Monday, October 19, 2009

Stereotypes in the movie 21

Stuart Hall argues that we are always making sense of things in terms of some wider categories. For example, we come to 'know' something about a person by thinking of the "roles" which he or she performs, such as a parent, a child, a worker, or a lover. This leads to our ability to stereotype people based on the roles that they play and their personalities exhibited within those roles. Hall states, "Stereotypes get hold of the few simple, vivid, memorable, and easily grasped and widely recognized characteristics about a person, reduce everything about the person to those traits, exaggerate and simplify them, and fix them without change or development to eternity" (Hall 258).

I wanted to use the example 21 not only because this is one of my favorite movies, but because there was a lot of controversy over the casting for this movie and the racial stereotypes it portrayed in the media. This movie is based off the best-selling book 'Bringing Down the House', about the real-life team of mostly Asian Americans who won big in Las Vegas. The two main characters in the book, 'Kevin Lewis' and 'Steve Fisher', were Jeff Ma and Mike Aponte, two Asian American males. See their picture below:

However, here is a picture of the movie poster with the real actors casted for this film. (The two actors who are playing the role of these 2 Asian males, are both white males in this poster.)

The lead role is a tall, white, smart, successful male, and alongside him is a sexy, smart, skinny blonde female. There is another sexy female and male on the team, along with one Asian, but these characters take a backseat and certainly do not encompass any main role. It's pretty outrageous that this was the cast chosen for this movie when the blackjack team's story this movie is modeled after contained all Asian males and one white female. This goes to show that even though Asian actors are slowly making their way into mainstream films, when Hollywood is expecting to produce a hit, they will go with the stereotypical, crowd favorite, beautiful white actors, specifically the white male actor as the lead.
Additionally, as Hall would say, the writers of 21 "reduced and simplified" the role of the Asian in the film because they portray him as not as bright, considering he did not play at the main table in the casinos. He was also portrayed as young and foolish because the main action he was known for in the film was that he was always caught stealing candy off the maid carts.
It is interesting to me because although Hall said that we stereotype people based on the roles that they play, Hollywood chooses to downplay some of these stereotypes, such as Asians are very smart, and portrays them as somewhat foolish if it makes their male, white, dominant character more appealing to their audience and helps them sell more movie tickets.


  1. I think the replacement of Asian main characters by white characters is what Charles Berg classifies as"out group" stereotype. I feel that this is the stereotype that we most think of, when we classify someone as the "other" when they are not in the same group as us. However, speaking of replacement, I think "in group" stereotype is even more interesting. Remember the controversy sparked by casting a Chinese actress (Zhang Ziyi) to play a geisha in Memoirs of a Geisha?

  2. Great example, Courtney, and excellent comment, Kim.