Reel Diversity

A Teacher’s Sourcebook – Revised Edition

by Brian C. Johnson (Author) Sykra C. Blanchard (Author)
©2015 Textbook XI, 260 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 348


The first edition of Reel Diversity: A Teacher’s Sourcebook won the 2009 Phillip C. Chinn Book Award of the National Association for Multicultural Education. This revised edition is an updated resource guide for educators in secondary and university classrooms who desire to integrate mainstream and independent films into their instructional content about diversity and social justice. The book has transformed difficult dialogues in classrooms around the country by helping educators identify full-length films and shorter film clips to enhance, energize, and motivate student learning.
Accessible and practical for both novice and advanced educators, the book provides a lexicon of twenty-five definitions that teachers and learners should understand about difference, awareness, and power. Assignments, classroom activities, and lecture notes highlight these definitions in ways that deeply impact students’ multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills. Reel Diversity invites cross-cultural dialogue about films’ mixed messages and how they enforce and reinforce cultural values. Students will emerge with a greater understanding of the educational value of this entertainment medium. The book is perfect for courses in mass media, film studies, American studies, mass communication, and media literacy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Reel Diversity
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface to the Revised Edition
  • Introduction: Movies as Edutainment
  • 1. Guidelines for Teaching Diversity Guidelines for Teaching Diversity
  • 2. Creating a Common Lexicon
  • 3. Developing a Course on American Diversity (with an Emphasis on Film)
  • 4. Clips and Questions
  • Conclusion: The Prevailing (Hidden) Discourses
  • Appendix
  • Index
  • Series index

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I continue to be blessed by the loving support of my wife of nearly twenty years; she has consistently been my rock and loudest cheerleader. Darlene, you are the brightest shining star in my universe. I am a diversity educator because I want my children and grandchildren to live in a world where fairness and equity are not just ideals, but are actualized daily. Kasey, Thomas, Aubyn, you are my world. I dedicate this project to my Ana who continues to amaze me with her own commitment to justice and fairness. Through her own love of film, she has taught me how to look deeper into the films to unlock hidden treasures.

I am indebted to Dr. Shirley Steinberg who has become a mentor and friend. Her work in critical pedagogy and media literacy continues to inspire me to become a better educator and teaching practitioner. Her continued faith in me as a scholar is appreciated, and I hope to someday “pay it forward.”

I also must extend my gratitude to the National Association for Multicultural Education for honoring Reel Diversity: A Teacher’s Sourcebook with the 2009 Phillip Chinn book award. Dr. Chinn is an early pioneer of multicultural education and the education of culturally and linguistically diverse exceptional children. To have the original edition highlighted in such a way is mind-boggling and I am forever grateful for the acknowledgment of the potential impact of this text. ← Vii | viii

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Preface to the Revised Edition

This book will be an indispensable resource for teachers who want to introduce and infuse the concepts of diversity and social justice into their courses. As a manual or user-friendly guide, Reel Diversity provides easily accessible lessons for use in secondary, undergraduate, and graduate classroom instruction. The strength of the volume lies in its practical application in courses and workshop presentations.

The text includes a discussion on the power of the film medium for teaching today’s students. It is couched in the language of media literacy so that students will understand movies as harbingers of cultural expectations, mores, and beliefs, not just a source of entertainment. Within this text are proven guidelines for teaching diversity using a framework that deconstructs national opinion and culture from both majority and minority perspectives. Critical to diversity education is the development of a shared language among teachers and learners; therefore, this text provides a glossary of important definitions in the areas of difference and power dynamics. Pursuant to the goals of multicultural education and critical pedagogy, this resource guide supports the role of the teacher as a crucial factor in minimizing cultural dominance, prejudice, and discrimination in a society that favors majority groups and demonizes minorities.

This book is written by an educator for educators who desire to expand concepts of diversity beyond simple celebration, acceptance, or tolerance—the buzzwords of diversity—to an increasingly more significant understanding of and critical engagement with the issues of difference. It offers practical, teacher/student-friendly material that is usable in a variety of classroom, workshop, and seminar formats.

Another feature of Reel Diversity is an extensive section on how to design a diversity education course using mainstream Hollywood film as the vehicle. ← ix | x Teachers will benefit from the classroom teaching ideas including suggested instructional activities, recommended readings, possible assignments, and advice on creating a classroom atmosphere for tough, sometimes politically and emotionally charged topics. These suggestions are accompanied by lesson plans that outline student learning opportunities. Rather than just another book on film literacy, theory, and criticism, this resource manual stands out from its competitors for its practical, user-friendly mini-lessons using film clips from a variety of genres. The lessons in this book are designed to supplement instruction on diversity issues. For each term in the list of definitions, there is a movie clip that illustrates the concept being taught. Each clip lasts no longer than ten minutes. There is also a list of questions following each clip that can be used to encourage cross-cultural dialogue. With over 150 clips and nearly 500 discussion questions, both novice and experienced educators will find visual illustrations to support their instruction.

What’s New in the Revised Edition

One of the most common challenges teachers acknowledge when they desire to introduce film into their classroom is finding the “right” movie or film clip to show. There are thousands of films to choose from, and few educators have the time to watch more than a few dozen. Perhaps the highlight of the first edition was the section providing film clip options based on the definitions. Of the over 125 film clips here, not one is repeated from the original book. I do repeat some films from the original text, such as V for Vendetta, Do the Right Thing, and Disney’s Pocohantas, but I always use different clips. Additionally, in the 2008 version, only films from the 1990s through 2006 were used. In this edition, American films from as early as the 1930s through 2014 are featured. Similarly, in the first edition, only mainstream blockbuster films were featured. In recent years, there is much more critical and popular acceptance of the independent film; therefore the inclusion of lower-budget, lesser-known works opens the window for even more dialogue about the infuence of film as cultural entitiy.

