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Stereotyping Heroes in Cinema Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2019


Representation can be defined as the action of speaking on behalf of someone else or the use of signs to stand for something else. It involves construction that occurs in the mass media to change aspects of reality, including the people being represented, places, and even cultural identities. Using mass media, representation has witnessed changes over time despite appearing natural (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2008).

In most cases, representation depends on an individual’s interpretation, since it usually involves selective aspects. In mass media, representation usually involves the use of art and signs to change the concept of concrete reality, hence leading to stereotyping of characters and heroes in movies and other non-fiction programs from a specific point of view.

In this view, representation provides a means and way through which ideologies and concepts of reality are created in such a way that the texts or movies characters including the heroes resembles something else (Martinec and Salway, 2005).

This paper will discuss how movies and cinemas usually use representation to stereotype heroes represented in the movies. Again, the paper will discuss representation theory of Barthes in explaining these stereotypes of characters, such as heroes in movies and films (Murray, 2013a).

Barthes Theory of Representation

To begin with, Barthes representation theory talks about denotation and connotation (Flynn, 2011), and argues that photography connotation, which involves the socio cultural and ideological and emotional personal associations of signs, can be distinguished from aspect of denotation. The aspect of denotation usually involves the literal meaning of signs.

Therefore, he argued that these connotations and denotations are usually related to the individuals’ gender, class, age, cultural beliefs, and even ethnicity in their interpretation (Hartman, 2006). Again, signs are more easily interpreted through their connotation than through the use of their denotation.

In addition, in most cases, connotation deals with how images and signs are photographed while denotation involves what is photographed (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2008). Furthermore, connotation is more related to myths that are usually associated with classical stories about heroes.

Indeed, myths can be used in making sense of the cultural experiences in most cases, especially considering that they are just the most dominant ideologies and values of our time. Moreover, most media representation usually associates our experiences to cultural myths and beliefs that reflect our true realities, including values, attitudes, and beliefs (Felton, Dimnik, and Bay, 2008).

Stuart Hall representation theory

In terms of non-fiction, Stuart Hall argued that there are three ways of understanding reading texts, which involve encoding and decoding a text. Firstly, texts can be read through the reader’s own values and experiences, hence allowing a chance to recognize and interpret the text according to the writer’s intended purpose.

Secondly, there is the use of negotiated reading, which involves decoding the text in a different way from what the writer encoded in the text. Lastly, there is the oppositional reading where the reader interprets a text in far much different way from which the writer intended (Martin, 2012).

There are various ways through which stereotyping of heroes is used in the movies. For example, although movies are meant to enhance communication, in most cases, the communication process becomes more complex, leading to meanings that are contradictory and inaccurately represented, hence stereotypes is seen (Murray, 2013a).

Heroes’ Stereotypes in Movies and Cinemas

According to Barthes theory of representation, there are signs and images that usually function in relation to the society’s cultural beliefs. Therefore, in these movies, meanings are expressed in terms of myths, rituals, and even one’s social class in the society (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2008).

For example, in movies, prominent heroes like Billy Blank and the late Paul Walker, among many other heroes in movies are usually represented as having good and extra ordinary qualities and characteristics such as, physical strength, through the use of connotation and denotation (Murray, 2013b).

Even though these stereotypes depend on the societal beliefs, their meaning changes when denotation and connotation are added (Shaffer and Casey, 2013).

Furthermore, Barthes argued that the way black people are represented in the mass media might be due to stereotypes that create the blacks as being more associated with crimes and criminal activities. This usually makes the viewers of movies and cinemas to associate the blacks with violent criminals and associate the whites with characters involved in restoring peace and solving conflicts and disputes (Atilola and Olayiwola, 2013).

In addition, most heroes in movies and films are usually associated with good qualities such as great physical strength, ability to fight many people and even ability to use knowledge to challenge tricky situations.

