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Title: The representation of the Ku Klux Klan in mainstream American cinema (1988-2016)
Author: Wintle, Philip
ISNI:       0000 0004 8498 160X
Awarding Body: University of Leicester
Current Institution: University of Leicester
Date of Award: 2019
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The Ku Klux Klan are America's most notorious terrorist organisation. In the 1920s membership to the Klan numbered several million, partly resulting from the success of The Birth of a Nation (1915). In this period of Klan popularity, Hollywood utilised their iconography for box office success. In the contemporary age Klan membership has diminished, yet the Klan image continues to be regularly depicted in American film. My research assesses the function of the Klan in contemporary cinema, looking at their representation between 1988 and 2016 to explain the longevity of their depiction in a period of social irrelevance. The shifting representation of the Klan offers a unique case study in demonstrating the changing attitudes Hollywood has to race and racism. In this thesis, I argue that the Klan have been used in films to paradoxically downplay issues of racism. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Klan were presented as a white 'Other' to whom racism is isolated. This 'Othering' drives melodramatic narratives of white conflict in films such as Mississippi Burning (1988) and A Time to Kill (1996). The melodramatic simplicity of the Klan image is later accentuated in comedy films between 1999 and 2013. The comedic depiction of the Klan has often been ignored in existing literature on the Klan's representation in film; this is a significant oversight, as comedy has kept the Klan image within public consciousness during this period. Moreover, representations of the Klan, both melodramatic and comic, have been used to guide the viewer's understanding of American history, society, and racism. However, in recent years Hollywood has offered a greater focus on the 'black narrative', in these films the Klan are utilised to explore America's history of racism, rather than to marginalise it. My research analyses the Klan's evolving depiction and the persistence of their representation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Thesis ; Ku Klux Klan ; American Cinema ; Cinema ; American history