Lecture 4:Hollywood Hegemony Professor Michael Green Flying Down to Rio (1933) Directed by Thornton Freeland
Previous Lecture • “The Imperial Imaginary” • Nanook of the North and Romantic Ethnography • Writing about Film Lesson #2
This Lecture • The Good Neighbor Policy and Hollywood Censorship • Hollywood’s Imagined Latin America • Dolores del Rio and Racialized Sexuality • Writing about Film Lesson #3
The Good Neighbor Policy and Hollywood Censorship Lecture 4: Part I Weekend in Havana (1941) Directed by Walter Lang
Summary of Hegemony Hegemony refers to the way that the political and social domination of the power class in capitalist society is expressed not only in ideologies but in all realms of culture and social organization. This kind of power takes the form of influence rather than domination, as well as an appearance of naturalness and inevitability that removes it from examination, criticism and challenge. 5
MMPDA • The The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), established in 1922, was the industry trade organization concerned with promoting self-censorship among producers in order to stave off calls for state regulation. • The MPPDA regularly issued general guidelines for producers to follow. But no true enforcement mechanism existed.
Will Hays • Will Hays was president of the MPPDA (later the MPAA) from 1922 to 1945. Because of his pervasive influence on the censorship office of the association, it was known as the Hays Office. Will Hayes
The PCA • The Production Code (aka the Hays Code) was a set of industry guidelines governing the content of America movies. • The MPPDA adopted the code in 1930, began effectively enforcing it in 1934, and abandoned it in 1967 for the MPAA film rating system, which is still in effect today. • The Production Code determined what was and was not considered “morally acceptable” in Hollywood film production.
Purpose of the PCA The PCA was developed in response to objections by The Catholic Legion of Decency and other conservative groups to sexual content and “provocative themes” in Hollywood movies. By enforcing the code on their own films, Hollywood studios hoped to avoid government intervention and regulation, as well as the growing influence of the Legion of Decency and other groups on allowable film content. 9
Effects of the PCA No film could get wide distribution without the Code’s approval, so code enforcers had great influence over movie content. This influence extended not only to sex and violence, but also to representations of foreign nationals. The PCA screened each film for possible “foreign offense” during its reviews of storylines, scripts, and finished films. 10
“The Good Neighbor Policy” The Good Neighbor Policy developed as a result of the shared economic interests of the studios and the current geopolitical imperatives of the U.S. government. 11
Profiting from the Neighbors 35 percent of the motion picture industry’s gross revenue in the 1930s came from international box office, 60 percent of which was from Europe. The looming war in Europe led the studios to search for other foreign markets, In early 1939, all the major studios began actively producing Latin-themed ‘good neighborly’ films aimed at pleasing - and profiting from - Latin American audiences. 12
The CIAA At the same time the U.S. was concerned about Nazi influence in Latin America Nelson Rockefeller urged President Roosevelt to align the U.S more closely with countries in the Western Hemisphere. Roosevelt appointed Rockefeller head of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), which was to harmonize, through propaganda, all official relations with Latin America ties for economic and political purposes. 14
Movies as Propaganda Rockefeller created a Motion Picture Division within the CIAA and selected John Hay Whitney as its head. Whitney persuaded Hollywood to begin to incorporate more Latin American talent into its movies, arguing that the film industry needed to be persuaded to create filmic representations of Latin America that would not be objectionable to Latin Americans. 15
Addison Durland A number of Hollywood films were banned in Latin America during the 1920s and early 1930s, prompting the industry to re-evaluate its representational approach. Whitney encouraged Hays to place Addison Durland on the staff of the PCA for his for his “Latin American point of view.” Durland, who had lived and worked in Cuba, was to to ensure that Hollywood movies be free from anything potentially offensive to Latin sensibilities. 16
Your Author’s Point “After the turn toward the Latin American market in 1939, Hollywood’s Good Neighbor agenda demanded a new approach, one that emphasized ‘authenticity’ and ‘realism’ [in the hopes of] greater mutual understanding between Americans and Latin Americans, and, most importantly, greater box office receipts for the studios. • Brian O'Neil, “The Demands of Authenticity: Addison Durland and Hollywood's Latin Images During WWII”
Hollywood’s Imagined Latin America Lecture 4: Part II That Night in Rio (1941) Directed by Irving Cummings
A Major Effort From 1941-45, as part of the Good Neighbor Policy, the studios produced scores of Latin-themed films, often featuring imported Latin American stars. In an effort to be responsive to Latin American sensibilities, studio research departments helped lend “authenticity” to films set in foreign lands, acting as ethnographic resource centers for scriptwriters and producers. 19
Enforcing Western Ideas These researchers helped shape movie imagery of other peoples and cultures through the use of picture books, tour guides, and magazines such as Colliers and National Geographic. These sources often depicted other regions in Western terms as “exotic” lands; consequently they were often inauthentic, colonial and racist. 20
