Affron, Charles. “Performing Performing: Irony and Affect.” Cinema Journal Vol. 20, No. 1 (Autumn, 1980): pp. 42-52. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1224970>.
Charles Affron argues that the 1934 version of Imitation of Life does not require its intended white middle class audience to engage in “a textual deconstruction of performance” when watching the narrative. Unlike the later version, in which the spectator must personally redefine the conventions of sentimental expression, it is not necessary with the original film, at least for the intended viewers. Affron feels that the film is straightforward in its stagings and attitudes about the emotional centers of the text, race and motherhood. Claudette Colbert, the author believes, can easily be perceived as a model of clarity. She is intelligent, witty, and tactful. Bea, on the other hand, seems to lacks all of these characteristics, never seeming to know where things are, who people are, and who she herself is. The film’s title bears no reference to Bea, rather it alludes to the black characters of Peola and Delilah. Through master-shots and close-ups, action-reaction shots, and the obviously codified décor, the film reflects negatively on the imitative life of the black women who doesn’t know her place. However, the white viewer is able to overlook this aspect of the film, too engaged with the ‘white plot’ of Bea’s career success and the failure of her relationship with her daughter Jessie.
This article affirms hooks’s notion of the “oppositional gaze.” Although it first appears as if Affron goes against her theory when he states that there is no need for a textual deconstruction of the film, the author makes it clear that he is only referring to the intended white middle class audience. The black female viewer, unable to overlook the ‘black plot’ of the film, therefore, must redefine the storyline and relationships between the black characters on her own.
tagged oppositional_gaze performance white_audience by jasminen ...on 02-DEC-08
Call#: Fine Arts Library Fine Arts NX180.F4 F46 2003
bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators,” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, ed. Amelia Jones. London: Routledge, 2003. 94-105
bell hooks examines the role of black women as media spectators, both in the past and present. She explores the negative aspects of white supremacy and patriarchy on the portrayal of black women in cinema and how this has affects black women as spectators. It begins with hooks’s definition of the “gaze,” making reference to black children, including herself, learning at a young age that looking can be a sign of resistance and challenge to authority, so black children had their gaze controlled by both their parents and white authorities. This repression of the right to gaze and desire to look, hooks argues, forces black children to create “an oppositional gaze.”
The article goes on to critique Hollywood’s portrayal of black women and their marginalization in film, as well as the media’s role in maintaining white supremacy by presenting white people as dominant and negating the black body. However, this issue is more so problematic for black women than for black men, partly because there are so few positive images of black women, if they are even present, and while black women were able to admire the white female body on screen, black women had nothing to relate to or properly enjoy. In order for many black women to enjoy cinema, they had to forget to critique racism and even sexism, in the name of an “adoring black female gaze... that could bring pleasure in the midst of negation” (312). This was only possible by identifying with white women “regression through identification” (312). However, many refused to submit and resisted, including hooks, and instead offered a critical oppositional gaze. These women gain pleasure in the interrogation and deconstruction of images, and “create alternative texts that are not solely reactions” (317).