From this perspective, the social media such as movies create stereotypes by providing information and images that viewers, readers and audiences usually interprets and recall mostly with association to the existing beliefs and experiences that they have found from the movies.

This implies that association involves connotation, while denotation provides and produces long-lasting meanings that install stereotypes in the minds of viewers and readers (Barthes, 1977).

This idea of connotation and denotation can also be used in politics where opponents associate their rivals with criminal activities and lack of ideologies. Again, it can be used in texts and newspaper captions to provide conflicting meanings and qualities of others, hence providing stereotypes on other rivals (Mircea, 2013).

Perception can also be a form of connotation where an individual only categorizes and classifies things depending on his or her existing knowledge. Ideological and ethical form of connotation can also be used in movies where individuals recognize values according to their cultural beliefs (Cardon, 2010).

Other examples of this theory include some African leadership that have been associated with dictatorship and abuse of power. Therefore, most African leadership movies also are represented through dictatorship and abuse of power.

Again, in most movies and cinemas, women are stereotyped as weak characters; however, women who are heroes are usually given strong qualities including physical strength (Martinec and Salway, 2005).

Therefore, Roland Barthes theory of representation is important in analysing heroes stereotyping in movies since it give various myths about people and places. This theory talks about how the media represents people and heroes in movies using myths.

For example, in various Hollywood movies, heroes are usually unrealistically represented with extra-ordinary qualities, leading to stereotypes in the mainstream societal view. Specifically, in the White House Down movie, we see the white guy being the one who ends up being the hero at the end of the movie while Jamie Foxx could not save himself (Behm-Morawitz and Mastro, 2008).

Again, in this movie, we see the policeman struggling to save his daughter, and although there is terrorist attack in the white house, it is only the white guy policeman that manages to save the president. This movie also depicts Cale (white policeman) as the man with ability to save the president from the terrorist attack while Raphelson (who is black) is taken into custody.

This shows us that whites are given qualities that are more heroic in movies, thus providing enough evidence about the use of stereotypes in movies. Here, a mere policeman, Cale, saves not only the president, but also country and the president’s daughter.

On the other hand, in the movie of Hancock, Will Smith (who is black) is depicted as the bad guy in the beginning, and this is even made worse when the white guy comes in and ends up being civilised and the good guy (Murray, 2013b).

Therefore, in these two movies and other movies, the Whites are usually stereotyped as having good qualities while other races, especially the blacks, are associated with bad qualities. In addition, most movies associate women with weak qualities, thereby stereotyping them as weak characters in the society (Oliver and Fonash, 2002).

In most Holly wood movies, black characters are given the roles of athletes, gang members, or police officers. In addition, Arabs are associated with terrorist characters while Asians are given character roles associated with factory workers or physicians.

In contrast, the whites usually take the leadership roles and other good roles in movies (Shaffer and Casey, 2013). These movies and films usually show racial stereotypes, with heroes usually depicted as having good characters. Another good example is in Superman movies, where the Batman is represented with good qualities including extra physical strength and good voice that attract women (Oliver and Fonash, 2002).


This paper has discussed how heroes are mostly stereotypes in movies and other mass media as having good qualities such as physical strength. Again, there are also gender stereotypes where women are usually associated with weak and soft qualities, despite that being not the reality on the ground.

In addition, in most movies and cinemas, we have found out that there are racial stereotypes where whites are usually associated with good qualities while other races are associated with inferior qualities. This is evidenced in some movies like the Hancock, White House Down movie and the Superman where white characters are given the hero roles while other races are given roles that are less glamorous.

Besides, from the paper, it is clear that heroes are usually depicted to have good qualities while other characters may be associated with some abnormally weak qualities. Finally, the paper has discussed how Barthes theory of representation has successful used connotation and denotation to show how the media uses cultural values and myths in order to portray media stereotypes of heroes.


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Murray, J. (2013b). Give a dog a bone: representations of Scotland in the popular genre cinema of Neil Marshall. Visual Studies, 28(3), 227-237

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