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Black History Month

Interrogating film texts

Film engages young people in a uniquely powerful way and is therefore a valuable resource to use when celebrating black history. When using a film in your classroom, it’s important to treat it as you would any other text. It has been constructed in a particular way to offer specific meaning and part of your students' discussion of the film should be about how and why the filmmaker has constructed it in this way and for what purpose. Like written texts such as novels, plays or even newspaper articles, a film can be discussed in terms of narrative structure, genre, themes, character and setting.

Films that focus on historical black characters and their experiences are often more than simply entertainment. All films have different purposes and underlying messages, providing knowledge about worlds and subjects that we may never have the opportunity to experience for ourselves. They can also provide us with the chance to reflect on our own attitudes and beliefs. When exploring concepts of racism, cultural hegemony and representations of black people in the media, film is a great pedagogical tool.

Meaning within a film is often implied or embedded in the codes and conventions with which film communicates. The following questions can help students unpack implicit meanings:

  • What is the purpose of the film and how is it structured to suit this purpose?
  • What devices are used to engage the audience?
  • What do you think the central character(s) is feeling at key points and how has the filmmaker shown the audience their point of view?
  • What is the setting and why do you think the filmmaker chose it?
  • What do you think is the message of the film and how has it been communicated?
  • How does the soundtrack affect your viewing of certain sequences in the film?

When using film in the classroom, don’t feel you have to watch the whole film. Working with students on the close analysis of a carefully chosen short sequence, exploring perhaps how atmosphere or mood is created in the moving image, can be a more meaningful approach than simply sitting your class passively in front of a DVD to consume the film uncritically.