Grant Wiedenfeld, "Hollywood Sports Movies and the American Dream" (Oxford UP, 2022)


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Through the heart of Hollywood cinema runs a surprising current of progressive politics. Sports movies, a genre that has flourished since the mid-seventies, evoke the American dream and represent the nation to itself. Once considered mere credos for Reaganism, on closer view, movies from Rocky (1976) to Ali (2001) dream of democratic participation and recognition more than individual success. In every case, off-field relationships take precedence over on-field competition.

Arranged chronologically, Hollywood Sports Movies and the American Dream (Oxford UP, 2022) tells the story of multiculturalism's gradual adoption. The mainstream's first minority heroes are paradoxically white ethnic, rural, working-class men, exemplified by Rocky, Slap Shot (1977) and The Natural (1984); Black, brown, and women characters follow in White Men Can't Jump (1992), A League of Their Own (1992), and Ali. But despite their insistence on community and diversity these popular dramas show limited faith in civic institutions. Hannah Arendt, Jeffrey Alexander, and others inform original analysis and commentary on the political significance of popular culture. Reading these familiar movies from another angle paints a fresh picture of how the United States has imagined democracy since its bicentennial.

In this conversation with host Annie Berke, Dr. Grant Wiedenfeld explains his personal and familial connections to the book's subject matter, discusses why Hollywood sports films don't always have (or need) a "happy ending," and explains how the genre functions as a "civic screen" for the American public in the decades following the Vietnam War.

Grant Wiedenfeld earned a PhD from Yale University in Comparative Literature and Film & Media Studies. He taught courses on sports and cinema in Yale's English Department and Film Studies Program before being hired at Sam Houston State University, where he is currently Associate Professor of Media and Culture. Previous publications include studies of Gustave Flaubert, D.W. Griffith, and André Bazin.

Annie Berke is the Film Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and author of Their Own Best Creations: Women Writers in Postwar Television (University of California Press, 2022). Her scholarship and criticism has been published in Feminist Media Histories, Public Books, Literary Hub, and Ms.

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