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Native People and American Film and TV  

Liza Black

Native people have appeared as characters in film and television in America from their inceptions. Throughout the 20th century, Native actors, writers, directors, and producers worked in the film and television industry. In terms of characterization, Native employment sits uncomfortable beside racist depictions of Native people. From the 1950s to the present, revisionist westerns come into being, giving the viewer a moral tale in which Native people are depicted with sympathy and white Americans are seen as aggressors. Today, a small but important group of Native actors in film and television work in limiting roles but turn in outstanding performances. Native directors, writers, and documentarians in the 1990s to the early 21st century have created critical interventions into media representations, telling stories from Indigenous viewpoints and bringing Native voices to the fore. The 2021 television show Rutherford Falls stands out as an example of Native writers gaining entry into the television studio system. Additionally, we have several Native film festivals in the early 21st century, and this trend continues to grow.


Arab American Theater  

Hala Baki

Arab American theater broadly includes the dramatic works and performances of self-identified Arab Americans, Americans of Arab heritage, and immigrants to the United States from the Arabic-speaking world. Beginning in the late 19th century with the first wave of modern Arab migration to the United States, the tradition evolved from early intellectual dramas written by Mahjar playwrights to 21st century plays that span the gamut of form and genre. Among the most prominent contemporary playwrights of this tradition are Yussef El Guindi, Betty Shamieh, Heather Raffo, and Mona Mansour. Arab American performance also includes popular entertainment such as stand-up comedy and digital media. Arab American theater has been supported by a collection of amateur and professional companies over the years, as well as festival and digital media producers. Their contributions have culminated in a concerted cultural movement in the 21st century that seeks to disrupt misrepresentations of Arabs in American culture with authentic narratives from within the community. The contemporary Arab American theater and performance canon covers topics ranging from immigrant experiences to cross-cultural conflict, political resistance to identity politics, and popular stereotypes to anti-Arab bias in the government and media. The academic study of this tradition has increased in early 21st century and includes works by scholars in the United States and abroad.


Popular Culture and US Foreign Relations  

Andrew J. Falk

Americans in and out of government have relied on media and popular culture to construct the national identity, frame debates on military interventions, communicate core values abroad, and motivate citizens around the world to act in prescribed ways. During the late 19th century, as the United States emerged as a world power and expanded overseas, Americans adopted an ethos of worldliness in their everyday lives, even as some expressed worry about the nation’s position on war and peace. During the interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s, though America failed to join the League of Nations and retreated from foreign engagements, the nation also increased cultural interactions with the rest of the world through the export of motion pictures, music, consumer products, food, fashion, and sports. The policies and character of the Second World War were in part shaped by propaganda that evolved from earlier information campaigns. As the United States confronted communism during the Cold War, the government sanitized its cultural weapons to win the hearts and minds of Americans, allies, enemies, and nonaligned nations. But some cultural producers dissented from America’s “containment policy,” refashioned popular media for global audiences, and sparked a change in Washington’s cultural-diplomacy programs. An examination of popular culture also shows how people in the “Third World” deftly used the media to encourage superpower action. In the 21st century, activists and revolutionaries can be considered the inheritors of this tradition because they use social media to promote their political agendas. In short, understanding the roles popular culture played as America engaged the world greatly expands our understanding of modern American foreign relations.