Durland’s Mandate • As part of a “sincere crusade,” Durland’s job was to make sure that Hollywood’s Latin American content was free of all negative imagery, and he looked for “mistakes” in such elements as script, costume, props, language and casting. Carmen Miranda
O’Neil’s Argument “Durland’s primary function was to prevent Hollywood’s Latin-themed films from offending the Latin American censor boards, whose members held the keys to film distribution in their respective countries. The criteria he used to shape these films tended to conform to the image that Latin American elites liked to convey of the region: light-skinned, modern, and civilized.” Brian O'Neil, “The Demands of Authenticity: Addison Durland and Hollywood's Latin Images During WWII” 22
Durland’s Results Ironically, Durland helped construct an unrealistic Hollywood representation of Latin America as clean, modern, prosperous and European in complexion. Durland’s racial censorship targeted not only depictions of blacks, but also of all darker-skinned Latin Americans. He routinely commented on skin color in script notes to studios, insisting that characters not appear too “shabby,” “swarthy,” or “negroid in color.” 23
Whitening Racial Representation In carrying out such an agenda, the need to visually maintain racial hierarchies superseded Durland’s concern over realism and ‘authenticity.’ As a result, a “whitening” took place in Hollywood’s Latin-themed films, in which everyone, including the background extras, appears white. Pause the lecture and watch the first clip from That Night in Rio. 24
Reinforcing Class and Gender Durland also helped enforce elite conventions about gender and class relations in Latin America. While he eliminated depictions of Latin women of ill repute, insuring that Latin women exhibited ‘ladylike’ qualities onscreen, he allowed films to continue to stereotype them as fiery and tempestuous (Lupe Velez and Carmen Miranda). Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from That Night in Rio. 25
Trading Stereotypes “The newer films largely replaced Latin stereotypes of alternately docile, stupid, and villainous ‘greasers’ with new, supposedly more ‘positive,’ images of Latinos as fun-seekers, flirts, and flamboyant dancers [in movies such as] Down Argentine Way (1940), to spend That Night in Rio (1941), and to book a Week-End in Havana (1941).” Brian O'Neil, “The Demands of Authenticity” Pause the lecture and watch clip #3 from That Night in Rio. 26
Contradictions in Approach • Whatever his motivations, Durland consistently made little or no censorial interventions in films with major Latin performers such as Lupe Velez, Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero. • He usually decided that they would “present no problem from the Latin American point of view.” • He also rarely took into account the sensibilities of U.S. Latinos.
America as Superior Despite the efforts of Hollywood to represent Latin American more positively and to promote a new sense of hemispheric solidarity, studio films nevertheless perpetuated idea that U.S culture and people were superior to their neighbors. Hollywood found it difficult to change the constructs of ethnicity and and national identity that it had already developed over several decades of film production. 28
Durland’s Compromise “In the end, a compromise prevailed: the Latin America imagined by Hollywood became more prosperous and modern than ever before, but its inhabitants symbolized in the roles of Lupe Velez, Carmen Miranda, and Cesar Romero still functioned as subordinate entertainers . . . who, while not the villainous brutes of old, would remain props of light entertainment, intellectually and romantically inferior.” Brian O'Neil, “The Demands of Authenticity: Addison Durland and Hollywood's Latin Images During WWII” 29
O’Neil’s Final Point “The fictional neighbors [depicted by Hollywood] were perfectly suited to the imperialist, yet war-weary heart of the early 1940s United States. Although lively, vivid, and infinitely entertaining, Hollywood’s Good Neighbor is ultimately nonthreatening and compliant under America’s tutelage.” • Brian O'Neil, “The Demands of Authenticity: Addison Durland and Hollywood's Latin Images During WWII”
Dolores del Rio and Racialized Sexuality Flying Down to Rio (1933) Directed by Thornton Freeland Lecture 4: Part IV
Dolores Del Rio • Dolores Del Rio was a Mexican actress who became a Hollywood movie star in the 1920s and ’30s in such films as Bird of Paradise (1932), Flying Down to Rio (1933) and In Caliente (1935). • She was considered a great beauty and in 1933 was voted by a prominent movie magazine as having the “most perfect feminine figure in Hollywood.”
Your Author’s Question “Given the particular environment of social attitudes and beliefs in the 1930s around questions of racialized sexuality, how is it that a foreign star like del Rio was elevated above popular white stars such as Irene Dunne, Fay Wray, and Norma Shearer?” • Joanna Hershfield, “Dolores Del Rio, Uncomfortably Real: The Economics of Race in Hollywood’s Latin American Musicals”
Del Rio on Top Fay Wray Dolores del Rio Irene Dunn
Available Roles • Mexicans were generally relegated to a lower status in the U.S. racial hierarchy, including in the way they were represented in the movies. • The kinds of roles available to non-white actors at the time were largely based on ethnicity and color of skin. Due to the system of Anglo-American racism of the time, light-skinned Hispanics moved in and out of ethnic roles more easily.
