A Black man wearing a noose around his neck, filmed from a low angle. This brief, cryptic shot opens Haile Gerima’s short film Hour Glass (1971). A cut, and the character is reintroduced as a college basketball player, first at practice, then in a game, surrounded by other Black athletes. They work the ball while, as Umar Bin Hassan—member of the legendary Harlem collective the Last Poets—recites on the soundtrack, “The white man is cuttin’ off their balls.” Glancing toward the white spectators in the bleachers, the ballplayer seems to experience an epiphany, comprehending his objectification and commodification as an athlete.
Black film scholar, critic, and curator, Albert Johnson is hardly a household name–but he should be. In 1965, at the height of the civil rights era, Johnson offered this dissection of the representation of African-Americans in Hollywood cinema of the time.
Michael Boyce Gillespie leads a roundtable with scholars Jonathan W. Gray, Rebecca A. Wanzo, and Kristen Warner to discuss issues of medium, genre, fandom, and African American history in the highly regarded HBO series Watchmen. Characterizing the HBO series as a disobedient adaptation that modifies, extends, and redirects the world making of its source material, the famed twelve-issue comic-book series of the same name, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Gillespie et al. explore the ways in which Watchmen remediates American history, starting with the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 that serves as the historical and ideological trigger that sets the series in motion. In a wide-ranging conversation that encompasses subjects including fan fiction, adaptation, cultural mythology, and black superheroes, the authors argue for Watchmen’s significance as some of the most consequential television of the century so far.
In February 1968, at the West Indian Students’ Centre in London, James Baldwin delivered a now-famous lecture on black experience and identity in Britain and America. Boldly rejecting simplistic notions of race and color by elucidating the history of racial mixing in the United States and the colonies, he also led a discussion with civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory on the role of white liberals in the black struggle. The event was brilliantly captured by Trinidadian-British photographer and recently trained filmmaker Horace Ové in Baldwin’s Nigger (1969), a forty-eight-minute black-and-white documentary made in a simple but intimate cinema verité style.
Racquel Gates and Kristen J. Warner are colleagues and soul twins who enjoy applying their expertise in race and media to popular culture debates. One such conversation arose —inevitably—around the release of Marvel’s Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler.
“Dimensions in Black: Perspectives on Black Film and Media.” The live launch of FQ 71.2 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on December 5, 2017. This event featured the dossier authors and editor in conversation with each other and the audience.
Dimensions in Black:
Perspectives on Black Film and Media
Naeem Mohaiemen at documenta 14
Updating the Female Gaze
in I Love Dick, Glow, Insecure
Bologna, Locarno, and Toronto
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.