Section A – Grade A Exemplar

Answer the question below, with detailed reference to specific examples, from the extract only.

Extract: Treme, Season 1, Episode 6, directed by Brad Anderson. Discuss the ways the extract constructs the representation of ethnicity using the following:

  • Camera shots, angles, movement and composition
  • Editing
  • Sound
  • Mise-en-Scène

Level 4 response

In the history of TV Dramas, ethnicity has been portrayed in a number of ways. As suggested by Akinti (2003), ethnic minorities are often portrayed negatively without sufficient coverage of the livelihood and positive cultural aspects to ethnic minorities lives in the media. However, as Treme shows, this is not always the case, as demonstrated though the camerawork, mise-en-scene, editing and soundtrack used by Anderson.

As shown through the mise-en-scene in the extract, the characters who would usually be attributed to the cause of crime and societal issues (that is to say the stereotypical view of black people in the media) are not linked to crime. In fact, the use of a trumpet and the materials being used to make into clothes at the end of the clip, highlights how the black people in this extract are portrayed as civilised, peaceful people who have no links to crime. In sharp contrast, the white Americans sat in the living room of a high class and high status house are shown to be smoking and drinking cocktails which leads the audience to view them as more criminalised and ambiguous than the ethnic minorities. On top of this when comparing the homes of the various characters we can conclude that the white people are richer and more sophisticated than the black people when comparing it to the poorer community they are shown to be living in. This is furthered when contrasting the clothing of each ethnic group. The white people are demonstrated as wearing expensive clothing and jewellery whereas the black men are wearing fairly scruffy and less expensive clothing. In some aspects this conforms to the conventional view that white people are in better paid jobs and consequently live more upper class lives.

Brad Andersen also uses sounds in the extract to generate a view that the black ‘ethnic minority’ is less sophisticated than the white people. Through the use of dialogue such as “It’s a contradiction in terms”, the perspective of the white people appears to be that they are well educated. This is also furthered and shown by the fact that the Doctor, who says “ You need to lose 200 pounds” is likewise white and in a high paid job. In contrast the black men at the beginning, and similarly the couple at the end of the extract, are constructed by Andersen to have culturally alternate lives to the white people. This is shown by diegetic colloquialisms and the accent and tone of which they speak in. Moreover when one of the white ladies says, “You don’t have to sell marijuana to get revenue”, it becomes apparent that white people are linked to high-profile crimes. This conforms to the view that crimes committed by white people are usually to a larger scale than the petty crimes attributed to ethnic minorities.

Camerawork is also used in the extract to construct the representation of ethnicity. When introducing the hospital clinic, a pan is used to establish the setting. As a result of this pan, it becomes clear that the majority of people in the waiting room are black or of a different culture to the American majority, this symbolises how the ethnic minority are reliant upon well-educated white people to care for them. However, contradicting this construction, long shots are used at the end of the extract to show the black couple making clothes – it then becomes apparent that this is being done to raise money for other people, hence implying that help is provided by ethnic minorities, consequently opposing the stereotypical views of society – furthermore the establishing shot at the beginning of the extract generates a view that this neighbourhood is run down and poor – two black people are then shown, in the background, to be walking along a path. This leads a viewer to presume they live there, and, as an implication, this establishing extreme long shot represents ethnic minorities to be living in squalid and poor conditions. For this reason, some would argue that they are portrayed as a burden on society as a result.

Finally editing is used by Andersen to construct representations of ethnicity. The use of cross cutting throughout the whole extract allows a viewer to compare the lives and culture of different ethnicities. For instance, we can compare the squalid conditions black people are shown to live in at the beginning to the more sophisticated upper class conditions of white people that follow the first scene and this starts constructing representations of a difference in class, status and wealth. But, cutting from a long shot of the white women in the restaurant to an extreme long shot and then to a close-up of the woman’s face clearly shows how she is frustrated with having to work. Then later cutting this to a shot reverse shot scene of the two black people making clothes with no such expression of frustration demonstrates how perhaps black ethnic groups work harder and are more committed to work than white ethnic groups and hence, in many aspects being a counter-type to usual perspectives.

In summary, it is therefore apparent that the view of Akinti, previously referenced, is conformed and opposed to, in this media extract. Ethnic divisions are apparent in this extract, such as the separation in wealth of one ethnic group to another, and the dependency of one upon the other, yet the negative views usually attributed to ethnic minorities are not clearly expressed in this extract. In fact, in some aspects the audience feels pity for the ethnic minorities, hence showing the construction of counter typical views.

Commentary

The candidate starts with a contextual introduction to the TV drama which is clear and concise.  The response then focuses on the mise-en-scène of the extract, the most typical way in which a response begins.  The candidate uses the technical features of the extract to exemplify an analysis of ethnicity, for example, in discussion of key objects and clothing in the second paragraph.  This is then argued to be a cultural asset of Afro-American culture.  The candidate’s response swiftly moves onto comparison between different ethnic groups using juxtaposition through iconography (as indicated in the second paragraph) and then setting (as discussed in the later paragraphs; and in detail).

The response then uses sound as a technical feature to compare and contrast differences in ethnicity.  What is detailed in this response is the reference to the use of characters’ dialogue and examples of diegetic sound within the clip, although the response does not cover the use of music in much detail.  Editing is the technical aspect which is typically under used by candidates on the whole, but this technical aspect of the TV drama has been addressed well in this particular script.

The candidate discusses cross cutting and the use of shot reverse shot.  What is excellent about the analysis of editing in this extract is the discussion of how representation is constructed through shot sequences and how this establishes the representation of ethnicity.  The candidate clearly summarises the representation of different social groups in this level four response, which is detailed and sustained in argument with a full range of examples used. 

Summary: An excellent response with a clear understanding of representation consistently linked to technical knowledge. Music is not covered, but there is evident a good discussion of dialogue.

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