The African American Women Stereotyping in Media

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 36
Words: 11334
Reading time:
44 min
Study level: Master


In the research conducted over the past decades, much attention has been drawn to the effect media discourse has on the audience. As far as ethnic minorities are concerned, such effect has been closely associated with using stereotypical tropes for portraying minority communities either due to ignorance or for the sake of humorous effect. The scholarly evidence reviewed in the present dissertation addresses the correlation between the portrayal of African Americans in movies and the community’s perception in real life. Since the majority of research on the topic is concerned with the portrayal of men, the primary objective of the present dissertation was to define the themes prevailing in the portrayal of African American actresses in the film industry and how these themes affect African American women. The objective was reached with the help of qualitative research through the creation of semi-structured online questionnaires. The findings indicate that the modern movie industry tends to use stereotypical tropes such as strength, loudness, and obnoxiousness. The implications of the present dissertation concern the foundation for future qualitative research on the depiction of African American female characters and its impact on women’s self-esteem.


Movies as an essential aspect of popular culture and one’s social cognition might play a pivotal role in one’s perception of the discourse they reflect.Some of the fundamental scholars of media discourse, such as Marshall McLuhan (1964) and Stuart Hall (2007), have repeatedly pointed out the significance of the relationship between cinematography or media discourse and socio-cultural patterns of audience’s development. Thus, McLuhan (1964, p.317) states that for a well-rounded observer, the film serves as a means of conveying much information in an instant, making cinematography a vital learning tool able to render a message, or any knowledge or intention encoded by the creator.Hall (2007), in his turn, appeals to the fundamentals of reception theory, i.e., the process of decoding information by the author and its sequential decoding by the audience.

Hence, it is evident that the perception of the message encoded within a movie depends heavily on both the creator’s intention and the socio-cultural background of the target audience. Thus, for example, while the creation of interaction between African American and white characters on the basis of humor may be regarded by the director as an intention to bridge the cultural gap, the outcome of such interactions may in fact promote this gap by an excessive exposure to stereotypical tropes (Edwards, 2019). In the context of such a dissonance, it would be important to outline the social response to the portrayal of African American characters in the film industry over the past decade, as the past ten years have become significant for social justice movement, including “Black Lives Matter” movement acceleration.

The socio-cultural background, for its part, may appear biased and preconceived with stereotypes. Hall (1997) defines a stereotype asa derivation from the process of typing people or categorizing them according to certain traits and characteristics. However, while the type is not hazardous by nature, stereotype labelscertain social groups as incapable of eliminating the traits associated with them (Hall, 2017). As a result, stereotyping leads to the so-called splitting or excluding of those social groups that do not fit the predetermined social expectations and characteristics (Hall, 1997). While studying social identity threats that might arise due to stereotypic movie portrayals, Schmader (2015) states that stereotyping exists in movies in the form of fictional characterizations.

Movie depictions act as a vessel for the transmission of cultural stereotypes, as, according to Hall (2007), there exists a significant distortion in the communication between the producers who encode stereotypical symbols and the viewers who decode these messages differently based on their cultural and educational backgrounds. For example, according to Hillman et al. (2002), female, African American, and white directors differ significantly in terms of their background and attitude to the industry, implying different intentions encoded in the movie production. As a result, while African American directors may use racial stereotypes as an ironic tool, white directors subconsciously insert stereotypical images without accounting for the racial minorities’ perception of such a depiction.

However, regardless of the diversity of the intentions behind the idea, stereotypes are to be judged by the audience. Henderson (2019) elaborates situations where African American women have been depicted in different stereotypes like Mummy, Jezebel, or Sapphires. Bandura’s Social Learning theory(Rumjaun and Narod, 2020) holds that individuals tend to learn new behaviors from observation. This theory conforms to the findings of Edwards (2019), who links the current depiction of African Americans in crime movies to how law enforcers interact with this population. As mentioned by Edwards (2019, p. 27), ‘movies involving African-Americans frequently show conflict with law enforcement in the United States.’ Such a trope further stigmatizes and criminalizes of African American communities.

Research Background

According to Dumenil (2017), the degree to which media affects one’s self-esteem tends to vary with gender. Adams-Bass et al. (2014) show that women care more about what people say or comment than males. Females grow up understanding that their value is based more on their physical appearance than character or achievements. As young girls, they are groomed towards toys that shape their attitude on matters of beauty. As they grow, they are expected to appear beautiful as presented in magazine covers, TV, and social media pictures which guide them on what an ideal lady should appear. Furthermore, they would like to spend a lot of time minding and mimicking individuals’ lifestyles in the movies to meet societal expectations.

TV shows, movies, and other portrayals on media have represented women in different ways. For example, in some American movies like Power, African American actresses have been described as dramatic with uncontrollable sexual drive and challenging to maintain relationships. According to Bandura’s Social Learning theory, individuals who are constantly subjected to such Movies are more likely to develop certain behaviors towards the characters (Rumjaun and Narod, 2020). Encoding an inherently negative stereotype into a cinematographic image potentially deprives viewers of the opportunity to embrace a positive image of women and racial minorities. The negative portrayal of African American women also has tremendous effects on an individual.

A study by Robinson (2014) indicates that depictions of African Americans in the movies have personal effects like low self-esteem to members of this group. The majority of African American actors are involved in crime scenes in numerous movies produced in the US. When placed in a broader context, such an image has directly impacted American law enforcement’s prejudice towards black men (Edwards, 2019). Schug et al. (2017) find that this representation of male African Americans in cinema has affected how the public views the black population in the US. More importantly, the authors’ findings reveal that the association of African American men in crime has brought a feeling of low self-worth amongst members of this group. For example, commonly used stereotypical phrases like “ladies are happiest at home bringing up children” and “men have more ambition than ladies;” thus, the image of a family setting may likewise be impacted (Sienaert, 2016). Movie watchers who watch films where African American women have been depicted as matriarchs may put more pressure on this group.

Purpose of the Study

The research aims at providing empirical evidence on stereotyping themes present in American movies in women characters. The study finds examples of the stereotyping of African American characters in cinema. According to the background studies discussed above (Henderson, 2019), American movies depict African American women in different stereotypes embedded in the national cognition over the course of history. This study seeks to provide quality empirical evidence on how modern African American women respond to their stereotypical portrayal in the film industry and whether this impact exists in today’s context of diversity and critical appraisal of information. Since much evidence has already been demonstrated in terms of African American men’s perception of stereotypes in movies, the present study prioritizes female experience with stereotyping in movies and lays a foundation for reconsidering the offensive and undermining tropes used to depict African American women. Moreover, it is also imperative for the study to define how the stereotypical depiction of African American women impacts their self-esteem. The notion of self-esteem, in this context, while potentially benefiting from women being able to identify themselves with the characters on the screen, may be as well affected by stereotypical and unjustified depictions of such characters.

