Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William F. Pinar


Historically African-Americans have been marginalized and subordinated in critical discourse and research in curriculum studies and educational media. There is a vital need for research directed toward African-Americans as subjects and viewers of media used in school curricula. Cultural theorists in curriculum and educational media studies are interested in knowing how social, political and ideological messages are produced and circulated in society, and how student audiences use them to make sense of their experiences. The purpose of this research is to contribute to a better understanding of how racial representations and social identities are coded and produced in educational films, and how African-American student audiences respond to these media texts in the context of schools. This investigation involves a critical analysis of two contrasting films widely used in Health and Family Living Curriculum on the subject of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), and a study of African-American high school student audiences' readings and responses to the messages embedded in these films. Research methods include (1) a textual analysis of the films, (2) ethnographic classroom participant observations, and (3) open-ended and focused interviews with students. The study draws on critical curriculum theories and research approaches in cultural studies of film media. It is based on assumptions of audience reception theories in cultural studies which state that communities of viewers will read or interpret media texts differentially depending on their backgrounds, cultural and social experiences. Key concepts in reception theory stress the investigation of links among author, text and socially situated viewers. In this context, the study focuses on African-American students in three high schools described as (1) suburban, (2) magnet college preparatory, and (3) urban inner-city, located in a large urban public school district in the southern United States. Conclusions from this research are directed toward the goal for a more socially conscious, liberatory and democratic education for African-American students. These research findings result in recommendations for the production of instructional film texts focused on African-American student audiences, and reconceptualized criteria for the evaluation, selection and utilization of film media in schools.