Racialized Casting • Actors considered ‘Spanish’ because of hair, skin or other features had more access to roles than darker-skinned actors who were racialized in stereotypical “greaser,” bandido, or “Native” roles. • Mexican women, such as those played by Del Rio, were generally represented as docile, sensual, and light-skinned with Spanish (European) rather than Indian or mestizo features.
An “Acceptable” Other • Though Del Rio’s Mexican heritage made her an “Other,” Hollywood represented her in terms of North American conceptions of femininity and female beauty, making her an “acceptable other” to audiences. • Such conceptions of acceptable beauty included the “naturalness” of her straight hair and her traditional conservative bearing. Pause the lecture and watch clip #1 from Flying Down to Rio.
Del Rio’s Star Text “Del Rio’s star text was distinguished by a historically situated image of an exotic foreign woman who is attracted to (and attractive to) white men. This image was transmitted through a range of symbolic and economic practices, which included fan and trade magazines and the popular press.” • Joanna Hershfield, “Dolores Del Rio, Uncomfortably Real: The Economics of Race in Hollywood’s Latin American Musicals” Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Flying Down to Rio.
Justified by Capitalism • Because the most important thing to the studios was making money, the issues of race could be surmounted if it meant profiting from a star like Del Rio. • Hollywood chose to negotiate cinematic representations of racialized sexuality – rather than simply avoid them – partially because of its dependence on foreign markets.
Final Points “Del Rio was more than an image: she was a vessel that circulated cultural conceptions and values between producers and consumers of popular culture about beauty, feminine sexuality, national identity, and race. While female stars are primarily defined along a scale of sexual desirability, the color of del Rio’s skin and her facial characteristics marked her above all as not white.” • Joanna Hershfield, “Dolores Del Rio, Uncomfortably Real The Economics of Race in Hollywood’s Latin American Musicals”
Final Points “The case of del Rio evidences the ways in which economic and political concerns often compete with ideological ones . . . The Mexican-born star appealed to Latin American audiences while her light skin, European features, upper-class roles, and a star text that recognized her as beautiful by U.S. standards, appeased the American public.” • Joanna Hershfield, “Dolores Del Rio, Uncomfortably Real The Economics of Race in Hollywood’s Latin American Musicals” .
Writing About Film Lesson #3 In Caliente (1935) Directed by Lloyd Bacon Lecture 4: Part IV
Three Types of Film Writing Remember, there are three major types of film writing: Descriptive – a neutral account of the basic characteristics of the film. Evaluative – which presents a judgment or opinion about a film’s value. Interpretive – which presents an argument about a film’s meaning and significance. 43
Summary of Descriptive Writing • As it suggests, descriptive writing describes a film, without evaluation or judgment. • Most descriptions of narrative films relay plot events, while a description of a documentary might describe not only the topic of the film, but also the approach. • While descriptions do not offer judgments, they may go beyond plot summary to describe genre.
Summary of Evaluative Writing • An evaluative claim presents a judgment, expressing the author’s belief that the film is bad, good, mediocre, flawed, etc. • Reviewer’s grades – A, B or C, two thumbs up, number of stars, etc. – often summarize the critic’s judgment, while a longer review lays out the specific reasons. • “The Birth of a Nation is a great film” is an example of an evaluative claim.
Evaluative vs. Interpretive • Evaluative criteria is most often seen in the movie review, which takes a number of forms in print, on TV and on the Internet. • Though some critics bring a sophisticated level of film discourse to the culture, their discussion of a film generally comes down to whether they think it is “good or bad,” i.e worth your time and money. • These evaluations are often ahistorical and not very analytical.
Interpretive Writing • An interpretive claim presents an argument about a film’s meaning and significance. • These kind of claims address a film’s themes and abstract ideas, its social relevance, its historical context, and its influence, among other topics. • But they do more than identify themes; they go further, making an argument about what a film does with those themes.
Examples • After careful critical analysis, a viewer might conclude that one theme in Nanook of the North relates to how people and cultures use technology. • An interpretive claim might suggest: • “Nanook of the North questions the notion of technological progress by showing that technology actually controls people rather than the other way around.”
Examples • Another theme of the film is people working together to achieve goals. Are the themes related? Can we connect them in our claim? • A more complex interpretive claim might be: • “Although an over-reliance on technology proves dangerous, Nanook of the North finally assures viewers that a small group of people united by a common purpose can avoid dehumanization by the most powerful technological system.”
The Importance of Interpretation • While description and evaluation can be helpful when deciding whether to see a film, interpretive claims are important because they seek to understand the ways in which film art produces meaning. • Interpretive claims can be important socially and culturally. • Finally, they can help us develop logical thinking and writing skills.