All posts tagged: African American cinema

Plastic Representation

To many men and women of color, as well as many white women, meaningful diversity occurs when the actual presence of different-looking bodies appear on screen. For them, this diversity serves as an indicator of progress as well as an aspirational frame for younger generations who are told that the visual signifiers they can identify with carry a great amount of symbolic weight. As a consequence, the degree of diversity became synonymous with the quantity of difference rather than with the dimensionality of those performances. Moreover, a paradoxical condition emerges whereby people of color have become more media savvy yet are still, if not more, reliant on overdetermined and overly reductive notions of so-called “positive” and “negative” representation. Such measures yield a set of dueling consequences: first, that any representation that includes a person of color is automatically a sign of success and progress; second, that such paltry gains generate an easy workaround for the executive suites whereby hiring racially diverse actors becomes an easy substitute for developing new complex characters. The results of such choices can feel—in an affective sense—artificial, or more to the point, like plastic.

An Introduction

This special dossier for Film Quarterly comprises a selection of essays that share the central idea that the work ahead for scholars in the current moment must be to appreciate what has been an ever-increasing complication of the idea of black film and media over the last ten years. This dossier considers significant trends, film and media objects, and clusters of work related to issues of blackness and questions of aesthetics, historiography, industrial practice, collectivity, politics, and culture. It is compelled by a shared belief that requires scholars to remain open to contemporary and future enactments while at the same time recognizing the momentum of the past.

Billy Woodberry’s Return to Form

A long-view interview with filmmaker Billy Woodberry conducted by screenwriter and scholar Josslyn Luckett gives the filmmaker his due and reflects on his prolific career as an independent filmmaker. The unfolding of Billy Woodberry’s career—both his own new work and the recent critical revaluations of his classic work, such as the naming of Bless Their Little Hearts (1983) to the National Film Registry in 2013—makes words like “rebellion” or “revival” only marginally useful. Any research into the full range of his film work, including his multiple roles as film actor, film narrator, video installation artist, and film history and production professor at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) since 1989, reveals a Woodberry who might be more properly termed an underground “renaissance” man than a rebel.

Film & Media in a Time of Repression: Practices & Aesthetics of Resistance

On December 13, 2016, a month after the presidential election, Film Quarterly organized an emergency panel with the sponsorship of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Staged amid the political aftershocks, the event at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater brought together eight panelists from wildly divergent arenas to engage a rapt audience with its central theme: “Film & Media in A Time of Repression: Practices and Aesthetics of Resistance.”

A Conversation with Michael Boyce Gillespie on Film Blackness and the Idea of Black Film

FQ Associate Editor interviews film scholar Michael Boyce Gillespie on his new book Film Blackness and the Idea of Black Film. Gillespie begins his book with a series of questions that seem to be posed to reader and author alike, for he declares that this book is “driven by the belief that the idea of black film is always a question, never an answer,” and pushes the reader to think through some of the past and present iterations of blackness in American culture and media. Gillespie shows that there have always been multiple ways of being black, becoming black, performing blackness, challenging blackness, embodying blackness, defying blackness, and transcending the conventional understanding of blackness. Read the column then download a selection from the book made available thanks to Duke University Press.