Many films deal with culture in some way. Popular themes include conflicts between first and second generation immigrants, inter-ethnic romance, culture shock when people experience a new culture for the first time, and conflicts when the values and beliefs of members of different cultural communities clash. If we come from the same cultural background as the community portrayed in the film, or if we are familiar with it, it is probably easy for us to judge how realistically a situation and the character(s) are portrayed. However, it is more difficult for us to judge how accurately they are portrayed if we have no contact with the community in question.
Fortunately, there are some easily accessible resources that we can tap into for this kind of information. First of all, film reviews are a very useful resource, both in print and online. As well as the reviewer's assessment of the film, we can find out about the background to the film and the people involved in its production, such as the director, screenwriter and actors. Video sites such as YouTube also offer trailers, interviews with the director and actors, and film reviews. Further information can be accessed by typing a question in the search box of a search engine, such as how the film was received by members of the community portrayed in the film. In addition, the bonus material on a DVD often contains useful information about the making of the film and interviews with people involved in its production. This information can help us to spot stereotypical portrayals and a plot that lacks credibility and authenticity.
Another important consideration when deciding whether a film is suitable for educational use is its age. This doesn't mean that only contemporary films can be used in the classroom, but we need to be aware that cultures are constantly changing and that the social realities a film depicts may no longer be relevant if the film is dated. A non-contemporary film is a kind of historical document that can be studied to examine the social and political circumstances of a particular era and to locate its cultural assumptions.
In addition, a film tends to reflect the values of the time in which it was made and the prevailing ideas about issues such as race, religion, gender, family structures and authority. Incidentally, even if a film is a historical period drama, the hairstyles and make-up that were fashionable at the time of its production will be replicated in some way. This means that whether a film is set in the present or the past, it is a product of the time in which it was made and must be seen in that context.
The following questions can be used as a guide to determine whether a film is suitable for exploring cultural issues in the classroom:
Who is the screenwriter? What is his/her background?
Is the film based on a novel/ a true story? How was the book received?
Who is the director? What is his/her background?
Did the director use cultural consultants? Are these consultants knowledgeable
(if it is possible to find out)?
Who are the actors? What is their background?
What is the genre of the film (drama, comedy, documentary...)?
When was the film made?
How was the film received?
How was it received by the community that is portrayed in the film?
Is the plot plausible?
Do you feel that some of the characters are stereotyped?