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