Problem Statement

African American actresses have been featured as different characters in the American movie industry. Such involvement, while increasing the cultural diversity rates, still loses in the face of “whitewashing,” or preference for white actors and actresses in terms of casting (Aumer et al., 2017). However, a critical analysis of the roles played by African American actresses sheds light on a skewed set of tunes that they are mostly given based on their race (McTaggart et al., 2021). Therefore, this research aims to examine the movie depiction of African American women and how this has impacted the general society as the audience. Many studies focus on how the western media present people of color; however, only a few narrow down and address these presentations’ impacts on this group (Tindall, 2012; Henderson, 2019; Chen et al., 2012). Therefore, this study aims to address this issue. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches, this study investigates how the US Movie industry portrays African American women and the impacts these presentations might have on themselves.

Self-esteem reflects a person’s overall emotional assessment of their worth and involves a way in which individual judges an attitude of a person. In this regard, self-esteem may also be considered as self-respect or self-confidence. It triggers profound emotions, including hate, joy, embarrassment, pride, and depression in African Americans. Self-confidence is a delicate and essential part of adolescents’ lives because it enables them to face life challenges. The attitude widens the youths’ comprehension of resolving issues and gives them a feeling of being respected (Adams-Bass et al., 2014). The main problems associated with self-respect develop when a member of the minority groups, such as an African American woman, compares herself to others, leading to deep frustrations. Movies may be understood to be powerful in influencing the self-esteem of an individual (Harris, 2017). Thus, the existence of a significant gap in terms of the research on portrayal of the African American in movies may eventually lead to social consequences where movie directors and screenwriter do not account for the characters’ influence on the self-perception of African American community.

Significance of the Study

As individuals spend more time watching movies, they tend to perceive them not as merely an entertainment tool but a source to learn various kinds of information, as McLuhan (1964) claims cinematography to become a social tool that people refer over books and other information sources due to the ability to consume more knowledge quicker and with minimum effort. Among the variety of knowledge and images that could be grasped from the films, some information may pertain to the appearance, behavior, attitude, and general character of African American women. The findings of this study will be crucial in confirming or rejecting the hypothesis that African American women are stereotyped in American movies and further shed light on the effects of the current depiction of African American women in American movies on one’s self-esteem and identity. The primary value of the present study concerns its qualitative nature that tends to discover the impact of African American women’s portrayal with the help of semi-structured questionnaires, providing respondents with the opportunity to share their genuine feelings and concerns.

Research Structure

The research will be divided into five chapters that will cover different aspects of the dissertation. Having introduced the topic in chapter one, we progress to chapter two (Literature Review) will present a comprehensive analysis of various literature materials surrounding the research topic. Chapter three (Methodology) will present the methods in which the research data will be collected and analyzed in line with the core objectives of the study. Pegged to the Methodology, Chapter four (Data Analysis and Discussion) will present a statistical analysis of the primary data collected for the study. This section will also offer discussions around the findings of the study. Chapter five (The Conclusion) will exploit the results of the review of the literature materials and the primary data analysis to answer the study’s chief research question.

Literature review


The number of African American actors in Hollywood movies increased from 9% in 2017 to 14. 9% in 2018, according to a report by Hunt and Ramon (2020). However, there has been concern about how the movie portrays this population and the likely impact it has on society. The American film industry operates as a tool for influencing and understanding the American culture. The depictions within these films can substantially influence how the world views different groups in the United States.

Except for solitary cases of successful racial portrayal in cinematography, American films have frequently depicted African Americans negatively; some of the representations in the movie depict blatant offensive portrayals, stereotypical images, and minstrel shows (Schmader et al., 2015). The negative expression of African Americans in the film industry is a threat to the minority population. The poor representation risks social unrest amongst the audience, who feel the white majority power structure is threatened by the unruly African American culture (McCarthy, 1998). This section reviews the theoretical and methodological approaches employed amongst different works of literature within this topic in a bid to identify and fill any existing gaps. The section will describe the current situation regarding available evidence of the stereotyping and stigmatization of the African American community. The section will further draw findings from other literature on the impacts of stereotyping or misrepresentation of African American actors. Finally, the section will touch on any theoretical explanations of the possible link between movie depictions and the effect on an individual or society.

Stereotyping and Its Impacts on African American Women

The stereotyping of African American women in American films is subject to increased criticism as the movies have portrayed African American women in a disreputable manner. According to research findings by Henderson (2019), over the history of the United States, African American women have been subjected to many stereotypes, yet the three of them, including Sapphire, Jezebel, and the Mammy, appear to be most commonly encountered. The author further elaborates on the Mammy stereotype, claiming this group’s physical appearance to be portrayed as unattractive and overweight. The stereotype developed during the slavery era, where the major role for African women was domestic service. Such service was characterized by long working hours, nurturance, and subordination to her masters with little or no compensation. The texture of the hair and skin colour socially and economically affects Black women with African features, as it triggers feelings of shame and unattractiveness.

In the Jezebel stereotype, the African American woman is hypersexual, a gold digger, and promiscuous. The stereotype springs from the slavery times when black and mixed-race women were seen to have more European features close to the white standard of beauty. This type of woman is understood to be sexually active at an early age, sexually irresponsible, and highly seductive, with such a behavioural pattern leading to a ‘bad girl’ label. West (1995) indicates that sexual stereotyping, when highly internalized, can initiate feelings of inadequacy, performance anxiety, and sexual dysfunction.

Revelations by Henderson (2019) indicate that African American women have been depicted to the Sapphire stereotype in American movies. This stereotype contrasted the Mammy stereotype and portrayed African American women as iron-willed, large but not obese, and hostile. The black women were associated with loud and animated assaults towards men. Though the African American woman can develop anger issues due to historical injustices and personal concerns, West (1995) indicates that the Sapphire depiction substantially affects how anger is experienced and expressed. The author further adds that expressions of outrage instead of passivity are interpreted as a ‘positive’ trait for black women. However, a problem arises in situations where aggression is used to vulnerability. When outrage is the only form of expression of anger or dissatisfaction, families and friends are compromised as it can be directed at them instead of the main source.

However, the research findings brought forth by Henderson (2019) do not explicitly showcase the impacts of stereotyping on African American women. The researcher highly focuses on elaborating the different types of stereotypes which is essential to prove the vice in American films. However, the research fails to categorically show the impacts of these depictions on the society or individual level. The methodology of the research may be described as qualitative content analysis, with two coders analysing the portrayal of African American women in TV shows from 1997 and 2007 (Henderson, 2019). Hence, the practical paradigm of the study is limited to the subjective portrayal evaluation of two individuals concerned with the study outcome. The subjectivity of the study is depicted in the growing disparities between the coders in terms of perceiving women’s independence (Henderson, 2019). Thus, in order to understand the scope of complexity of media portrayal of African American women, a social response is extremely important and relevant.

