Title

“Well, It Is Because He’s Black”: A Critical Analysis of the Black President in Film and Television

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies/Popular Culture

First Advisor

Angela Nelson, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Michael Butterworth, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Susana Pea, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ashutosh Sohoni, Ph.D.

Abstract

With the election of the United States’ first black president Barack Obama, scholars have begun to examine the myriad of ways Obama has been represented in popular culture. However, before Obama’s election, a black American president had already appeared in popular culture, especially in comedic and sci-fi/disaster films and television series. Thus far, scholars have tread lightly on fictional black presidents in popular culture; however, those who have tend to suggest that these presidents—and the apparent unimportance of their race in these films—are evidence of the post-racial nature of these texts.

However, this dissertation argues the contrary. This study’s contention is that, though the black president appears in films and televisions series in which his presidency is presented as evidence of a post-racial America, he actually fails to transcend race. Instead, these black cinematic presidents reaffirm race’s primacy in American culture through consistent portrayals and continued involvement in comedies and disasters. In order to support these assertions, this study first constructs a critical history of the fears of a black presidency, tracing those fears from this nation’s formative years to the present. This history is followed by textual analyses of those films and television series featuring a black president, with an emphasis on showing how the narratives and codes within these films reflect those historic fears.