Thaggert, Miriam. “Divided Images: Black Female Spectatorship and John Stahl’s Imitation of Life.” African American Review Vol. 32, No. 3 (Autumn 1998): pp. 481-491. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3042248>.
When discussing cinema, black women turn to Imitation of Life because it provides a unique intersection between feminist film theory and black female spectatorship. Black women occupy a space closer to the center than most other Hollywood movies, enabling black feminist discussion concerning the portrayals and reception of black women in film. Thaggert makes reference to bell hooks, stating that the film initially caused her to stop going to the movies, yet as an adult it helped her form an “oppositional gaze” with which to question the imaging practices of Hollywood cinema. hooks’s term suggest a distinction from the white masculinitist gaze. Unlike white men, black women can neither identify with the white male hero nor the white woman. Instead, they must look beyond what is presented to them and view films from a critical standpoint that she calls “an oppositional gaze.” Black female viewers of Imitation of Life, the author argues, can pose questions, such as “What pleasure is available for the black female viewers when the valued black maternal figure is recoded into the mammy, a woman who mothers others for economic survival?” or “How can a black viewer identify with a character who constantly rejects a black racial identity?” Throughout the film, Delilah and People are offered as spectacles, making it hard to identify with them. Delilah is easily recognizable as a descendant of “Aunt Jemima,” leaving little opportunity to engage with her when she is portrayed as a pancake-flipping mammy. “The more commodified her appearance, the more distance exists between her and the spectator,” notes the author.
The article goes on to discuss the role of Peola for the black female viewer. Unlike Delilah, black women may identify with Peola, as hooks suggests, not because she looks for whiteness, but because she looks at whiteness and does not find a black self there. However, the fact that she is light-skinned may have created other dilemmas. The complexities of dark-skinned women trying to identify with the light-skinned women that Hollywood favored in its films create other levels of identification and/or resistance that have yet to be explored. In the end, Imitation of Life offers two divergent representation of blackness, both based on stereotypes: the mammy and the mulatto. Imitation’s methods of imaging black women produce a complex process of identification and resistance for black female spectators.
tagged black female spectatorship by jasminen ...on 02-DEC-08
Guiffrida, Douglas A. “African American Student Organizations As Agents of Social Integration.” Journal of College Student Development. 2003,
American College Personnel Association. University of Pennsylvania. April 2008.
It is no surprise that African Americans would have difficulty integrating socially and academically into a predominantly white institution. Interviewed students admitted to changing their appearance and speech for a white crowd. They cannot easily fit into large student organizations, but instead create small ones to help maintain their ethnic identity. Universities directed student organizations in the direction of integrating African Americans into PWIs and making them comfortable. Minorities found it beneficial to attend a PWI because it prepared them for the real world, but had difficulty growing close with white students.
Faber College is the quintessence of the predominantly white institutions talked about in this article. Animal House is entirely about the social life in universities, and the first institution to present it is the Omega House. Pretentious, WASPy phonies welcome freshmen Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman into the fraternity house, and seat them next to the socially awkward rejects: Mohammet, who wears a turban, Jugdish, who possesses an unidentifiable ethnicity, Sidney, a nerd, and the blind, handicapped Clayton. Surely these students could never express their ethnic identity in such a tight atmosphere.
A contrast to this image is the all-black band, Otis Day and the Knights, playing at a Delta party, whose attendees are all white. Everyone is having a great time. Otis seems like a band that would play for a different crowd at a university, and this inference is reinforced in a later scene. Delta brothers unknowingly walk into a blacks-only club where Otis performs. Boon’s, one of the brothers, disposition alters, like when he shouts, “Otis! My man!” It is clear the members of the band are not so friendly in this atmosphere. The whites have their places to let loose, which is almost everywhere as demonstrated in Animal House, and the blacks have their place to do so.
This article describes the aspirations and challenges faced by writer/director Melvin Van Peebles in making his controversial independent film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He declares his main desire for the film was to “get the Man’s foot out of [his] ass…and out of all our black asses” – in fact he originally titled the film How to Get the Man’s Foot Outta Your Ass. With that idea in mind, he made a list of requirements necessary to get his message across effectively, keeping in mind his limitations (both economic and social).
