How Movies Have Reflected and Shaped Society’s Views on Race and Ethnicity

maynApril 24, 2023

Movies have always been a powerful medium for telling stories and reflecting society’s values, beliefs, and attitudes. They are also a form of art that can both shape and be shaped by the cultural context in which they are produced and consumed. One of the most important issues that movies have tackled over the years is race and ethnicity, exploring themes of identity, representation, and social justice. In this article, we will explore how movies have reflected and shaped society’s views on race and ethnicity, looking at some of the most influential films and trends in this area.

The Early Years of Cinema: Racism and Stereotypes

The early years of cinema were marked by racism and stereotypes, with white actors often portraying non-white characters in offensive and degrading ways. African American actors, for example, were often relegated to the roles of servants, maids, or comic relief, perpetuating negative and demeaning stereotypes. One of the most notorious examples of this trend is the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and depicted black people as violent and subhuman. The film was a commercial success but also sparked protests and controversy, highlighting the power of movies to both reflect and shape societal attitudes.

The Civil Rights Era: Breaking Barriers and Challenging Stereotypes

The Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s brought about a wave of change in Hollywood, with African American actors and filmmakers pushing for more authentic and positive representations of black people on screen. Some of the most iconic movies of this era include “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), which tackled interracial marriage, and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), which explored racism in the South. These films not only broke barriers but also challenged stereotypes and forced audiences to confront their own biases and prejudices.

The 1970s and 1980s: Diversity and Identity Politics

The 1970s and 1980s marked a shift towards diversity and identity politics in Hollywood, with films like “Shaft” (1971), “Super Fly” (1972), and “Do the Right Thing” (1989) celebrating black culture and challenging the mainstream. These films also tackled issues of gender, sexuality, and class, paving the way for more nuanced and complex representations of marginalized groups. Similarly, Asian American cinema emerged during this period, with films like “The Joy Luck Club” (1993) exploring the immigrant experience and family dynamics.

The 21st Century: Diversity and Inclusion

The 21st century has brought about a new wave of diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, with more and more films featuring people of color in leading roles and tackling issues of race and ethnicity in nuanced and thought-provoking ways. Some of the most successful and critically acclaimed films in this area include “Moonlight” (2016), which won the Oscar for Best Picture, “Black Panther” (2018), which celebrated African culture and identity, and “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), which broke barriers for Asian representation in Hollywood.


Movies have played a crucial role in reflecting and shaping society’s views on race and ethnicity, from the early years of racism and stereotypes to the current wave of diversity and inclusion. While there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving true representation and social justice, the power of movies to challenge and inspire us should not be underestimated. As audiences, we have the responsibility to engage with and support films that promote positive and authentic

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