One related change that is important to note here is that our access to movies has changed since the first edition of Reel Diversity. DVDs are quickly becoming outdated as streaming technologies become commonplace. As a result, the film clips in this edition do not include the DVD chapter (or scene); only the elapsed time stamps are provided.

Also new to this edition is the inclusion of an important new definition from Writing for Change: Raising Awareness of Difference, Power, and Discrimination by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The authors define complicity as “collusion, or partnership in wrongdoing, such as the oppression ← x | xi of a target group.” This definition acknowledges the role that individuals may knowingly or unknowlingly play in the support of hegemonic practices. One must acknowledge complicity in systems of privilege in order to grow in understanding of the ways that systemic hierarchies are maintained. For instance, all men need to acknowledge the brokenness of a system that diminishes the contribution and value of women. They need not be individually chauvinistic or sexist, but they should acknowledge how sexism has benefitted them. For example, a woman often makes 75% of what men do, and it can be presumed that even the most feminist of men would likely not give back 25% of their paycheck. Similarly, a white student’s family may have never owned slaves, but acknowledging white skin privilege enables students to understand how race is lived for darker-skinned others, especially African Americans, given the legacy of racism and the slave trade in America.

In this edition, there is intentional integration of the film clips in chapter four into the teaching narrative; these recommended clips provide a user- friendly option to highlight important topics. Another adaptation includes call-outs that highlight various resources: video documentaries, books in print, websites, or films that provide additional support for the subject being discussed. These resources offer opportunities to go deeper into a lesson or to provide an activity for student learning.

Similarly, secondary and university educators who have been using film in their classrooms have provided some tips and strategies they have found beneficial when teaching these concepts. One such educator, Brandon Nord, a high school teacher in the Phoenixville, PA, area, developed a “Reel Diversity” course for his junior and senior classes. Recognizing the special needs and regulations that K–12 educators face, Mr. Nord has provided a bevy of resources for teachers who may want to use this book to develop a similar course offering. His “parental permission form” stands out as a tool in itself to show the necessary home–school partnerships that need to be in place for this type of learning. [Note from Brian: I am so humbled by the number of high school teachers and college faculty who have developed “Reel Diversity” courses.]

It is my hope that Reel Diversity: A Teacher’s Sourcebook (revised edition) helps to make teaching and learning about diversity easier, practical, and dare I say, fun. Even more, I hope it reduces tensions and exemplifies the transformative nature of diverse and inclusive education. ← xi | xii

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Introduction: Movies as Edutainment

It cannot be doubted that motion pictures are a significant medium for the communication of ideas. They may affect public attitudes and behavior in a variety of ways, ranging from direct espousal of a political or social doctrine to the subtle shaping of thought that characterizes all artistic expression. The importance of motion pictures as an organ of public opinion is not lessened by the fact that they are designed to entertain as well as to inform.

~US Supreme Court (1952; Burstyn v. Wilson)

In other words, films appeared to be vehicles of amusement, a highly regarded and sought after source of fun and joy…. However, within a very short period of time, it became clear to me that the relevance of such films exceeded the boundaries of entertainment.

(Giroux, 1996, p. 90)

In the independent film, Film Geek (2005), Scotty Pelk (Melik Malkasian), a video store employee and movie enthusiast, spoke of his love of film—“because of the crackling dialogue in Sweet Smell of Success, the brilliant fight sequences in Raging Bull.” He continues, “I love movies more than anything. Movies are another place. Movies let you be other people.” Similarly, in the 2012 hit movie Pitch Perfect, Jesse (Skylar Astin) tries to woo Beca, who loves music but was unimpressed by Jesse’s love of movies, particularly because of Hollywood’s penchant for the predictable. He was incredulous and equated her position with “not liking puppies.” He suggested she was in need of a “movie-cation” to understand the ways that movies “bring people to tears” and how filmmakers “blow their minds.” Both Jesse and Scott were onto something—movies are a part of our culture, and to understand how we come to understand ourselves, we must understand the power of film as a shaper of personal and societal identities.

← 1 | 2 Each person’s individual identity is shaped by a number of different forces, including, but not limited to, parents and other family members, peer groups, social and religious organizations/leaders, educational providers and institutions, communities, and media messages. These forces, in many ways, dictate particular meanings and interpretations of the world around us. In your life, what have these forces taught you about who you are and what have they said about people who are not like you? Many times, these messages are not communicated verbally; they are often embedded in traditions, behaviors, activities, and the like. Of the above list of cultural shapers, few send more powerful messages (subtle and overt) as Hollywood. Dan Glickman, former CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, noted the global influence of Hollywood. For Glickman, “The symbol of America is the movie industry” (Rich, 2004, p. 18). Giroux (1996) argued that American film consumers have granted Hollywood a place of cultural legitimacy and authority. Barrios (2003) reflects on how film “reflects, reproduces, copies, caricatures” (p. 2) our understanding of the world we live in.


XI, 260
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2008 (September)
Classrooms Mainstream Pedagogy USA Schule Interkulturelle Erziehung Film Diversity Media literacy Instruction Curriculum American Diversity
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XI, 260 pp.

Biographical notes

Brian C. Johnson (Author) Sykra C. Blanchard (Author)

Brian C. Johnson serves as a faculty member in the Department of Academic Enrichment at Bloomsburg University and is Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for Academic Excellence. He is a founder of the Pennsylvania Association of Liaisons and Officers of Multicultural Affairs, a consortium that promotes best practices for diversity in higher education. He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from California University of Pennsylvania, and is currently in the final stages of the doctorate in communications media and instructional technology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on social dominance orientation in mainstream film. He is a professional speaker with Kirkland Productions.


Title: Reel Diversity
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