American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Say Hello to My Little Friend: De Palma's Scarface, Cinema Spectatorship, and the Hip Hop Gangsta as Urban Superhero

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Communication

First Advisor

Donald McQuarie (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Priscilla Coleman (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Halifu Osumare (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Awad Ibrahim (Committee Member)


The objective of the study is to intervene in the ongoing discourse that interrogates the relationship between fictional ultraviolent film representations and real life behavior in audiences that these types of films are marketed to. Using a case study approach to apparatus and audience reception theories, the dissertation investigates the significant role Scarface, the 1983 gangster film directed by Brian De Palma, has played in influencing the cultural and social development of young African-American males who live in American inner cities. The study focuses on how the inner city portion of the Scarface audience came to self-identify themselves as "gangstas" (a Hip-hop term for gangster) and why one particular character in the film, a murderous drug dealer, has served as the gangsta role model for heroic behavior for over twenty-five years. The study found that performing the gangsta male identity emotionally satisfies these economic and socially disconnected young men and that this group viewed the violent and illegal behavior in Scarface as offering practical solutions to their ongoing struggle to survive the hopelessness and terror rooted in their environment. The research demonstrated that film narratives can be both a window into, and a mirror of, the often paradoxically complex relationships between marginalized target audiences and savvy multi-national media corporations that successfully market negative representations to these audiences, profit from the transactions and, during the process, manipulate both mainstream and oppositional perceptions of class, race, and power.