Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





This dissertation examines the impact movies had on the place of Catholics of European descent in mainstream white America. Most scholars who study the history of Catholic populations in this country assume that they attained whiteness at some point. Whether with the Irish in the late nineteenth century, or more generally when urban parishes began the move to the suburbs post-World War II, the historiography claims that Catholics earned white status. However, an analysis of twentieth century American film complicates the historiography of Catholicism. A set of negative stereotypes, instead, have colored the presentation of the religion in cinema that have called attention to aspects of the Catholic character that separated from other whites. Many of these ideas were the product of the nineteenth century when Protestant America first became exposed to large numbers of Irish Catholics. Film in the next century inherited those ideas from minstrelsy and vaudeville, and applied new stereotypes like urban settings and violence that they thought typified the behavior of all Catholics. Catholics responded by creating the Legion of Decency and paying more attention to film content beginning in the 1930s, though their efforts only further cemented many of the notions that audiences adopted in thinking of Catholicism. As their power in Hollywood waned from the 1950s forward, a time when their religion supposedly entered mainstream whiteness, Catholicism on film took a darker turn that has lasted until today.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.