Home > Michael Ashton > Myths and Images in Film: Response to “Color Adjustment” (1992)

Myths and Images in Film: Response to “Color Adjustment” (1992)

Images of different kinds of people contribute to how people are understood and experienced in the real world. Film and television accomplish tolerance and understanding by its form and its content. The textbook America on Film states that texts (or films, in this matter) are encoded with meanings. We, as an audience, decode this material to analyze and make sense of this information and respond to their impact. Dominant readings decode texts in accordance to how the text was encoded (14). In contrast, oppositional readings seek to challenge the meanings encoded and decoded. This relates to the film Color Adjustment (1992) in that the director, Marlon Riggs, traces the evolution of black images in American television and film exposes its moments of achievement and compromise in the light of how African Americans were portrayed.

The documentary Color Adjustment shows numerous accounts of illustrations of African Americans in television since the 1950s. The film is a strong and critical piece, observing the black contributions to primetime television. After a close review, these contributions could be groundbreaking or unfavorable and sometimes even both. An example of this would be the discussion regarding “Amos ‘n’ Andy”. The show would later be critiqued for its crude and almost moronic depictions of lower-class characters. Moreover, they were not shown to be taken seriously, having roles that were offensive and less than ideal.

Color Adjustment also analyzes the progress and evolution from unflattering portrayals of being “lesser” to White Americans to being prosperous and realizing the American Dream. As stated in the film, television was sometimes used in African American households as a tool to be connected to the majority of American homes during the 1950s. Appearances of African Americans on television were so minimal and borderline rare that previews and word that upcoming black stars were appearing on television would seem like an event. These previews prompt relatives and friends to gather and watch together as they were excited to receive some type of representation and exposure of people like them on national television.

Since the late 1940s to the early 1990s when the film was made, much has been made as to whether or not the roles shown on television have been consistent with African American life during that specific time period. Situation comedies and dramas like “Julia” and “I Spy” were notable for having African American lead roles, but were seen as ahead of it’s time for not having absorbed what was current in African American life during that era. On the other hand, shows like “Roots” showed a more honest and true to life depiction of African Americans and White Americans that was equally historical and current. In general, not all cases were seen as acceptable to African Americans or even the American viewing audience as a whole. They tended to highlight why black shows were either.

The article “Race and Gene Studies: What Difference Makes a Difference?” speaks about how people automatically assume the “race” and the traits of theirs. As a whole, are more alike than we are dissimilar. Generally, there is not one characteristic that depreciates a “race” from others of a different one. As stated in the article “the idea of biological race assumes traits come packaged together, even color-coded for our convenience, as anthropologist Jonathan Marks jokes. In other words, if biological race were real, we’d find that skin color or other “racial” markers would correlate with a suite of other genetic traits. Knowing an individual’s “race” should enable us to predict his or her other genes and traits.”

Ethnicity and race are two major factors that have been divisive among different communities for decades. While ethnicity is defined by relating to a characteristic of a human group having certain traits, race is often harder to define. One can make a somewhat educated guess by way of their physical appearance, but an educated guess isn’t a valid and final determinate. With this in mind, one must ask “is ‘race’ within social real?” Television portrays it to be real despite an amazing array of diversity. In fact, there is no specific or direct race – there is only what we claim to exist, and in most cases, it doesn’t matter. How a person appears has no bearing on who they are, what they are capable of or what they will accomplish in life. The concept of race is used as a barrier to continue putting people in boxes of perpetuated stereotypes.

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  1. January 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I love your blog! Your writing skills are amazing! We should network. Are you on twitter?

  2. January 2, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you so much! I’m glad you like it. Yes, I am on Twitter. @dirtyPEACHES 🙂

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