Midwest Social Sciences Journal


Because Hollywood films often lack black representation, films on slavery and civil rights often fail to recognize the roles that black Americans have played in their own emancipation from slavery and in the civil rights movement. Our contention is that historically inaccurate films perpetuate inaccurate understandings of Black history and thus inform contemporary race relations. We selected a more and a less accurate film about slavery and about the civil rights movement, discussing these four films in terms of their historical context.

We also conducted an experiment. After watching one of the four movies, or after viewing no movie, participants answered questions about their perceptions of slavery or the civil rights movement. Our hypotheses were that films with inaccurate depictions of race would (1) encourage viewers to believe that white Americans were the primary actors in emancipation and civil rights, (2) promote the idea that white America has progressed beyond problems of racism, and (3) reinforce the postracial colorblind complex that views racism as a black American problem. Less-accurate movies resulted in less-accurate knowledge about these eras. More-accurate movies left viewers with a greater perception of black empowerment.