The above findings also conform to an interview conducted by Chen et al. (2012) amongst 36 women aged between 18-59 years. The purpose of the interviews was to determine how overweight/male Mammy depictions of African American women affected their identities. The findings reveal that all 36 women expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies as the films associate thinness with beauty and value placed on white women (Chen et al., 2012). The interviews give a strong basis for this study as they obtain primary data, allowing for reliance on accuracy and organization of the information gathered. However, this qualitative study also has a serious limitation of the authors being emotionally involved in the issue in question. The findings of the interviews also conform to an analysis of Blackness and criminality in film (Edwards, 2019). The study digs into 3 American films to discover any themes of stereotyping employed and assess the impact of these stereotypes in society. The findings reveal that the films commonly associated African American actors with crime, violence, and ghetto neighbourhoods.

The research by Edwards (2019) majorly analyses the connection between Blackness and crime. The African American actors are linked with violence, while limited literature relates African American women characters with mistrust and prone to violence. The researcher records findings that African Americans are associated with ignorance, violence, and undesirable characteristics in most American films. In these films, Blackness indicates uncivilized characters of the lower end within the social scale. The analysis on Edwards (2019) further informs that the link between Blackness and crime substantially affects how law enforcement views the African American population today. The study conducted by Edwards provides a crucial link to movie depictions of African Americans while also giving some of its implications. However, the choice of the movies is skewed as the researcher only focuses on comedy movies. An analysis of movies from different genres would help improve the generalizations of the research findings. Another limitation of the study concerns the subjectivity of the methodological approach, as this study has an interpretative nature with variable definitions being either drawn from different studies or created directly by Edwards.

A survey conducted in 2019 indicates that 84% of the black participants’ criminal justice and the police treat African Americans differently than the whites. The same findings revealed that 63% of the white population also noticed racial prejudice in terms of the law enforcement’s cooperation with black communities (DeSilver et al., 2020). Surveys provide an efficient way of obtaining information within a short time. However, the results of this survey are not highly reliable to this study as the survey concentrates on establishing how the police force treats African Americans. However, the survey findings are crucial in creating a link between movie depictions of African Americans and their impact on society. The findings are further cemented by police brutality towards African Americans, with the 2021 case of George Floyd being a recent case (DeSilver et al., 2020).

Misrepresentation and its Impacts on Positive African American Influence

Literature in the study by Edwards (2019) indicates that misrepresentation is common in cases where African Americans are involved in films. Edwards elaborates that African American characters were more likely portrayed in violent and crime scenes than other races. According to Robinson (2014), constant negative depiction of a minority group, especially African American populations, significantly affects how individuals perceive crime in the United States. Robinson (2014) adds that the effects of this type of misrepresentation include bearing a crime label and poor self-esteem amongst members of this group. The findings by Robinson (2014) are in line with literature by Eschholz et al. (2002), which reveal that the representations of black men in American media are meant to oblige to the interests of the dominant white class, whereas women and minorities tend to be either underrepresented or stigmatized. Though evidence from the two studies is crucial in elaborating film depictions on this minority group, the studies do not specifically deal with African American women. They focus on linking the media depictions to crime allegations associated with African Americans and women separately.

Some reliable studies that specifically deal with African American women’s portrayal in movies and its impact include a report conducted by McTaggart et al. (2021). It sought to examine the representation of Black women and girls in the entertainment media in 2019. The report’s findings reveal that light-skinned African American women with hairstyles that conform to European beauty standards are mainly featured as leads/co-leads in highly-ranking films. The research draws backing from findings that indicate that black women with ‘white’ hairstyles are viewed as more beautiful (Johnson et al., 2016). Findings by McTaggart et al. (2021) indicate that this representation causes anxiety amongst African American women as they are pressured to straighten their hair to appear attractive. The consistent portrayal of the harmful elements of the minority groups in the film has an overbearing influence on how crime is perceived in the United States. As a long-term effect of the criminal misrepresentation of the African American community, society has attached criminality to a given race (Schug et al., 2017). As a result, most African American consumers of films that label them as criminals tend to develop low self-worth (Harris, 2002). Negative stereotypes tend to be demoralizing the target population as it lowers their self-confidence and self-perception in the social context.

In the book Saints, Sinners, Saviours by Harris (2002), Young (2005) notes that African American women in film have been overtly represented as strong. The depiction of African American women as strong mothers places huge responsibilities on the African American woman. The characters can influence women to remain in abusive relationships or stand as strong independent single women. This representation might, in turn, harm viewers who might admire and imitate traits that are understood to be extreme, thereby bearing detrimental effects to families and neighbours. These findings conform to an analysis conducted on various movies by Henderson (2019); after that analysis, the researcher finds the African American woman highly misrepresented in American films. According to the findings, the African American woman is exceptionally moody, non-fashionable, with uncontrollable sexual drive (Henderson, 2019). This representation generally affects the self-esteem of African American women, which plays a more significant role in the success of their relationships. The literature by Young (2005) and Henderson (2019) provides concrete evidence on how African American women are depicted in movies. The more recent study by Henderson (2019) provides recent proof of how the movies continuously portray the African American population.

Positive Influence

Some studies validate that African American women have been well represented in films. Positive influence is vivid based on the findings of a report conducted by McTaggart et al. (2021). In McTaggart et al.’s work, African American females in family films were more likely to be depicted as intelligent compared to other females of colour. The research findings also indicate that in most American family films today, African American women were more likely to be depicted as hardworking than other women of colour and as much a leader as white women. This depiction can significantly improve the self-esteem of African American women and generally improve how society judges African American women. Nonetheless, the study discovered a significant drawback because the majority of the African American women in the films had light skin tones and hairstyles conforming to the European standards of beauty in contrast with the Black natural hairstyles. Research findings on the positive impacts of the American Movie depiction of African American actors are essential in providing vice in American films. The findings by McTaggart et al. (2021) answer the research question on the impacts of media stereotyping on African American women.

Theoretical Review

Different theories attempt to explain the link between the depiction of film characters and the effect on society. The social comparison theory (SCT) vividly describes how Mammy’s portrayals of African American women in films affect the women. According to the theory, individuals are inclined to evaluate themselves and are highly likely to compare themselves to groups or individuals they resemble. The theory indicates that people do not favourably compare to the images; they tend to encounter cognitive dissonance (Wheeler and Suls, 2019), particularly the ideal beauty. However, apart from comparing, social groups tend to observe and mimic the behaviour perpetuated in the media.

Bandura’s Social Learning theory (Rumjaun and Narod, 2020) can be a crucial tool in understanding the effects of negative media portrayal of African American women in American films. According to the theory, observing behaviours, emotions, and the attitude of a specific individual or group can define one’s behaviour, mood, and in turn, responses within their environment (Powell et al., 2001). The theory elaborates that learning does not solely depend on individual actions’ impacts to grasp behaviour but instead on observing others. Individuals develop ideas of performing new behaviours, which later are decoded to guide one when acting. The theory, therefore, proposes that behaviour is acquired as individuals interact within the environment.

Therefore, it becomes practical to conclude that media has affected how individuals perceive the American culture towards the African American population. Bandura’s theory explains how behaviours are developed from observing others. Individuals who watch how African American women are depicted in American films tend to hold particular negative behaviour, attitude, or beliefs towards African American Women or African American populations.


