Semiotic analysis of a poster: American History X

Semiotic analysis of a poster: American History X

By Seb Griffin-Keane

American History X is directed by Tony Kaye and was released in 1998, starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. The poster is a black and white photograph of Edward Norton standing bare-chested with his hand across his body.

One of the Semiotic signs in this poster would be the Swastika. The denotation would be Nazism, whereas the connotation would be racism, discrimination and white supremacy. This shows that the film is going to be a challenging film dealing with the subject of racism and confronting real world issues such as ‘white supremacy’. The composition also shows that he is very passionate about his beliefs by having the Swastika close to his heart. The composition also shows that he is swearing allegiance to ‘white supremacy’ – similar to the way in which Americans swear allegiance to the flag.

There is also another denotation of that he is bare-chested; it can be implied from this that the film poster is designed to illustrate that he is open with his beliefs as well as being very confident with them. These two denotations are used to target adults due to the mature themes that are presented and how they are shown. The use of the colour is very important due to the whole poster being in black and white apart from the surnames of the two actors and the ‘X’ in ‘American history X,’ which is shown in red. The black and white is striking and bold, this corresponds with the fact that the film is bold in its approach to the issues of ‘white supremacy’ and isn’t afraid of confronting these challenging issues. The red also contrasts with the black and white so that we can see the actors’ names more clearly. This helps the film because fans of the two actors will be more likely to see it because they recognise the two names. It is also interesting because this is the first time Edward Norton has portrayed himself in this manner in an acting role, i.e. shaved head, tattooed etc. This contrast with his other roles immediately grabs the viewer’s attention.

The character that Edward Norton is also looking straight at you. This shows that the character is intimidating and demands attention. This corresponds with the bare chested connotation of not being afraid of showing his views. The focus of the poster is all on Edward Norton’s character. This tells the audience that the film is going to be his story and will depict his journey in the film.  The simplicity of the poster, in some ways, leads you to believe this is purely a film about Nazism, when in fact it is a complex multi-layered film about redemption. Interestingly there is no tag line for the poster only the title and the actors’ names, this intrigues people to want to see the film and know what it is about.


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