Hollywood Raises Political Consciousness

Political Messages in Feature Films

by Michael Haas (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook X, 195 Pages


Feature films are jam-packed with political messages. This volume provides the tools for analyzing the politics embedded in films. Contributors reveal how subliminal messages are a clue to how the public perceives political reality through otherwise entertaining feature films.
The volume is divided into two parts: Part One focuses on defining political films while Part Two looks at how «politics» is defined within films. Contributors find several ways of defining «political films», but agree that while the messages in films may often seem progressive, they are usually quite conservative, with the aim of making as much money as possible for the people financing the films.
The book provides a history of political film and identifies several hundred films with specific political messages.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Tables
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Defining the “Political Film”
  • 1 Films Contain Political Messages
  • Films Impact Politics
  • A Short History of Political Film
  • Founding of the Political Film Society (PFS)
  • Three Conundrums
  • Where Can Political Messages Be Inserted into Films?
  • Themes
  • Notes
  • 2 Art and Politics: The Political Film as a Pedagogical Tool
  • The Political Lens of Film
  • The Artist Confronts Society
  • What Makes a Film “Political”?
  • Art and Audience
  • Seeing the Political
  • The Artistic Sensibility
  • Escaping Reality
  • Democratic or Elitist Art?
  • Film as a Political Document
  • Conclusion
  • 3 Searching for the Political Film
  • The Inclusives
  • The Exclusives
  • A Third Alternative: A Typology
  • A Fourth Gambit: Political Messages
  • My Contribution to Defining “Political Film”
  • Case Study: Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)
  • Factors to Consider in Identifying the Political Film
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Part II. How Films Define the Political
  • 4 The Real Oliver North Loses: The Reel Bob Roberts Wins
  • Does Life Imitate Art?
  • Constructing Reality
  • Background of the Candidates
  • Viewing the Films
  • Conclusion: The Joke on the Audience
  • Epilog
  • 5 Escape from the Bowling Alley: Traditional Associations as the Antagonist in Popular Film
  • The Social Capital Thesis
  • The Discussion in the Movie Theory
  • Looking Around
  • Looking Back
  • Discussion
  • 6 The Politics of Disaster Films
  • Disasters and Rumors of Disaster
  • From Disasters to the Renewal of Disaster Films
  • Documentary versus Fictional Disaster Films: An Overview
  • Two Case Studies: The Invisible War and Contagion
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • 7 The Blending of a Kaleidoscopic Culture: Films on Asian Americans
  • Inclusion and Community in Asian American Films
  • Living in a Kaleidoscopic Culture
  • Notes
  • 8 Films about Thailand and Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Conclusion
  • Epilog. Using Political Films in the Classroom
  • When Colleagues Complain
  • Appendix. Films Nominated by the Political Film Society, 1986–2014
  • Combined References
  • Film and Subject Indexes
  • About the Contributors

| vii →


3.1 Typology of Film Types

5.1 Comparing Six Films

8.1 A Statistical Comparison between Portrayals of Thai Characters in Films Made in Thailand, the United States, and Other Countries

8.2 Classification of Films about Vietnam by Theme and by Decade

| ix →


My first interest in films was the reward for walking down Warren Boulevard in Detroit, quarter in hand, to attend the cartoons, documentaries, B- films (mostly Westerns), and then the A films (I recall only The Fountainhead in 1949) at the Alger Theatre every Saturday, beginning at noon.

In 1950, my parents moved to Hollywood, and soon my interest was jolted by a direct association with some movie personalities and their children. Among those whom I met were Bob Hope, Art Linkletter, Ann Sheridan, and fellow classmate Ricky Nelson. My father, a radio station executive, often handled public relations with the film industry. From the students of celebrities at schools and in college, I learned of the Hollywood Ten, the film industry’s work ban (the blacklist) on those who had leftist ties, and subpoenas of moviemakers by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

My interest in film receded when I went off to college in the mid-1950s, where I majored in political science. A few films were featured on the Stanford campus on Sunday nights, and friends noticed afterward that I was still caught up in the drama. Due to the blacklist, few feature films had political or social content in the 1950s and early 1960s. When I accepted employment at the University of Hawaii, I discovered that films exhibited in Honolulu also were mostly devoid of political content. Few of my colleagues had any interest in films, whereas I was the first to use documentaries in class.

