Assimilation and Its Discontents: Ethno-Racial Conflict in the Films of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee

By:
Professor James F. Scott
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Working from the premise that ethno-racial categories are culturally assigned by the hegemonic class, this paper argues that these three minority filmmakers, representing respectively, the Jewish, Italian, and African-American communities, dramatize and critique the process by which minority cultures of the USA, and particularly those of New York City, are assimilated into the more prestigious anglo-nordic world. My project builds particularly upon Karen Brodkin’s "How the Jews Became White Folks" to urge that, in the dialectic of ethno-racial assignment, “cultural capital” is played off against “racial taint” to establish, over an interval of generations, the conditions under which a disadvantaged minority will be invited to emerge from its ghetto of social and psychic containment. According to this paradigm, New York’s Jews brought the most cultural capital to the bargaining table; hence they are now the City’s most fully assimilated minority. Woody Allen’s films study the consequences of this assimilative process, noting the price paid as well as the advantages won. Scorsese’s Italians are the next to assimilate and thus, in contrast to Allen, this director provides us with more opportunity to see assimilation as a work in progress and better understand the power of the tribe to hold on to its own. African-Americans have proved the least assimilable, as well as the minority culture most sensitive to the power and privilege granted to minorities already absorbed into the hegemonic class. For this reason, in the films of Lee, the issue of assimilation remains open to debate, and this director, like his protagonist Mookie in Do the Right Thing, is tempted to just “stay black.”


Keywords: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ethnic Studies, Film Analysis
Stream: Analysing Artforms, Meaning and Representation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Assimilation and its Discontents


Professor James F. Scott

Professor of English, Department of English, Saint Louis University
USA

James F. Scott has been active in teaching, research, and media production (film and television) since taking his doctorate from University of Kansas, Lawrence KS, USA, in 1960. He is the author of one book, "Film: The Medium and the Maker" (1975) and has another in progress, devoted to the films of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee. His media productions include, among others, "Confluence: The River Heritage of St. Louis" (2004), "Henry Shaw: The Good Neighbor" (2000), "Articulate Space" (1998), and "Worlds of Bright Glass: The Ravenna Mosaic Company" (1991); all premiered on local or regional PBS. His film publications include work on Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. As a von Humboldt Fellow, he authored three scholarly articles on D.H. Lawrence and German culture.

Ref: A06P0198