Assignment 1: Rhetorical Analysis of a Film/Documentary

Assignment 1: Rhetorical Analysis of a Film/Documentary

 Proposal: July 6

Rough Draft: July 9

Final Draft: July 10


Purpose: A rhetorical analysis examines and explains how an author attempts to influence an audience. That is, rhetorical analyses use specific evidence from the text to establish a generalization (thesis) about the text’s rhetoric (in short, how it persuades its audience by employing the rhetorical appeals, using good reasons, constituting a fitting response, and using the available means to reach an audience). As you plan and draft your analysis, think of a specific publication that your analysis could be featured in—but in any event, have in mind a particular way of reaching your audience as you write.


Directions: Find a documentary/film that you deem to be interesting and that features issues related to the economy, poverty, gender and income distribution, class, or any other issue that you believe relates to American or global economic issues and policies in an important way. By “interesting,” I mean that the film in question should have some sophistication about it: it should be tantalizing and potentially effective at reaching its audience. (There is no point in analyzing the obvious; pick something that makes an interesting argument that viewers might be resistant to.) No two students can choose the same film. Your analysis should not simply paraphrase or summarize the film. Assume you are writing for an audience that has already seen the film. Your purpose is to provide a way of understanding how the film persuades its audience. There are a number of ways to approach writing this essay, however I recommend  that you watch the whole film and then choose a scene (or a few) that you feel captures the most important aspects of the film. Remember, due to the length restrictions of the paper, you don’t have time to discuss everything so must be strategically selective about which parts you choose to write about. No matter what you choose, you will have to have your choice approved along with your proposal for this essay. So….


Step 1. Choose a film. I have a list provided below but you may choose something else if you want. You will submit your top four choices (ranked) in a proposal where you will briefly describe your working thesis and how you might approach analyzing the film. I will then either approve your proposal or provide you with recommendations to improve it.

Step 2. Introduce the film and identify its basic claim/thesis.

Step 3. Then write an analysis that will help your readers understand how the film works to persuade its audience. Consider what type of argument it presents and how it goes about creating that argument (Rhetorical theory!!) How does the film utilize music, set design, camera angles, etc. as tools to further develop a claim/thesis.

Step 4. Arrange the body of your paper so that the readers move through it in an orderly way.

Step 5. Throughout the body of your paper, use specific examples from your chosen film to support your claims.

Step 6. Conclude by making a judgment about the film’s rhetorical effectiveness.
Invention: These questions may help you as you plan and draft your analysis: See Everythings an Argument  Ch. 6, “Composing a Rhetorical Analysis” pp. 92-93). These questions are not meant to provide an outline for the paper; rather, they simply help you to think about the rhetorical aspects of the film.

Length: A well-developed rhetorical analysis will be between five and six, doubled-spaced pages.

Here is a list of possible options:

I recommend choosing something from the first 28 selections. There are many documentaries on Penn State’s Streaming Service that are free to view. Here is a list of possible selections:\.

  1. Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood- 2008
  2. The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Do Not Need- 2004
  3. In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts- 2006
  4. Consumerism & the Limits to Imagination- 2014
  5. Money for Nothing: Behind the Business of Pop Music- 2001
  6. The New Economics 101- 2013
  7. Default – The Student Loan Documentary- 2012
  8. The Diamond Empire- 2004
  9. Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds- 2014
  10. Cola Conquest 2: How Coca-Cola Took Over the World- 2008
  11. The War Around Us- 2013
  12. Unnatural Causes- 2008
  13. Blood and Oil: The Dangers & Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Foreign Petroleum- 2008
  14. Blind Spot: Peak Oil & The Coming Global Crisis- 2009
  15. The Next American Revolution- 2013
  16. Occupation 101: Voices of the Silenced Majority- 2013
  17. Protection: Masculinity & Condom Use in Sub-Saharan Africa- 2013
  18. No Logo: Brands Globalization Resistance- 2003
  19. Advertising and The End of The World- 1997
  20. The Billionaires’ Tea Party: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution- 2011
  21. Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease and Pushing Drugs- 2006
  22. Behind the Screens: Hollywood Goes Hypercommercial- 2000
  23. Shop ‘Til You Drop – The Crisis of Consumerism- 2010
  24. #ReGENERATION- 2012
  25. Plunder – The Crime of our Time- 2010
  26. Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of the American Empire- 2006
  27. People Like Us – Social Class in America- 1999
  28. Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power- 2001


Fictional Films:

  1. The Grapes of Wrath- 1940
  2. Killer of Sheep- 1977
  3. Coal Miner’s Daughter- 1980
  4. Trading Places- 1983
  5. Good Will Hunting- 1997
  6. Titanic- 1997
  7. The Pursuit of Happiness- 2006
  8. Slumdog Millionaire- 2008
  9. Precious- 2009
  10. Wall Street- 1987
  11. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps- 2010
  12. Wolf of Wall Street- 2013
  13. Working Girl- 1988
  14. Capitalism: A Love Story- 2009
  15. Scarface- 1983
  16. New Jack City- 1991
  17. Do the Right Thing- 1989
  18. Bamboozled- 2000
  19. Dead Presidents- 1995
  20. The Women of Brewster Place- 1989
  21. Beasts of the Southern Wild- 2012
  22. Imitation of Life- 1959
  23. American Gangster- 2007
  24. 12 Years a Slave- 2013
  25. Set It Off- 1996
  26. A Raisin in the Sun- 1959
  27. Coming to America- 1988
  28. Erin Brockovich- 2000


These links include lists of both documentaries and fictional films


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