Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

PWR 1KTA: "That's Entertainment!" The Rhetoric of Hollywood's Inequities

Main content start

In January 2023, Rolling Stone’s headline read, “Hollywood Actually Got Less Diverse Last Year.” In almost all employment categories in the entertainment industry, White males continue to over-index. Organizations like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media have approached solutions from a non-adversarial angle. The Women’s Media Action Coalition supports litigation as one of a number of proactive solutions. How is Hollywood ever to truly rid itself of its deep inequities? Perhaps more importantly, what is the impact of its oppressive practices on audiences? How do these practices shape larger social and political concerns?

In this course, students will investigate Hollywood’s inequities and individually research topics that matter to them personally. The important argumentative texts students will write address often overlooked aspects of show business-as-usual. Students may incorporate into their coursework the publications we review as a class such as The Arduous Ride(r) to Inclusion and Bias and the Business of Show: Employment Discrimination in the ‘Entertainment’ Industry along with videos Whitewashing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) and 'It's One Person Representing a Community' The Actors Disputing Peter Dinklage's Snow White View (This Morning). Excellent analyses rely upon understanding the rhetorical situation: persona of authors and speakers; target audience, its expectations, and its perspectives; and purpose of the particular communication. What does the writer – including student author – want to happen after the target audience reads the text?

Examples of Research Topics

For this course, you will engage in an in-depth research project spanning several weeks. Sample research topics students might pursue include the distinctive look of the She-Hulk character in the “Attorney at Law” miniseries; what are the implications of a relatively small Hulk on perceptions of strong women, especially muscular women who act for a living? A similarly appropriate topic would be the longevity of White male villains like Marvel’s Loki and Bucky Barnes and DC’s Peacemaker who each appeared in multiple films and spinoffs compared to the one (movie)-and-done Hela and highly popular Black character Killmonger. Research can also focus on the data: how many disabled directors hire disabled talent, in front of and behind the camera, and why does it matter

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a fewer than 800-word text of your choice that makes an argument about (in)equity in the entertainment industry. Students will each analyze a short text that particularly resonates, such as Lupita Nyong'o’s account of her experiences with Harvey Weinstein, a news article about the 2018 Bill Cosby sentencing, a transcript of Terry Crews discussing his sexual assault lawsuit, or Jean Kilbourne’s So Sexy So Soon. Students will analyze the ways in which their selection is and is not persuasive to its target audience in the manner the author intends.

Texts in Conversation 

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment marks the beginning of your research project. Here, you will research and investigate the larger research question you’d like to explore relating to the topic. You’ll analyze how different sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your topic. To prepare for the Research-Based Argument, students will explore the major issues surrounding their unique research question. After constructing an annotated bibliography, each student will write an essay that summarizes sources' arguments, puts authors’ viewpoints into dialogue with one another, and explores the questions raised. In studying these multiple perspectives, students will gain insights into the landscape their own research-based arguments will enter. A student may, for example, in seeking to understand age discrimination in Hollywood subsequently research positions of major influencers: state and federal law, lobbyists, data, advocacy, activists.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Your RBA is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation. Here is where you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the Texts in Conversation assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument as it relates to your topic. A student might, for example, have researched violations of law and inadequate enforcement mechanisms within Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s template Inclusion Rider or perhaps the impact of celebrity on whose voices are prioritized in the nation’s political landscape. This research might then be followed by an argument about which mechanisms for leveling the playing field are appropriate or that celebrity status itself needs to be dismantled if equality is ever to be achieved in American society. Students are encouraged to then publish their insights in the appropriate venue.

Note: This course is assessed per contract grading which requires deep engagement in the process of writing for a minimum final grade of a ‘B’. All courses at Stanford require 3 hours of work per unit, translating to more than 8 hours of coursework students must engage outside of class in order to demonstrate minimum deep engagement. Excellence of the Research-Based Argument may earn students a higher grade depending upon, e.g., timeliness of previous assignment submissions.