Using the basic story of a black man getting “the Man’s” foot out of his ass, Van Peebles listed “givens” in order to prevent himself from writing something he wouldn’t be able to shoot. These givens include: no copping out (a victorious film for the black man), high production value (must look as good as white independent films and thus must be in color), wall-to-wall action and entertainment (to prevent boredom and create a commercial power base so “the Man” might actually fund him if it seemed profitable), half the crew must be third world people, tight security (due to the controversy he was causing), and a flexible script to deal with the unknown variables such as caliber of actors/crew.
With this list of givens, Van Peebles describes his advantages over the major Hollywood studios in this subject matter and the possibilities he could utilize. He understood the black pulse but by seizing it, he might hurt the black cause as well. Since he realized that the more action he had, the more the mainstream audience would let him get away with, he decided to pack “enough action for three movies”, overuse screen effects, and create musical montages as space-filler. Thus, through his economic and social constraints, Van Peebles describes the process in developing Sweetback’s characteristics, characteristics that would become the standard in Hollywood’s blaxploitation wave that followed.
This article is very interesting and valuable in that it describes not only the pre-production process of the film but how those factors and considerations created the style that Hollywood would eventually emulate in their blaxploitation wave - as seen in films such as Shaft and Superfly later that year. As many directors often dream about working outside the confines and restrictions of their studio heads, this shows how one might approach such a project and the precautions one might take. It is a great example of the full auteur process in a manner that deals with a subject matter and goal not necessarily acceptable to all people.
Bogle, Donald. "Chapter 8: The 1970s Bucks and a Black Movie Boom." Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. Ed. 4. New York: Continuum, 2001. 231-241.
Chapter 8. The 1970s Bucks and a Black Movie Boom (p. 231-266; 231-241 relevant to film)
Film critic and NYU/Penn professor Donald Bogle (whom Spike Lee refers to as the top historian of African American film) segues from a chapter about the rise of black militants into the cinematic expression of that popular African American attitude. He recreates the setting of the early 1970s (Vietnam protests, youth movement, Black Nationalism), yet complains that the old same stereotypes “dressed in new garb to look modern, hip, provocative, and politically ‘relevant’” keep appearing.
The early 1970s marked the “age of the buck”, started by white filmmakers until it is fully explored without Hollywood hindrance by Melvin Van Peebles, the “black movie director and folk hero”, and his film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. After a short Melvin Van Peebles biography, he summarizes the plot of Sweetback, stressing the point that Sweetback does indeed escape the pursuit of the law, meeting “violence with violence in order to triumph over the corrupt white establishment.” This appeals not only to the black audience but to an emerging, revolutionary young white audience as well. The character of Sweetback answers the black public’s call for a serious, sexually assertive black protagonist. After years of asexual characters such as Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, often relegated to subservience and/or comic relief rather than assert themselves against the establishment, Sweetback actually stands up to “the Man”.
The reception of this movie, as Bogle notes, was mixed in spite of the overwhelming commercial success. The older black generation saw it as a “daydream of triumph” while the young militants saw it as a call to revolution. Since Van Peebles made the film under the pretense of pornography, he had pretty much free reign during production and only really felt the wrath of the white establishment during distribution and eventually, public backlash. However, Bogle notes that even though this film seemed revolutionary, at the heart was the same old brutal black buck, f*cking his way out of situations with black and white women and frequently resorting to violence as a means of escape and triumph. His separation even from white counter-culturists like the Hells’ Angels in the film heeded Black Nationalist calls for separatism, striking an urban chord with its depiction of the ghetto. Bogle confides, however, that although the ghetto pimp is glamorized as the protagonist, the film “fails to explain the social conditions that made the pimp such an important figure.” Ultimately, he decides that the film is more of a social documentary than a traditional motion picture, displaying a snapshot of that tense period in race relations, ultimately formulized later that year by Hollywood's Shaft and Superfly into a more film-like structure.
Bogle is accurate in his description of the film's reception and relevance. Although he acknowledges the historical significance of the film, he also notes that it is widely misinterpreted and received over a broad spectrum of opinions. The use of the stereotypical brutal black buck as the protagonist in Sweetback undermines the film's "revolutionary" categorization, but through the overuse of action and "film school aesthetics" applied in the editing room, a profitable genre was born.
