Cultural Portrayals of African Americans: Creating An Ethnic/Racial Identity

By Janis Faye Hutchinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Tarzan in the Classroom: How "Educational" Films Mythologize Africa and Miseducate Americans

Sheila S. Walker with Jennifer Rasamimanana

Both commercial and educational media images of Africa and Afro-Amcrica, in the large sense, continue to portray inaccurate and derogatory images of people of Africa and of African descent. Such images, in addition to misinforming viewers, perpetuates divisive and destructive negative stereotyping which affects both African Americans and non-African Americans. The nature of such images and their effects are described and analyzed.


MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS: THE MISREPRESENTATION OF AFRICA

How do you react to the term " Africa?" What is the first word that comes to mind? Don't take time to think. Just React. Emotionally. "Dark continent," "savages," "lion," "jungle," "Tarzan," "Primitive," "mysterious," "spear?" Any others? Surely the second largest continental land mass on the face of the earth must have a few other characteristics. As a continent, like Europe and Asia, it must have some diversity. What are [Africans] nationalities? How many languages do they speak? What religions do they practice? What are their historical and cultural achievements? (Maynard 1974: v)

In 1979 the African Studies Center at Michigan State University organized a conference on "Images of Africa: New Directions in Media." The tone of the conference presenters was one of scholarly outrage at the fact that not only commercial, but also "educational" media portrayed the kinds of inaccurate and denigrating images of Africa that made the opening quote both evocative and provocative. These educators and analysts of educational media were uniformly critical of the available materials, which, they agreed, presented overwhelmingly inaccurate, unrepresentative, stereotyped, and demeaning

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