Girl pen


How would you begin to approach the following essay assignment? Highlight the key words and make notes around the essay instruction word.

‘Compare the representation of race in Hollywood cinema in the 1950s and today.’


Did you ask at least some of these questions?

  • What does the word ‘compare’ ask me to do?
  • What is the definition of ‘representation’?
  • Is there more than one meaning?
  • Which one do I want to use?
  • Could this provide a different angle?
  • What do we mean by ‘race’ (you know, but try to get your hooks in a bit further)?
  • What does ‘race’ signify in the 1950s, in America?
  • What was going on in America, during the 1950s, regarding race, politics and social change?
  • What were the different attitudes to the idea of race in Hollywood during the 1950s?
  • How can I find out?
  • How can this be seen in movies or commentary of the time?
  • What are the attitudes to race in Hollywood now?
  • How can this be seen in new movies (or at recent award ceremonies, for example)?
  • Does this topic interest me enough to spend hours in the library, or online, or in my room weeping over my laptop and bleeding out of my eyes through the sheer awfulness of sustained effort?
  • Is there another question with a topic I know more about?
  • Would this be a great opportunity to research a new and slightly more complex topic?
  • Are any of my friends doing this one, so we could meet and chat about it?


Task: deconstruct one of the questions below.

How many parts are there to the question? What are the key words? What do they mean/imply/ask you to do?


  • Write out the question (or at least the relevant components, if it is a long question).
  • Underline or box the various elements of the question.
  • Make notes around the question relating to these terms.
  • Link these notes to what you already know about the topic.
  • What do you need to find out?
  • Make a list of these research questions.

These questions were part of a Film and Television course for a 1500-word essay. I know it’s probably not your subject but you’ve seen movies and watched television, yes? Thought so. How would you begin?

If you’re really brave, you could try to deconstruct Number 4.

  1. What are the principal influences on the evolution of early cinema?
  1. Discuss Sunrise as an example of the ways in which influences from European art film were adopted by Hollywood silent cinema.
  1. Why is the modernist avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s so suspicious of the early conventions of mainstream cinema? What strategies does it adopt to allow it to use film?
  1. Explain why She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman, 1933) posed censorship problems for Paramount Pictures, and how these are solved by its use of dialogue, imagery and its stars’ performances. Answer with reference to the operations of Hollywood censorship in this period, specifically the MPPDA Production Code. Why was the Code established? What were its effects? Finally, consider why – despite the widespread criticism of Hollywood’s sexual representations at the time – She Done Him Wrong was a huge hit in the US.
  1. In what ways does Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (GB 1938) reflect contemporary perceptions of British national identity?


Points to Note

  • Once you have analysed the question, ensure that you are disciplined in your selection of material for your essay.
  • Analysing concepts and checking definitions is imperative when planning your response to an academic essay question.
  • Markers award higher marks to students demonstrating analytical ability. ALWAYS.


In the next post, we’ll look at how to write an essay plan that works for you.