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American Cinema as Cultural Diplomacy: Seeking International Understanding One Film at a Time


This dissertation analyzes the complex relationship between U.S. diplomatic efforts overseas and cinematic representations, perceptions, and receptions—as well as the implications of this association for cross-cultural interactions—through the American Film Showcase (AFS), a diplomatic program jointly organized by the University of Southern California and the U.S. Department of State. Specifically, my study examined the showcase’s implementation (i.e. the selection/approval and screening of films), the objectives of the AFS’ organizers, and how the program was received in Monterrey, Mexico—in other words, how the AFS films and activities were interpreted. Following these implementation and reception analyses, I conducted in-depth ethnographic research focusing on program participants’ ongoing responses to the AFS through their subsequent perceptions and work/activities. My results have helped to identify/clarify how perceptions of power, imperialism, and U.S. society shape people’s receptivity abroad to ideas about America and diplomatic interactions. They also illustrate ways in which current on-the-ground impressions of the U.S. shift—or why they persist—due to such outreach, and what this means for cultivating international relationships and transforming attitudes towards the U.S. by means of diplomatic efforts. These results thus offer insight into the benefits and drawbacks of cultural diplomacy, and may help to improve future diplomatic endeavors in regions significant to U.S. foreign relations.

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