<< Courses index

Anthropology In/Through Feature Films

Richard Chalfen
Department of Anthropology
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122 USA

Fall Semester, 2002

During this semester, we will critically review a series of feature films that include topics, themes, subject matter often treated within anthropology and related human sciences. Clearly, American feature films -- usually thought of as "Hollywood films" -- can be very influential in establishing or reinforcing social and cultural stereotypes or 'states of knowledge' about peoples living in various parts of the world. Viewership of these materials, either as films shown in movie theaters or as their videotape counterparts seen on home television screens, certainly exceeds the size of audiences in introductory anthropology courses in the U.S. The potential for influence and false senses of familiarity is enormous.

A preliminary selection of films for this course includes Krippendorf’s Tribe, The Truman Show, Witness, Quest for Fire, The Gods Must be Crazy, The Mission, Emerald Forest, Greystoke: Legend of Tarzan, White Dawn, Salaam Bombay!, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart, The Milagro Beanfield War, Mr. Baseball, and Blade Runner in addition to Being There and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

We will examine such topics as the relationship between ethnographic film and feature film, media socialization, stereotype formation, themes of representation in conjunction with viewer-response theory, genre demand characteristics, the social construction of credibility, the construction of "others" and the maintenance of "otherness", and the international politics of film distribution and exhibition. Subsequent versions of this seminar will focus on (1) science fiction films, (2) feature films that treat cultures located within the boundaries of the United States, and (3) prime time television programs (situation comedies and dramas).

All students must complete two (2) five-to-ten page reviews of specific feature films, and five (5) short comment papers. Other seminar requirements will be discussed during the first week of classes. This course is relevant to students in Anthropology, Sociology, Film and Media Arts, Mass Media Communication Studies, Popular Culture, Leisure Studies, Education and others.

back to top

Required Readings

Askew, Kelly and Richard R. Wilk (eds.)
2002 The Anthropology of Media: A Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell)

Parenti, Michael
1992 Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment (New York: St. Martin's Press)

Kosinski, Jerzy
1972 Being There. New York: Harcourt Brace Jonanovich, Bantam.

Chalfen, Richard (ed.)
2002 Readings for Anthropology 234 – Anthropology & Feature Film
This packet is available from Docucare, located at 900 North Broad Street
(call 215-235-8740 before going to make sure of availability and stated cost).

Recommended Texts


back to top


To contact Richard Chalfen, email: rchalfen@temple.edu