This is a very interesting analysis, especially given the fact that it came so soon after the film was released. Riley is in tune with the angry, young Black Nationalists that this film caters to and describes exactly which chords it hits and why. However, the bias of this article is quite evident. Riley seems so excited to be reviewing a film made by a black filmmaker that he has trouble criticizing even the most insignificant of fallacies. His enthusiasm is evident of that of the black populace immediately after the film’s release, and although that enthusiasm will dissipate in the coming years, this article serves as a good barometer to measure the initial impact of Sweetback on the commercial public and film industry.
Gehring, Wes D. American Dark Comedy: Beyond Satire. Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1996. 1-14.
Call#: PN1995.9.C55 G42 1996
In this wonderful book, Wes Gehring analyzes dark comedy as a genre in both literature and comedy as well as film. He defines black humor as a "genre of comic irreverance that flippantly attacks what are normally society's most sacredly serious subjects - especially death." He notes that comedy's ability to personalize in the viewer a mixture of conflicting emotions is meant to reflect the on-the-edge absurdity of modern life. Comedian Dave Barry is quoted as saying that humor is based in "the fear that the world is not very sane or reliable or organized and that it's not controlled by responsible people. Anything can happen to you, and it could be bad, and you have no say in it." The author states that dark comedy as a genre is still considered more of a post-1960s phenomenon. Black humor became an aspect of the libertarian, idol-shattering side of the sixties. He also notes that dark humor is a mostly American genre - American writers on the whole appear to be more articulate about it, and American audiences more susceptible to the form.
The Graduate is certainly a dark comedy due to its plot about a young man having an affair with a married woman yet still providing comic relief despite the grave topics involved. Dustin Hoffman's awkward yet lovable character is hilarious in that he is much too young and inexperienced to know what is going on in the affair. Various times in the movie writers Buck Henry and Charles Webb provide comic answers on behalf of Benjamin Braddock to serious questions. For example, when Benjamin describes his plan to marry a girl whom he has neither asked yet or even likes him, he states "No, dad, I think [the idea] is completely baked." Also, in an intense scene when Mrs. Robinson asks Ben if he finds her attractive, he replies "I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends." Finally, director Mike Nichols uses various funny scenes to address serious issues. When Benjamin's parents make him scuba dive in their backyard pool, everyone is smiling and cheering while Benjamin is drifting in the water totally dissatisfied with his present and his future. The Graduate is a fine example of 1960s dark comedy.
Bacchilega examines the similarities and differences in three different written versions of “Snow White”: Barthelme’s Snow White, Carter’s “The Snow Child,” and Coover’s “The Dead Queen.” It is not unusual to change and embellish upon a traditional story; people have been doing it for centuries. However, fairy tales maintain their key characteristics. In the case of “Snow White,” those include flat characterization, supernatural setting, and isolation of characters in a strange, exaggerated world.
“Snow White” dramatizes the association of the good angel-like character with the evil devil-like one. This interaction is monitored and incited by a male voice: the mirror. This man in the mirror defines the identity of both the main characters as well as their relationship. The protagonist is “the fairest of all” and the antagonist is the former bearer of that title, and their interactions are marked by rivalry and jealousy.
Most folklorists interpret the story as a female initiation tale, symbolizing the process of sexual, psychological, and social maturation in women in general. Snow White’s story shows the necessity of culture in the transformation of self, but also illustrates the boundaries beyond which she cannot venture. Snow White is stifled by her obligate domesticity. The men’s influence in Snow White’s life is clear. The huntsman, dwarfs, and prince all aid in her socialization. This implies that her initiation will only be complete once the white and red parts of her life – semen and menstrual blood, representing male and female opposites – unite through her black ritual “death.” In this way, the thematic colors of the story (skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony) apply to Snow White’s personal growth.
The three versions of “Snow White” analyzed here differ in point of view, adherence to the original storyline, and even primary message. Disney’s Snow White is more similar in all three points to the Grimm version of the tale.
Call#: Van Pelt Library Reference Stacks PS338.N4 W22 1998
Call#: Van Pelt Library PR739.F45 G75 2003