Literature derived from different sources indicates stereotyping and misrepresentation of African American women in American films. Research findings suggest that African American women characters are depicted as a Mammy, Jezebel, or Sapphire in American cinema. One of the experiments was conducted amongst 36 women aged 18-59 years and found that most felt that their identity was affected by film depictions of overweight African American women. Research findings indicate constant association of African American men in crime and violence has a significant effect on how individuals perceive crime in the United States. Bandura’s Social Learning theory holds that; observing behaviours, emotions, and the attitude of a particular individual or group can define one’s behaviour, mood, and responses. This theory can be proven by how law enforcements view the African American population in the United States today.

The majority of African American women feel that the standard of beauty and success propagated by the media leaves them out, awarding the same to white women (Tindall, 2012). The influence of the media has led the public to attribute motherhood, intelligence, and being a desirable partner to the white woman. The audience response on motherhood in the movie Soul Food indicates that the African American woman is represented as the matriarch as she is relied upon to make the final decision while expected to remain caring, gentle, and motherly (Tindall, 2012). The audience response indicates that upon the death of Big Momma Jo, the family enters into chaos as they struggle to maintain family dinners and avoid rivalries.

The responses of another movie where African American women are represented include Precious. The audience indicates that African American mothers are depicted through the Sapphire stereotype and poor motherhood (Tindall, 2012). In this film, the audience feels that Mary, an African American mother, engages in verbal, sexual, and physically abusive behaviour with her daughter Precious who is pregnant from her deceased husband. Responses from the movie Girl’s Trip indicate that the African American woman is a good caring mother, as depicted by Lisa. The latter ensures that her children routinely maintain a healthy diet (Terry, 2018). While she is away, she leaves the kids with her mother. Though depicted with upholding the ‘old school’ parenting methods, she remains reliable in ensuring the kids’ safety in the absence of the mother.

Audience responses for movies with African American women actresses such as the movie White Chics indicate that African American women are portrayed as aggressive and prone to violence. Edwards (2019) states that the only time African American women are depicted in the movie entails a scene where the wife of Marcus, an African American character, is suspected by his wife for unfaithfulness. Edwards states that Marcus’s wife, an African American, has propagated an ‘angry black woman’ stereotype in the film White Chics, which is commonly associated with Sapphire stereotypes amongst African Americans in movies.

The literature available indicates cases of stereotyping of African American women in American films. The majority of the literature has been prepared in less than five years, improving its relevance to this study. Nonetheless, the available literature majorly focuses on how African American men have been depicted in American films. Literature on how African American women have been displayed in American cinema is of growing interest nowadays. However, a limited amount of literature touches explicitly on the impacts of these depictions of African American women in American cinema. The majority of the available literature shows the negative impacts on African American women in films. Future studies can focus on finding how the African American Woman has been positively depicted in American films. Such research on some of the overall positive effects emanating from how African American Women have been represented in films would be of the paramount value for the issue.


The research methodology is a set of techniques or procedures that are employed when investigating the research question (Kumar, 2011). This research utilizes a theoretical approach to identify research gaps in the authors’ studies on the same topic, using questionnaires to source information relating to personal feelings about various aspects of the investigation. The study targets all African American women in California, in the United States of America. The rationale behind the selection of the State of California as a primary location concerned the favourable population of the state. The basis for selection of the research methodology, namely, collecting qualitative and quantitative data through a survey, is the opportunity to get a first-hand account of the population’s perception of the African American portrayal and also extrapolate the findings of the study to an even more comprehensive social and geographic area.

Research Design

The research design plays a crucial role in identifying the research problem and guiding data collection, measurement, and analysis. This chapter aims at employing both a descriptive research design as well as a causal research design. The data required for the research will be drawn with the help of descriptive research and semi-structured surveys. The structure of the research primarily deals with how people perceive the stereotypes associated with African American women and whether they pay attention to the presence of such images at all. It is evident from the literature that some of the most common images of black women concern Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel (Henderson, 2019). However, there is no explicit evidence of how the audience reacts to such portrayals and whether stereotyping is alarming or barely visible to the respondents. For this reason, the research will be designed in such a way that the respondents will not be encouraged to choose an option. Instead, they will be asked to share their personal attitude to the issue. For such a methodology to be tangible, it is of paramount importance to estimate a qualitative variable of the study.

Research Variables

Research variables refer to characteristics that relate to a specific object of a given study. Hence, the primary variable of the present study is the self-perception of African American women based on their representation in the modern media discourse. It is evident from scholarly literature that the media portrayal has a crucial impact on one’s self-esteem, especially as far as the minorities are concerned (Tindall, 2012). Thus, based on this assumption, it would be necessary to establish how one’s self-esteem depends on the context in which African American women are presented to the audience.

Sampling Technique and Sample Size

The sampling technique crucial for the study is random sampling. In particular, the study will deploy stratified random sampling, which stands for dividing the respondents into strata. The sample of the study will be recruited with the help of questionnaire links posted to various Facebook groups and pages, ensuring the relevance of the groups’ target audience. All the respondents will be able to fill in the questionnaire, and the eligibility criteria will be later employed, ensuring that the participants were suitable and answered the majority of survey enquiries.

On the other hand, the sample size in disproportionate stratification is not proportionate to the large sample. In the case of this study, proportionate stratification was the most appropriate. The sample objective for the study is 150 participants, yet the number is rather approximate and will be modified according to the results obtained during formative evaluation. The rationale behind choosing the random stratified sampling technique as the technique of choice is owed to the fact that it helps eliminate bias in the study. The random selection of respondents in terms of age and ethnic affiliation will increase the objectivity chances of the study. Moreover, despite the major emphasis placed on the women’s portrayal, recruiting male respondents may give a new perspective into the men’s self-perception affected by the masculinisation of African American women (Chen et al., 2012).

Research Instrument

The questionnaire is the research instrument that the researcher in the study will use because it is the most accessible data collection tool in the context of the pandemic, time, and financial resources. Moreover, it allows the respondents to have enough time to think of an answer. The questionnaire will record the responses of the Africa American women participants that pertain to both the open-ended and close-ended questions. The researcher will collect the data through the administration of online questionnaires. Along with administering the questions, the researcher will enclose ethical consent forms in the questionnaires and distribute them to the respondents to validate their willingness to participate in the study and how the researcher will handle the data. Before coming up with the final questionnaire, the researcher will attempt to evaluate any difficulties that the actual participants in the study might encounter. This attempt will be in a bid to develop means of averting such obstacles. Some of the anticipated issues include language barriers or difficulty in comprehending the questions posed in the study. To mitigate the problems foreseen, in translation, the digital version of the questionnaire can be translated to other languages with the help of the service’s in-built plugin.


Reliability is the extent to which the method of data collection produces consistent results. The research methodology will enjoy high reliability since it will employ a well-defined set of questions drafted in the questionnaires. The researcher will carefully formulate these questions to meet the needs of this study without the possibility of having any data outliers. The consistency with the result from the pilot study showed high reliability since it showed the achievement of similar results even when the investigation is replicated in a differential setting.

