The 84th Academy Awards may be over but many humanities and social sciences scholars share an ongoing interest in studying the portrayal of specific groups of people in the movies particularly, or in popular culture more broadly. The library catalog and disciplinary databases for film studies, communication studies, sociology, and English literature are good places to start for finding books and scholarly journal articles on the topic.
Although you can get good results by searching with keywords, you may want to take advantage of Library of Congress subject headings for this type of research in the catalog, or assigned subject headings in the disciplinary databases. For example, we might naturally search with the terms movies or films, but the official Library of Congress subject heading uses the phrase “motion pictures” instead. By searching with the official subject heading, you will be able to find more resources on the topic. The following are examples of selected Library of Congress subject headings for researching the portrayal of specific groups and will help you identify relevant books, films, and other resources in the library catalog:
Arabs in motion pictures
African Americans in motion pictures
Asian Americans in motion pictures
Christians in motion pictures
Gays in motion pictures
Hispanic Americans in motion pictures
Indians in motion pictures
Irish in motion pictures
Jews in motion pictures
Lesbians in motion pictures
Mexican Americans in motion pictures
Nazis in motion pictures
Women in motion pictures
From this list, you can see that the general rule is to begin with your ethnic, racial, national, cultural, or other group, followed by the phrase “in motion pictures.” If you don’t find any results by searching your group in motion pictures, be sure to try Prospector and WorldCat as well, or check the Library of Congress Online Catalog Guided Search and use the “Subject: All” field to determine if a heading for your group exists.
This pattern holds true for many of the disciplinary databases as well. For the database, Film and Television Literature Index with Full Text, we can search with the subject heading, “Hispanic Americans in motion pictures” which will retrieve several scholarly articles, including “Latinidad and Masculinidad in Hollywood Scripts” published in Ethnic and Racial Studies in 2009.
Be sure to note the other assigned subject headings for this particular article, which could be relevant for researching the topic: “Stereotypes (Social Psychology) in motion pictures;” “Masculinity in motion pictures;” and “Racism in motion pictures.”
Other databases with “in motion pictures” or similar subject headings include:
Communication and Mass Media Complete: Examples: “Gays in motion pictures” but also “Gay characters in motion pictures” and “Gay men in motion pictures”
SocIndex with Full Text: Example: “Older people in motion pictures”
Sociological Abstracts: Use two subject headings: One heading for the group, e.g., “Hispanic Americans,” and the second heading “Films”
MLA International Bibliography: Use two fields, Media and Subject: From the drop down menu, select the MD Media field, and type in “Film;” then on the second line, type in words for your group (e.g., African Americans) and limit to the Subject field.