Table of Contents

A film is a world which organizes itself in terms of a story.” ~ Jean Mitry

Introduction: What is Media Literacy?

Popular culture is a “profoundly mythic … theater of popular desires, a theater of popular fantasies …

where we discover and play with the identifications of ourselves, where we are imagined, where

we are represented, not only to our audiences … but to ourselves.”

~Stuart Hall, “What is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?”


“Every image embodies a way of seeing.”

~John Berger, from Ways of Seeing (1972)

*  Introduction: What is Media Literacy?


*  Questions to Ask

*   Viewing Film for the Purpose of Analyzing it

*   Framework for Analyzing Film

*   Scene Analysis of Malcolm X: "American Nightmare" & "Our Women"

*   Sample Student Paragraph and Student Essay

*   The Language of Film

*  Theme

*  Character

*  Point of View

*  Setting

*  Mise-en-Scene

*  Camera Shots

*  Editing

*  Sound

*  Lighting

*  Literary Elements


*   Film Glossary (Dartmouth)

*   Wit

        * Unit 1

    * Unit 2





What is media literacy?

Film literacy is a convergence of the interdisciplinary practices of literary and media studies, which both concentrate on the analysis of significance in all manner of texts: visual and written. Ushering students toward a more open notion of literary discourse and practice, critical media pedagogy begins with the assumption that visual images, songs, advertisements, and film are inherently ideological and political. The media enacts, as John Berger frames it, “ways of seeing” that can effectively produce and determine the meanings and outcomes of discourse itself and which, therefore, shape our cultural contexts. Our job as critics is to see these texts as a mélange of cultural archives, open to functionalist analysis and critique. What do these texts say about the human experience?  How do they construct meaning? Whose interests do they serve?

Core Concepts of Media Literacy: Applications to Film

1.      Representations and images in media catalogue or “mirror” commonly shared practices, ideologies and experiences. In this sense, media representations play a formative role in reifying and entrenching cultural practices and are seen to be expressions, often, of the collective (or dominant) will. An advertisement, for example, might project gendered, classist, and even racial fears or fantasies; a film might catalogue the beliefs, assumptions, and prejudices of a particular historical moment.


2.      To draw from Henry Giroux, one of today’s leading critical pedagogy scholars, The media enacts its own invisible pedagogy.[1] Media is not neutral terrain but rather contains embedded arguments, points of view, and messages.  


3.      According to Maurice E. Stevens, in an article on Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, the visual medium is “an arbiter of ... identities.” Hence more than merely reflecting shared beliefs, customs and value-systems by which we come to identify ourselves, the media plays a critical role in constructing identities and social ideology, promoting, challenging, and mediating prevailing attitudes toward corporeality, race, gender, class, sexuality, occupation, (etc.) that permeate Western culture and language at their deepest levels.

Ø       See also, Dirks, Introduction to Cinema Literacy

Why Study Media?

$     All media forms are discursive terrain, loaded with meaning and grounded in linguistic constructs of power and ideology.

$     Media literacy is part of an extended effort to think critically about normative or dominant cultural practices, discourses and representations, particularly in the crafting of matters sexual, racial, political and cultural.

$      “A critical media pedagogy seeks to make visible how and why these representations are constructed, to ask whose interests they serve.”[1]

$      Because media renders visible the culture’s codes and mechanisms for identification (of, say, race, gender, class or occupation), it is our job as critics to interrogate these text’s ideological underpinnings, question them if necessary, and “locate sites of resistance to disabling representations and oppressive cultural narratives.”[2]




Why Study Film[2]

Some traditional reasons for our valuing the study of any literary text include:

1)       its reflection of beliefs that we share, individually and culturally;

2)       its correspondence to reality, its coinciding with our vision of truth;

3)       its ability to give us a strong sense of how it feels to have certain experiences, to hold certain views (often quite different from our own);

4)       its insights into a state of mind (here, truth or falsity is not the issue; rather, the issue is immersing the reader in a particular psychological state);

5)       its potential to instruct us; and

6)       its potential to delight and entertain us.

 Why Write About Film?[3]

A literary critic, which you are setting out to become in English 1102, can perform a variety of functions.  Among these are the following: 

1)       the introduction of unfamiliar works;

2)       the altering of preconceptions regarding a work through persuasive examination;

3)       demonstration of relationships between (among) works of different ages, cultures, etc.;

4)       a reading that enhances understanding of a text;

5)       shedding light on the artistic process of the making of a work; and

6)       illuminating a real life through examination of the work, such as Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (remember, even the most “factual” recording of another’s life is clouded by the writer’s/director’s subjectivity, personal ideology and motives—conscious or not, and therefore subject to interpretation)




[1] Developed by The Center for Media Literacy, and taken from Frank Baker’s website, “Film Study Guide for To Kill a Mockingbird: Seeing the Film Through the Lens of Media Literacy.”

[2] Reproduced from a handout by Dr. Jane Hill, Spring 2001 as adapted by Dr. Hill from A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, by Sylvan Barnet.  7th ed.  HarperCollins, 1996.

[3] Reproduced from a handout by Dr. Jane Hill, Spring 2001 as adapted by Dr. Hill from A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, by Sylvan Barnet.  7th ed.  HarperCollins, 1996.