Data Collection Technique

The collection of the data for the study was imperative to the statistical accuracy of the survey. Ideally, the data collected has to be relevant and a correct representation of the area under investigation. The survey methodology concerns a number of steps and data collection techniques. To begin with, there is a demand to identify the sample of films and media content instances that will be addressed in the questionnaire. Based on scholarly sources and the most famous movies that premiered between 2010 and 2021, the selection will consist of ten motion pictures. The survey will also address structured questions related to age, gender, ethnicity, and location. The rest of the questions will be open-ended and require at least a short answer from a respondent. Since the responses will not always be limited to multiple choice, the investigators will have to scan every survey form present in the SurveyMonkey automatic database.

This dissertation exploits comparative analysis, which pertains to a comparison of secondary and primary data. The secondary data will be collected and reviewed critically to present a theoretical perspective of the core objectives. Ideally, this will involve the evaluation of previous research work on the topic and its contextual ancillaries. The primary data, on the other hand, will be collected through the sampling technique.

The collection of the research data will be through the administration of online questionnaires. A link will be generated through the Survey Monkey online survey platform and shared with Facebook groups. The purpose of this technique will be to maintain a safe social distance to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Additionally, the use of Survey Monkey will enhance the privacy and anonymity of the sample used. The process will also include filtering results by the IP addresses if someone outside California or the United States participates in the questionnaire. The drafted questionnaires will be sent to the respondents, who will be self-selected through the online circulation of the link with the consent form attached. After the self-selection process, the choice of population sample will be based on the requirements of the study, which include the affiliation to a minority population group and the ability to answer the majority of open questions. The questionnaire will not include any information on the duration of the respondents’ stay in the state of California, as it is irrelevant to the research.

Data Analysis

The data collected from the study will be analysed using the statistical analysis drawn from the data stored in the SurveyMonkey database. The researcher will use the mean, standard deviation, and t-test to test the study’s hypotheses. Critical measures of central tendency and measures of dispersion will make it possible to analyse how closely the study’s findings related to the pre-set theory. The design will also seek to find how much the measures deviate. The data analysis process will be critical in finding the conclusions of the study.

Limitations of the Study

The movie selection process is a significant limitation for these studies. A random sampling of movies would not be plausible due to the scarcity of movies depicting African American women. Though there were many movies relating to African American characters, they were not pertinent to this research due to the year of production or lack of African American characters. Therefore, the Movies selected for this study are deliberately chosen to achieve the criteria of the research. The COVID-19 pandemic is also another limitation as it has redefined how people interact. To help minimize the spread of the virus, measures like social distancing and limited interactions tend to affect the effective collection of the data for this study. In extreme cases, lockdowns and curfews also affect the process of conducting face-to-face interviews that would have enhanced the efficacy of the findings. As such, this study administered online questionnaires to collect the primary data, something that ensured that the researcher and the target respondents reduced the risk of spreading the virus.

Logistical and Ethical Consideration

This study follows an ethical code of conduct as it advances through different stages. The method of data collection will be through the use of questionnaire forms. The process involves creating an online survey tool and sending it to the population for them to self-select for the study. Many researchers widely use questionnaires to find solution/s to a problem. During the study, consideration of various ethical issues will be crucial for this research. The first consideration will include the need for confidentiality, where communication between the study and the respondent will be kept confidential.

The second ethical consideration is honesty; the researcher needs to be honest in everything they do during the research. To this end, they will not misinterpret or even furnish their colleagues with wrong information. Furthermore, they will not take any bribes from any organization interested in the outcome of the research. The researcher will be ready to share data with other colleagues and accept any criticism regarding upholding openness. The last ethical consideration will be discrimination; the researchers will not take any side during the research process. A researcher is discouraged from discrimination against any group of people based on colour, religion, sex, and political affiliation.

The other ethical consideration in this study is informed consent. Informed consent implies that the individual taking part in the survey is entirely aware of its purpose and importance. The briefing of study participants about the intentions for undertaking the study, information regarding who intends to collect the data, financier, and any potential antagonistic effects of their cooperation is crucial. The last ethical consideration is voluntary participation, where individuals that participate in the research will be free from any form of compulsion.

Findings and data analysis

This section will present an in-depth analysis of the data collected to meet the core objectives of this research paper. The collection, handling, and analysis of the primary data are in tandem with the proposition in the Methodology section of this paper. The raw data will be subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis of the surveys conducted with the help of the SurveyMonkey online database. In order to put the findings into perspective, the literature review findings will be addressed. Namely, the studies by Schmader et al. (2015), Chen et al. (2012), and Henderson (2019), will be used due to being the most relevant to the case.

Much of the analysis and the interpretation of data completed in this section will attempt to tie into the previous chapters completed and give direction that will prove crucial in addressing the intended research questions and hence validate or invalidate the research hypothesis. This chapter will include such sections as the general data overview, focusing on the demographics and key points of the analysis, industry representation, and detailed analysis of the respondents’ answers to the key questions of the survey. The study used a sample size of 122 movie watchers drawn from California, the United States. This sample size is a representation of the population within the research frame. Out of all the 150 questionnaires administered to the target respondents, 122 of them were duly filled and returned, constituting a return rate of 81,3%.

Table 1: Questionnaire Response Rate of Return
Target No. of questionnaires No. of questionnaires answered Response Rate
African American Movie watchers 150 114 76%
TOTALS 150 122 81,3%

Each respondent was required to answer all the seventeen questions in the questionnaires. Cumulatively, the research handled a total of 122 responses from the sample size. Of the total number of questions, 76% of the questionnaires were filled by Black/African American respondents, with the rest of the respondents representing different ethnic minorities and races (except for white respondents, as they were not included in the data collection). Inferentially, therefore, the findings of this paper will be a reflection of 81,3% of the opinions displayed by the primary data. By extension, the overall conclusions will be assumed to meet 81,3% of the study’s core objectives.

Overview of the Data

The importance of descriptive analysis in any research cannot be understated. In addition, descriptive statistics present more information about the data and the rationale behind the responses. In this case, the sample was classified based on gender and age.


Table 2: Gender of the Respondents
Frequency Percentage Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Female 75 61.48 61.48 61.48
Male 47 38.52 38.52 38.52
TOTAL 122 100 100

From the data analysis based on gender, it is evident that the dominant number of respondents were female, with 61.48% participation in the study. On the other hand, the men-only represented 38.52% of the sample used in the study. Such a gender distribution may be associated with various factors. First, the name of the survey, placing emphasis on the female perspective on the film portrayal of African American community, might have been discouraging for male participation.

Second, there exists a scholarly assumption outlined by Affleck et al. (2012), claiming male participation in the qualitative research to be less engaging due to the men’s historically predisposed role of emotionally detached resource providers and protectors of the family. Indeed, out of 38,52% of male respondents (47 people), only ten responses were eligible for qualitative analysis, as they contained exhaustive answers to the open-ended questions, including either an open response or a definitive single word. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that such a response distribution is more related to the men’s unwillingness to participate in a conversation in general, not exactly on this sensitive matter. The eligibility criteria for the analysis included the coder’s ability to retrieve a certain answer, excluding obscene lexis and illegible letter combinations.


