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An Exploration of the dynamics of 'ghetto masculinity' and the upholding of negative representations in 'Training Day'

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Introduction

An Exploration of the dynamics of 'ghetto masculinity' and the upholding of negative representations in 'Training Day' I am going to look at the ways in which 'Training Day' uses mythic stereotypes of black males and 'ghetto masculinity' to portray negative representations of black society in America, and how hegemonic values of white audiences leaves these representations unquestioned. My main focus will be the representation of the main protagonist, Alonzo, an African America police officer played by Denzel Washington. First I will look at the history and background of Black representation in film. Early Black cinema, known as The Plantation Genre, began in 1915 with the release of 'Birth of a Nation' an overtly anti-black film which represented black slaves as untrustworthy and immoral and included positive representations of the Klu Klux Klan. In 1939 'Gone With the Wind' contradicted these representations by portraying black slaves as loyal and happy, a representation that is said to be unrealistic. The Era of the Integrated Negro came about during the 1950s and 60s after the rise of civil rights movements in the 1940s. Black representation in film was focused on black protest and the integrated Negro. One of the first integrated Negroes in Hollywood was Sidney Poitier who starred in films such as 'Guess who's coming to dinner' which represented black males as intelligent, handsome, well spoken and respectful. ...read more.

Middle

Alonzo threatens Jake's safe family life by telling him to "never wear that wedding ring to work" as it will be used against him. This also threatens white ideology of hegemonic family values. The use of a white co-star to identify a white audience has been used many times before, specifically in the Bi-racial buddy films of the 1980s. However, in these films the black protagonist is usually put into a white context in order to suture in white audiences further, unlike 'Training Day' where these roles are reversed and the white protagonist is in a black context. 'Training Day' is targeted at both black and white audiences and therefore reinforces the idea of Vertical Integration. At the start of the film Jake is represented as vulnerable and weak in Alonzo's presence and his belittled by Alonzo due to his lack of experience. This representation is built upon when Jake is referred to as a "rookie" by several characters later in the film. However this role is reverse when Jake saves a young girl from being raped by two drug addicts. Jake is now represented in a similar light to Alonzo; strong, confidant and streetwise. Alonzo commends him on his work and the audience feels he has transitioned into Alonzo's world; into the ghetto. This is anti-hegemonic for both black and white audiences who are used to the "blacks only" mentality of the ghetto. ...read more.

Conclusion

Jake is represented as clean-cut and vulnerable and out of his territory. This contrasts with Alonzo who is in control and far more experienced. High angle shots of Jake and his non-verbal communication, as he is talking to Alonzo across the coffee table shows his vulnerability and helplessness. These binary opposites are clearly established after the Alonzo lets two drug dealers go free after attempting to rape a young girl. Alonzo doesn't see the injustice of this and believes "street justice" is the way to deal with it. Jake disputes this, showing he has morals that Alonzo doesn't. He continues to take the law into his own hands throughout the film, searching a house without a warrant, holding a group of teenagers at gun point and forcing Jake so smoke drugs. This leaves an enigma code of whether or not he will get his comeuppance, interpellating the audience into these representations. At the end of the film, these mythic representations are challenged as the roles of Alonzo and Jake are reversed. A high angle shot looking down at Alonzo and a low angle shot looking up at Jake as he holds Alonzo at gun point shows this as Jake says, "it's no fun when the rabbit has a gun is it?". The rest of the black community turn on Alonzo and allow Jake to escape. This acceptance of Jake into the ghetto challenges hegemonic views and breaks down the barriers of the ghetto. ...read more.

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