and ‘In & Out’. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-social-issues-in-the-movies-crash-hidden-figures-pleasantville-american-history-x-and-in-out/
“Portrayal of Social Issues in the Movies ‘Crash’, ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘American History X’ and ‘In & Out’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-social-issues-in-the-movies-crash-hidden-figures-pleasantville-american-history-x-and-in-out/
Portrayal of Social Issues in the Movies ‘Crash’, ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘American History X’ and ‘In & Out’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-social-issues-in-the-movies-crash-hidden-figures-pleasantville-american-history-x-and-in-out/> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Portrayal of Social Issues in the Movies ‘Crash’, ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Pleasantville’, ‘American History X’ and ‘In & Out’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-social-issues-in-the-movies-crash-hidden-figures-pleasantville-american-history-x-and-in-out/

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