Social Media may offer a Remedy to Hollywood’s Whitewashing Problem
Hollywood often “whitewashes” movies by casting White actors in roles that are written as race-neutral or even as characters of color. Studios claim that such casting is necessary to make a movie a commercial success for a wide audience, implying that White audiences will not see movies starring actors of color. In a new article published in the NCA journal Communication Monographs, Andrew J. Weaver and Jessica R. Frampton completed two studies to examine when and why White audiences see movies with predominantly Black casts.
The first study investigated why White audiences sometimes prefer to see movies with predominantly White casts. Weaver and Frampton examined three factors: perceived similarity with characters, perceived thematic relevance and perceived intended audience. Perceived similarity with characters refers to whether audience members expect to identify with characters because of their race, physical appearance, or attitudes. Perceived thematic relevance refers to whether the audience believes that the issues and events in the movie are relevant. Perceived intended audience refers to whether the audience believes that they are the intended audience.
Weaver and Frampton crafted eight movie synopses, like those on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Then, they created webpages with the title, plot, cast list, and cast pictures. Cast members were randomly assigned thumbnail photos, so that the casts were 70% White, 70% Black, all-Black, or all-White. After viewing the webpages, participants were asked survey questions to determine whether they would be interested in seeing the movies.
Weaver and Frampton found that White participants were more interested in seeing movies with majority White casts. Although the movies only differed because of the cast photos, White participants still felt that they were not the target audience for movies with predominantly Black casts.
In the second study, Weaver and Frampton tested whether positive social media reviews could alter participants’ intention to see movies. They used four of the synopses from the first study and assigned each one either a 70% White cast or a 70% Black cast. Then, they paired the synopses with different social media conditions. Weaver and Frampton found that White participants were more likely to report that they intended to see a movie with a predominantly Black cast when it received positive comments on a predominantly White social media feed.
Overall, Weaver and Frampton found that White audiences were less likely to report planning to watch movies with predominantly Black casts because they believed they were not the intended audience for those movies. However, social media buzz encouraged White audiences to see movies that they otherwise might not see. According to Weaver and Frampton, these results “suggest that the economic impetus for whitewashing in Hollywood is not an insurmountable hurdle.”
Read the full article online here.
To arrange an interview with the study authors, contact Grace Hébert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-534-1104.
The National Communication Association (NCA) advances Communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems. NCA supports inclusiveness and diversity among our faculties, within our membership, in the workplace, and in the classroom; NCA supports and promotes policies that fairly encourage this diversity and inclusion.