Over the past seventy years, the American film industry has transformed from mass-producing movies to producing a limited number of massive blockbuster movies on a global scale. Hollywood film studios have moved from independent companies to divisions of media conglomerates. Theatrical attendance for American audiences has plummeted since the mid-1940s; nonetheless, American films have never been more profitable. In 1945, American films could only be viewed in theaters; now they are available in myriad forms of home viewing. Throughout, Hollywood has continued to dominate global cinema, although film and now video production reaches Americans in many other forms, from home videos to educational films. Amid declining attendance, the Supreme Court in 1948 forced the major studios to sell off their theaters. Hollywood studios instead focused their power on distribution, limiting the supply of films and focusing on expensive productions to sell on an individual basis to theaters. Growing production costs and changing audiences caused wild fluctuations in profits, leading to an industry-wide recession in the late 1960s. The studios emerged under new corporate ownership and honed their blockbuster strategy, releasing “high concept” films widely on the heels of television marketing campaigns. New technologies such as cable and VCRs offered new windows for Hollywood movies beyond theatrical release, reducing the risks of blockbuster production. Deregulation through the 1980s and 1990s allowed for the “Big Six” media conglomerates to join film, theaters, networks, publishing, and other related media outlets under one corporate umbrella. This has expanded the scale and stability of Hollywood revenue while reducing the number and diversity of Hollywood films, as conglomerates focus on film franchises that can thrive on various digital media. Technological change has also lowered the cost of non-Hollywood films and thus encouraged a range of alternative forms of filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition.
Matthew Christopher Hulbert
Representations of the 19th-century South on film have been produced in America from the Silent Era to the present. These movies include some of the most critically acclaimed and influential in American cinematic history—Gone with the Wind (1939), Glory (1989), 12 Years a Slave (2013)—and have produced some of the most iconic onscreen characters—Scarlett O’Hara, Josey Wales, Uncle Remus, Django Freeman—and onscreen moments—Rhett Butler not giving a damn, Mede boiling to death in a giant cauldron—in all of American popular culture. Depictions of the 19th-century South on film have also accounted for some of American film’s most notorious offerings—see the section entitled Anti-Slavery: Blaxploitation—and some of its biggest financial disappointments, such as Raintree County (1957) or Gods and Generals (2003). The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939) set standards for how southerners and other Americans would imagine the 19th-century South and subsequent films have been responding ever since. Prior to the apex of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s, Lost Cause themes dominated at the box office. After integration, the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965), and the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, movies about the 19th-century South gradually shifted toward African American and female protagonists. Films also became increasingly graphic, violent, and sexualized in the late 1960s and 1970s as the pendulum swung fully away from the moonlight and magnolia, pro-slavery narratives of Gone with the Wind. In the 1990s, Hollywood began to carve out a middle position; however, neither extreme—exemplified by The Birth of a Nation and Mandingo, respectively—ever completely disappeared. Filmic coverage of the antebellum (1820–1860) and war years (1861–1865) dominates portrayals of the 19th-century South. These movies home in on major themes involving the legacy of slavery in America, the legacy of the Civil War, American territorial expansion, and American exceptionalism. Moreover, the South is habitually depicted as unique compared to the rest of the nation—for its hospitality, pace of living, race relations, mysteriousness, exoticism—and southerners are represented as innately more violent than their northern counterparts. Generally, the messaging of these films has been untethered from contemporary academic interpretations of the region, slavery, or the Civil War—yet their scripts and visuals have played, and continue to play, an outsized role in how Americans imagine the South and use the South to forge regional and national identities.