The data collected was also classified based on age. The results of the classification are tabulated below:

Table 3: Age of the Respondents
Frequency Percentage Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid 18-29 65 53.28 53.28 53.28
30-44 35 28.69 28.69 28.69
45-60 15 12.30 12.30 12.30
60+ 7 5.74 5.74 5.74
TOTAL 122 100 100 100

Findings reveal that 53.28% of the respondents were 18 to 29 years, while 28.69% of the sample size were aged between 30 and 44 years. Results also reveal that 12.30% of the respondents were aged between 45 and 60 years, while respondents above 60 years were 5.74%. Deductively, 53.28% of this paper’s findings represent the opinions of the 18 – 29 years age group. The same can be inferentially considered when 28.69% of the views directly represent the movie watchers within the 30-44 age group. In order for the research to remain relevant for all the age groups undergoing the survey, the film instances were chosen based on the popularity of movies across the US according to the IMDb movie database, making sure that all the movies were relevant not only to a specific age group such as teenagers.

Movies That Have Informed the Respondents’ Information

The study asked the respondents to mention the movies that informed their answers in the questionnaires. All the movies in the scope had African American actresses in various leading and supporting roles. The selected movies addressed various themes and genres, namely:

  • Us (Peele, 2019), a horror movie that revolves around a family of four going on a vacation to the beach house and finding themselves being hunted by their evil doppelgangers;
  • Chi-Raq (Lee, 2015), a dramedy tribute to Aristophanes’ ‘Lysistrata,’ which tells a story of black women’s plan to fight street violence in the neighbourhood by depriving men of any sexual relationship with them;
  • Moonlight (Genkins, 2016), a coming-of-age drama that tells a story of a young African American gay man born and raised in a black neighborhood;
  • Premature (Ernesto, 2020), a love story between a mysterious musician and a seventeen-year-old girl;
  • Clemency (Chukwu, 2019), a dramatic film depicting the life of a black female prison warden on a death row;
  • Girls Trip (Lee, 2017), a comedy telling a story of a reunion of four lifelong female friends while going on a trip for an Essence conference;
  • Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017), a story about three black female scientists who played a critical role in NASA’s open space mission (based on true events);
  • 12 Years a Slave (McQueen, 2013), a historical drama about a talented black musician who was abducted and sold into slavery, with significant attention paid to the side story of Patsey, an enslaved young woman who lived through repetitive sexual and physical abuse and separation with her child;
  • Snowfall (Andron, 2017 – …), a TV show about a crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles;
  • Power (Kemp, 2014 – …), a TV show about a man named James St. Patrick who lives a double life and combines the responsibilities of being a nightclub owner, drug dealer, and a family man.

The findings of the movies informing the respondents are illustrated in Figure 1.1 below.

Figure 1.1

It is evident from the data that the most viewed films include Girls Trip (Lee, 2017), Us (Peele, 2019), 12 Years a Slave (McQueen, 2013), and Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017). However, it was estimated in the course of the analysis that some of the respondents used references to certain movies from the list yet failed to tick them in the previous question. For example, Respondent 34, when speaking of how African American actresses were portrayed, mentioned that “they have shown that society has changed and are now have trying to make up some of the past like in hidden figures…,” at the same time ticking only Us (Peele, 2019) and 12 Years a Slave (McQueen, 2013) as the movies he had seen previously. Hence, it is necessary to bear in mind that the distribution of responses regarding the movies seen remains rather approximate. There is possibility that the respondents referred to other movies simply because they knew the gist of the movie without actually watching it, so such a discrepancy is a study limitation, as respondents were not clarified that their responses should be based solely on the movies that have seen from beginning to end.

Themes that Most African American Actresses Depict in American Movies

The study also sought to understand the themes Black actresses portrayed in the movies between 2010 and 2021. Most of the movie directors in the American movie industry have historically used African American actresses to represent a particular set of themes. In most cases, these themes tend to show the inferiority of the Black community both in the social and the economic circles.

When looking into the responses, the most frequently encountered word would be the notion of strength, with the words ‘strong’ and ‘strength’ mentioned 12 and 2 times in question 6 responses, respectively. Thus, Respondents 2, 9, 17, 41, 44, 54, 60, 69, 72, 87, 88, 90, 93, and 119 associated African American characters with the depiction of strength. While such a correlation may be somewhat beneficial, the overall tendency leads to the widespread masculinization of African American women and the emphasis on their autonomy.

One of the hypotheses discussed in the present research pertains to the effect of African American women’s portrayal in movies on their self-esteem. As outlined by Chen et al. (2020), the masculinization of African American women traces back to the beginning of the 20th century, when female characters were played by male actors for the sake of comic effect. Later, the phenomenon of strength was manifested in the creation of an African American ‘superhero’ women stereotype. According to Gayles (2012), such a stereotype portrays women as capable of tolerating major mental and physical challenges, thus reducing the levels of empathy for African American women within the community. For example, Black women, who are almost twice as likely to struggle with postpartum depression, are less likely to receive treatment than white mothers (Sandoiu, 2020). Hence, it is reasonable to assume that there is a strong link between to historical perception of African American women from the times of slavery, the perpetuation of this image by media, and its further expansion to the modern community.

The vast majority of responses related to strength were associated with the film Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017), accounting for eight cases of such correlation. For example, Respondent 2 noted that African American women are given roles of ‘strong, intelligent women,’ referring to the aforementioned movie as the only motion picture seen by her. In cases when strength is not mentioned directly, respondents used such phrasing as ‘go getters and boss ladies’ (Respondent 7), ‘women are portrayed real people and fight for equality’ (Respondent 47), and ‘women who struggle and thrive off of the struggle they faced’ (Respondent 130). Considering the fact that the majority of such comments were made by the people who referred to Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017), it becomes evident that the audience’s perception of black women in media was affected by the roles given to African American actresses. However, while the perception of women as strong does not bear a negative connotation per se, especially when referring to Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017) as a film about female scientists, the excessive use of such a trope leads to stereotyping and marginalising African American women from the rest of female community because black women are regarded as capable of being more resistant and strong-willed.

The theme of loudness was the second most popular theme with the respondents. However, unlike the notion of strength, perceiving black women as ‘loud’ is closely associated with Girls Trip (Lee, 2017). The very word ‘loud’ was used by the respondents nine times, with 6 of them mentioned by the respondents implicitly or explicitly referring to the film above. For example, Respondent 10, claiming to have seen only Girls Trip (Lee, 2017), described African American actresses’ roles as ‘loud, obnoxious, and subservient.’ Another example includes Respondent’s 108 comments that the African American actresses are given the roles of ‘crazy ladies,’ most likely referring to the movie in question anf the theme of obnoxiousness. Indeed, using racial stereotypes in comedy has been a lifelong issue, which, according to Schmader et al. (2015), leads to the emergence of social identity threats. The latter stands for ‘reminders that one’s social identity is culturally devalued in society, thereby arousing social identity threat’ (Schmader et al., 2015, p. 55). The idea of ‘loudness’ also refers to the perpetuation of the Sapphire stereotype, depicting African American women as mean and deprived of manners (Henderson, 2019). For this reason, using such attributes to black female characters, even for the sake of comedy, still associates African American women with devaluation in the community, just like Edwards’s (2019) research justifies criminalization of Black men for the sake of humorous effect having adverse outcomes for the law enforcement’s engagement with African American men.