With the release of Reds (1981), The Killing Fields (1984), and Platoon (1986), I realized that the time had come to form an organization to reward Hollywood for providing political messages to the public again. I then founded the Political Film Society (PFS). I explain more about PFS within the introductory chapter.

As papers on political films were presented at academic political science conventions, I collected them as Working Papers, offering them for sale from on the PFS website, which was created in 1998. I also collected syllabi for courses on film from various scholars, making them available at a nominal cost. Membership grew over the years along with interest in the publications. Although interest continued in the Working Papers Series and Syllabus Series, the task of making photocopies for each request has remained burdensome because most of the material was written before articles could be filed on computers. Accordingly, I decided in early 2013 that some of the Working Papers should be collected in book form for easier distribution. ← ix | x →

Most of the following chapters have their origins as a PFS Working Paper, though they have been updated. Chapter 6, by Elizabeth Haas, has never appeared as a Working Paper and thus appears for the first time herein. The book is intended not only for courses on political film but also as a commentary that should intrigue the film industry.

Most chapters were originally papers at academic conferences. Chapter 1 was presented at the 2004 convention of the Western Political Science Association. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 were first presented at the annual convention of the American Political Science Association during August 1995. Chapter 5 was originally presented as a paper at a conference of the Western Political Science Association during March 2001. Chapter 7 was originally presented at the 1996 annual convention of the American Political Science Association. Most authors have updated their papers to serve as chapters herein.

The authors of Chapters 2–5 and 7–8 granted permission for their distribution in the Working Paper Series of the Political Film Society. Chapters 1 and 6 are the only essays not previously available in the Working Paper Series of the Political Film Society; instead, the essays debut herein. (Incidentally, I am not related to or Elizabeth Haas, who is the sister of Peter J. Haas, who has written extensively on political films.) Chapter 8 conjoins and updates two of my essays written expressly for the Political Film Society Working Paper Series in 2001 and 2002; similar to the other chapters, the content is updated.

Chapter 3, as revised from the original Working Paper Series version, was published in Ernest D. Giglio, Here’s Looking at You: Hollywood, Film & Politics, 4th edn., New York: Peter Lang, 2014, and is herein reprinted, including some updated passages, with the kind permission of the present publisher.

An appendix listing films nominated for Political Film Society awards is provided for those who might want to view films that focus on democracy, cinejournalistic exposés, human rights, and peace. The Political Film Society awards are known as Stanley Awards after the late Stanley Mark Castillo, who was the first vice president of Political Film Society, Inc.

Michael Haas
President, Political Film Society

| 1 →


Michael Haas

Members of the film industry are quite conscious of politics. Although the industry is perceived as liberal or leftist, chapters in this volume argue otherwise for several reasons. Hollywood films are not nonprofit ventures but primarily rely on box office receipts. Second, most films portray the status quo. Third, the liberal reliance on government is at odds with the recurrent theme that government is corrupt and incompetent. Fourth, success of Hollywood films abroad requires sensitivity to conservative cultural elements.

Nowadays, the number of feature films with explicit political content fluctuates from year to year. Recently, Oliver Stone–type blockbusters have not been standard fare in contemporary America, though films produced abroad are less timorous. Yet politics pervades everyday life and is always somewhere on screen, providing images that subtly impress the minds of filmviewers. That’s why a reading of chapters in the present volume is so important: The essays provide tools with which to analyze messaging in films as a clue to how the public may subliminally perceive political reality through otherwise entertaining feature films. Both students in political film classes and members of the film industry, I believe, should enjoy what the present book provides and will marvel at the lively legacy that films are leaving for the better understanding of social problems and political life.

Part I consists of three essays that try to define “political film.” The Political Film Society has offered no such definition but instead identifies four categories in which films might be placed for purposes of an award. Chapters 1–3 try a more formal approach to the definitional question. The authors disagree with one another and with my definition above, leaving the question for the reader to ponder.


X, 195
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (February)
subliminal messages history film
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 191 pp.

Biographical notes

Michael Haas (Volume editor)

Michael Haas (PhD, Stanford University) is President of the Political Film Society and Adjunct Professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona. He was previously at the University of Hawai‛i for 35 years. He has edited and authored over 40 books on government and politics. In 2010, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.


Title: Hollywood Raises Political Consciousness
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
207 pages