McNair/Gateway Scholars Program USC

Njideka Chiaghana

Chiaghana.jpg

Major and Classification

Classics

Faculty Mentor

  • Thomas Habinek, Ph.D.

Department

  • Classics

McNair Project

Tattle and Temptress: How Cleopatra in Film Reflects Shifting Ideas toward Gender and Race in American Culture

This research agrees with Victor Turner's theory of social drama, and expands on accepted theories about film as reflexive of its historical moment with Stuart Hall's theory of cultural identity in cinema. Using Cleopatra's representation in films as its variable, the research will examine whether three Cleopatra films from politically turbulent times in American history express changes in acceptable or unacceptable modes of interaction between different genders and races. The films are Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934), the quintessential Cleopatra of 1963 (the most expensive film ever made), and Cleopatra Jones (1973), a cult-classic blaxploitation film. If the films do express changing ideas about race and gender, the research will analyze the manner of the changes, and attempt to account for those changes as they relate to historical events. This is a fairly unprecedented endeavor, as similar studies have either focused solely on Cleopatra within an iconographic framework, or analyzed the films on purely aesthetic levels. This research proposes the synthesis of content analysis of the films, a reception study of contemporary reviews and surveys on the films, and analysis of the existing scholarship on each film. I believe that I will prove that the Cleopatra films not only reflect ideas of race and gender during their time, but that tracking these changes reflects a historically accurate trajectory of race and gender relations in American culture.