The two other important themes concerned the notions of ghetto and slavery. The significant factor about the latter is the fact there is no explicit correlation between the movies seen by the respondents and their perception of the racial image of African American actresses. For example, Respondents 47, 49, and 52, who mentioned the theme of slavery, claimed to watch movies such as Us (Peele, 2019) or Power(Kemp, 2014 – …) that had no explicit allusion to women’s depiction as slaves. On the contrary, respondents57 and 96 who expressed women’s image as weak and ‘ghetto’ claimed to have watched Moonlight (Genkins, 2016), a story explicitly depicting the coming-of-age story of a young man raised in a black neighbourhood. Finally, the themes tackled in the responses also concerned single motherhood, beauty, poverty, self-consciousness, and struggle, yet their frequency distribution rates are significantly lower compared to the aforementioned topics. Hence, the perception of themes depicted by African American actresses does not depend on the recently seen motion pictures.

For the most part, such images as slavery, struggle, and strength have already been perpetuated in the media culture for the past century. According to Sharpe (2016), marginalization of Black women and girls in society catalysed by victimization eventually resulted in the absence of social justice support for African American women, leaving them on their own. Naturally, African American women had no other choice but to stands up for themselves as a community othered from women. As a result, the respondents may as well manifest the overall perception of the image of African American women based on their cultural and social background. According to Hall (2007), such a discrepancy is caused by the fact that the information decoder is prone to perceive a message through the lens of personal experience and associations. Hence, the resonation to the film images may serve as a catalyst for the emergence of more complex social feelings concerning the depiction of African American women.

Types of Roles Given to African American Actresses

The responses related to the types of roles relevant for African American women are linked to the themes outlined by respondents in Question 6. The majority of roles were associated with the topics of strength, struggle, and intelligence, especially among the respondents who claimed to have seen 12 Years a Slave(McQueen, 2013) and Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017). Frequently mentioned roles included poverty, drug dealing, prostitution, and slavery. In order to realize how such role perceptions may affect the audience, the notion of representation of African American actresses in the industry was tackled.

Industry Representation

African American actresses have always been victims of discrimination in various American movies. As such, the study sought to establish the representation of Black actresses in the ever-evolving American movie industry. The findings are illustrated in figure 1.2 below:

Representation of the female african american actresses in the american film industry between 2010 and 2021
Figure 1.2

The analysis indicates that 31.25% of the respondents acknowledge that the number of Black actresses in American movies increased. These results are attributed to the inclusion of the Black community in most forms of art and movies. Additionally, some movie organizations like the Black Entertainment Awards (BET) have established platforms to empower and award Black actors and actresses across the United States (Adams-Bass et al., 2014). Such initiatives have played a crucial role in ensuring that the number of Black actresses in movies has increased exponentially. The findings indicate that 31.25% of the respondents agree that Black actresses are slightly represented in American movies. This is evidenced by the ten movies used as case studies in this study. These movies are top-grossing Box office movies that are competing aggressively with other White-only movies. None of the respondents claimed that the Black actresses are not represented in the study, which may be explained by the fact that the questionnaire was explicitly focused on the portrayal of African American actresses in movie industry. Since there is relatively positive feedback to the industry representation, the impact of such representation will be discussed in the following section.

The Impact of Films with Female African American Women Portrayal in American Films

Despite the variety of themes and roles presented by African American actresses, it is necessary to understand that such representation may have certain outcomes for Black community. The extent to which respondents find the presence of African American actresses in films is presented in figure 1.3:

Figure 1.3

Considering such a result distribution, it becomes evident that the absolute minority of the audience does not feel affected by the screen appearance of African American actresses and their portrayal in the cinematography. According to the respondents, people feel inspired when they see African American women on the screen. Even men, as in the case with Respondent 132, think African American actresses are ‘inspiring and motivating.’ Apart from motivation, some respondents felt safer when seeing black actresses on the screen, as it made them ‘feel see[n]’ (Respondent 119). For this reason, it is vital to consider the scope of impact black women’s depiction has on the general population prior to defining the character’s features. A prime example of the effect such disregard has on society is demonstrated by Edwards (2019), who makes a strong case of correlating portrayal of African Americans as criminals and their stigmatization in society. The same may happen due to portraying women as excessively strong and independent, masculine, loud, and obnoxious. Even though sometimes the drastic outcomes happen due to communication breach between the encoder and the decoder of the message, as stated by Hall (2007), accounting for the potential consequences of such breach are vital in terms of healthy collaboration with the audience.


Movies today play a critical role in the world, spanning from creating a multi-billion industry to shaping a cognition of society. At some point, virtually every American household has interacted with various movies. As such, the movies can create a significant impact on how people view various elements of society. American movie producers have used their movies to advance various themes and caricatures that portray African American actresses in a predetermined way. In this regard, the primary aim of the present dissertation was to provide empirical evidence on stereotypes and themes present when depicting African American female characters in American movies.

The hypothesis addressed in the study was the concept of stereotyping of African American women in the movie industry, potentially impacting women’s self-esteem and perception. In order to condone or refute such a hypothesis, an extensive literature review was conducted. One of the primary review outcomes states that from a diachronic perspective, the portrayal of African Americans in the film has been predominantly negative except for solitary cases of positive character depiction (Schmader et al., 2015). When it comes to the movie and entertainment industry, some of the most common stereotypes used to portray African American women included the Sapphire (loud and obtrusive), Mammy (masculine and overweight mothers), and Jezebel (hypersexualized ‘gold diggers’) images (Henderson, 2019). The use of the aforementioned stereotypes impacts African American women’s self-esteem in a discouraging way (Chen et al., 2012). Finally, the negative portrayal of African Americans in movies eventually leads to perpetuating certain stereotypes in society, such as the example of the correlation between the criminalization of African American men in films and law enforcement’s prejudice towards Black men (Edwards, 2019).

Hence, in order to define how the aforementioned scholarly findings resonate with the modern African American community, the decision was made to conduct a qualitative study with the help of semi-structured online questionnaires. The primary variable outlined for the present study was the self-perception of the African American women based on their representation in the media discourse. The questionnaires were collected and categorized with the help of the SurveyMonkey online database.

The final sample of the study included 122 respondents, with the majority representing African American community. Although all the questionnaires were filled out by the respondents, a considerable number of answers were not eligible for analysis due to the respondents writing illegible words or inappropriate answers. However, the rest of the questionnaires obtained a series of meaningful and insightful responses. The majority of eligible answers belonged to female respondents, as out of 47 questionnaires filled out by men, only ten contained open responses.

