For us Only? Perceiving Bias in Black films
 
Student researcher

Omotayo Banjo (PhD Student)

Introduction

There has been much debate over the use (or public use) of the N-word, also known as the “N-bomb” as it elicits adverse responses from Blacks and Whites alike. It is common knowledge that the “N-word” is forbidden in the White community or even in the presence of Whites. However, though it may be used in a derogatory manner, the N-word is unchallenged amongst many Blacks within the Black community. The recognition of the N-word as an offense becomes salient only when an out-group member is a factor.

Such differences in perception have interesting implications for the enjoyment of film. If the derogatory nature of a word freely used among in-group members (Blacks) is most salient when an out-group member (Whites) is a factor, how much more would the presence of a White person affect Black people’s enjoyment of Black film? Applying hostile media and third person theories, this study attempts to examine the role White audiences play in Blacks’ enjoyment and perception of bias in Black films.

Hypotheses

H1 : Black viewers’ enjoyment of stereotypical content will decrease when in the presence of White audience members.

H2: Perceptions of bias in a Black film will be more salient to Black viewers with a mixed co-audience than to Black viewers with an all Black co-audience.

H3: Black viewers will perceive that White co-audience members will be more negatively affected than will self and other Blacks.

Method

In this experiment, race of co-audience (All Black, Mixed audience) was the independent variable. Enjoyment, hostile media perception, and third person perception were the dependent variables. African-American participants were recruited and told that the present study was about identifying trends in Black entertainment. Upon signing up, participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. Participants viewed a ten minute clip of one of two Black films, Diary of a Mad Black Woman or ATL. Upon viewing the clip, participants responded to an online questionnaire which contained measures of the three dependent variables. Questionnaire also included items measuring different aspects of enjoyment and open ended options to explain thoughts about Black films. .

Results

H1: Supported. Blacks in the mixed audience condition experienced less enjoyment
Wilks’ λ = .89, F (2, 60) = 3.487, p < .05, ή2= .10

H2: Not Supported. Perceptions of bias against Blacks were neutral amongst both groups. However, Blacks in the All Black condition perceived more bias against non-blacks.

H3: Supported. Blacks in the mixed condition perceived more influence of film on White audiences’ attitudes towards black and interaction likelihood compared to self and other Blacks.
Wilks’ λ = .87 F (3, 59) = 3.523, p < .05

Conclusion

Although Black Americans are aware of stereotypes present in Black films, they still enjoy the media content. However, there is concern that non-Blacks will be negatively affected by these films. On a theoretical level, this project expands the application of third person perception theories beyond political messages to messages within entertainment media. On a practical level, the findings of this study implies that Blacks’ enjoyment of a Black film in a theatre might disrupted by the presence of a White co-audience.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University