Thus, the findings from the questionnaire demonstrated that some of the most viewed movies out of the list presented included Us (Peele, 2019), Girls Trip (Lee, 2017), Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017), and 12 Years a Slave (McQueen, 2013). The findings demonstrated a positive correlation between watching Girls Trip (Lee, 2017) and Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017) and the respondents’ impression of the representation of African American female characters. Thus, the most frequently mentioned theme represented by African American female characters was the concept of strength, addressed 17 times (14 times explicitly and 3 times with the hell of different wording). Such responses were mostly associated with the film Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017). A similar correlation was found between respondents mentioning the theme of loudness and them having watched Girls Trip (Lee, 2017). Thus, the findings have revealed a strong association between the roles and themes represented by African American actresses and the respondents’ perception of the African American women’s image.

Another part of the research was dedicated to the definition of the extent to which African American actresses are represented in the modern movie industry. Out of 100% of the respondents, only 5.32% claimed no representation of the female actresses in the American discourse. Such an outcome may contribute to the fact that the lack of representation of African American women is itself a manifestation of the patterns of representing minority women in movies. Other respondents hold the opinion that the representation was full, slight, or currently growing. Hence, it may be concluded that such a perception of African American women’s representation in the industry contributes to the level of self-awareness for Black women. As repeatedly mentioned by McLuhan (1964), cinematography has currently become a learning tool even more significant than literature, as it provides the recipient with more information in a more rapid way. As a result, the growing representation of African American actresses in the American movie industry may positively affect the women’s feeling of belonging to the American socio-cultural discourse.

The notion of representation was then analyzed through the lens of the impact such representation had on the respondents. Thus, the survey findings have revealed that only 11% of the respondents did not experience any impact from the African American actresses’ portrayal in the movie industry. 35% of the respondents, in their turn, claimed a strong impact on their life, followed by 32% of the respondents who mentioned the presence of impact on their life, even though not as strong. As a result, it may be concluded that while society is swayed by the representation of African American women in the movie industry, it is evident that the themes portrayed in movies have a tremendous impact on people’s self-perception as well.

The themes and the caricatures that have been used to define Black actresses have fed into a significant impact on society. The way the Black actresses have been represented in movies has shaped how the community views Black culture. One, most people tend to associate violence and poverty with the Black neighborhoods. This vice is attributed to the predominant themes in movies like Snowfall (Andron, 2017 – …), Us (Peele, 2019), Power (Kemp, 2014 – …), Chi-Raq (Lee, 2015), and Clemency (Chukwu, 2019). When it comes to women’s representation in isolation from Black communities in general, the concepts of strength and loudness have become predominant. As a result, apart from being profiled in isolation of the Black community in general, African American women also gain a series of stereotypical traits from their portrayal in collaboration with the African American characters.

The results of the present study contribute to an extensive examination of African American female characters in movies and their impact of women. If previously, exhaustive studies were rather focused on the male perspective of the issue (Edwards, 2019) or a simple description of the phenomenon (Henderson, 2019), the present research presents a qualitative analysis of the issue through interaction with real people and their emotive response to the precedent. While the study managed to define a correlation between stereotyping female characters and the African American women’s perception in society and the major themes associated with African American characters, no conclusive evidence is present on how such portrayal affects women’s self-esteem. Such a limitation appeared due to the unclear wording of the question related to self-esteem. However, the findings of the present study may be linked to the further research that will focus explicitly on the phenomenon of self-esteem.

Most movies are fictional because their depiction of society should not be taken as the actual reflection of reality. The misrepresentation in society at the expense of dignity and respect of the Black community has promoted the stereotyping of Black actresses across the United States. However, considering the arguments presented in the study, it would no longer be fair to impose the responsibility of distinguishing fiction from reality, as every creator initially encodes a specific message in the motion picture and acknowledges the fact that this message may be perceived differently depending on the socio-cultural background of the recipient. The present study may serve as a foundation for future research on the investigation of how film discourse may either reflect or initiate certain socio-cultural processes among ethnic or sexual minorities.

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Appendix A

Informed Consent form

Stereotyping in Media and Communication: The Impact of African American Women Portrayal in American Films produced between 2010 and 2021

  • I ____________________________________________________voluntarily agree to provide information that will be relevant to this study.
  • I clearly understand that any form of information presented by me will be used solely for this study and not any other.
  • I understand that all information presented in this study will be treated with utmost confidentiality.
  • I understand that in the findings and presentations of this report, my name as well as the contributions will remain anonymous. In the event of direct quotations, nicknames or generic names can be used in place of my personal information.

This study is conducted by from date 19/04/2021 to 04/10/2021. The study is also supervised by:

Participant’s signature ___________________________


Researcher’s signature_________________________________

I believe that the respondent has given informed consent to undertake the research ___________________________

_____________________________ Date

Appendix B

Questionnaire Sample

Question 1. What is your gender?

Question 2. What is your age?

Question 3. What is your race or ethnicity?

Question 4. Kindly tick the films that you have watched from the list below: Us (2019), Chi-Raq (2015), Moonlight (2016), Premature (2020), Clemency (2019), Girls Trip (2017), Hidden Figures (2017), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Snowfall (2017 to date), Power (2014 to date)

Question 5. How do you think the self-esteem of the African American actresses in the films is affected?

  1. The acting has no impact
  2. Positive
  3. Negative

Question 6. What themes do you think most African American actresses are used to depict?

Question 7. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Female actresses in the American films produced between 2010 and 2021 are given their roles based on their ethnicity:

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Somewhat agree
  3. Neutral
  4. Somewhat disagree
  5. Strongly disagree

Question 8. What kind of roles are given to African American actresses in films targeting the African-American community in the United States? Kindly explain your answer with reference to one or more of the following films: Us (2019), Chi-Raq (2015), Moonlight (2016), Premature (2020), Clemency (2019), Girls Trip (2017), Hidden Figures (2017), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Snowfall (2017 to date), Power (2014 to date)

Question 9. How are the African American actresses in the American films produced between 2010 and 2021 portraying the modern American society? Kindly explain your answer with reference to one or more of the following films: Us (2019), Chi-Raq (2015), Moonlight (2016), Premature (2020), Clemency (2019), Girls Trip (2017), Hidden Figures (2017), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Snowfall (2017 to date), Power (2014 to date)

Question 10. What are your opinions regarding the representation of the African American actresses in the American film industry between 2010 and 2021:

  1. Fully represented
  2. Represented
  3. Slightly represented
  4. The representation is growing
  5. Not represented at all

Question 11. What are some of the ways in which the films with African American actresses impacted your life?

Question 12. How impactful are the movies with female African American actresses to your life:

  1. Very impactful
  2. Impactful
  3. Slightly impactful
  4. Not impactful

Appendix C

Questionnaire Responses [Embedded Excel Spreadsheet]

Questionnaire Responses [Embedded Excel Spreadsheet]