Fifteen years ago, I was in my final semester as a graduate student at the Columbia University School of Journalism, preparing to begin a fellowship program at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC. Instead of an encouraging send-off, however, the school’s lead radio professor—himself an alumnus of the network—told me my fellowship was nothing more than a corporate diversity scheme, adding that “diversity hires” were recruited through such programs to increase visibility but that they ultimately failed because those fellows were so underqualified for such roles.
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.
Following the eruption of racial violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the 1943 US War Department film, Don’t Be a Sucker, went viral, suggesting that news outlets and social media users found its message to be newly relevant. Don’t Be a Sucker, which warns Americans of the perils of falling for divisive fascist rhetoric, was one of countless films, radio broadcasts, and television specials produced by governmental and civic organizations during the mid-twentieth century.
Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans are true pioneers and godfathers of American Independent Cinema. The New York Times’ critic Janet Maslin called their film Hollywood Shuffle “exuberant satire,” and accurately noted its “reality-minded humor.” That’s a remarkable achievement considering that the film is remembered not only for its breakthrough critique of the entertainment industry’s stereotyping of African Americans, but also for its free-wheeling sketch comedy structure that feels fresh and original while also bringing to mind The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Norman Z. McLeod, 1947), the films of Preston Sturges, and the early work of Woody Allen. The film was made in twelve days over the course of two years for $100,000, much of it put on credit cards. It grossed $5 million in its initial release and was honored at the 1987 Deauville Festival and again in 1988 at the Spirit Awards. It is as funny a work as it is serious, and as serious as it is funny.
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.”
FQ Editor-in-Chief B. Ruby Rich’s roundup of the Summer 2016 issue: Volume 69, Number 4. Rich recalls the early years of university-level film history courses, assesses the barrage of industry news that lands on her desk daily, and pays homage to Richard Dyer, who was honored by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies at their annual conference. Dyer’s first published monograph, GAYS AND FILM (1977), came into the world in a vacuum. There was simply no such field. Today, it is difficult to comprehend the force of imagination and courage required to launch such a career at such a time. Forty years ago, a grand ballroom would not have filled with people and applause for a gay scholar; today, it was unremarkable that one did.
In February 2015, Anita Hill came to the University of California, Santa Cruz, to deliver a lecture, “Speaking Truth to Power: Gender and Racial Equality, 1991-2015.” She also presented a seminar, “‘An Intersectional Problem’: Gender, Race, Class, Political Standing and the Sexual Assault of Black Women.”
When FQ Associate Editor Regina Longo interviewed Cara Caddoo for this column, they talked about the current state of racial politics in the United States. Despite the long road ahead and the critical, collective work that must be done to achieve equality, historians like Cara Caddoo are bringing to the surface narratives that will become part of a larger conversation of the history of race and media in the US. Read the column and a selected excerpt from Chapter 3: “Colored Theaters in the Jim Crow City.”
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s preface to the film Concerning Violence (2013) is offered for the first time in print. Readers can also watch the trailer for the film, which is a tribute to and an illustration of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth Spivak states that she ends this preface as Fanon would end his writing: I end it in Fanon’s own way, turning around for our own use what a European philosopher wrote for the use of Europe over 200 years ago: turning Kant around for our purposes as he did Hegel: “anything which the people (i.e. the entire mass of subjects) cannot decide for themselves and their fellows cannot be decided for the people by the sovereign either.”
FEATURES: Ragtime, Black History, And Postmodernism; Haneke’s Endgame; IMAX and Its Doubles; Cinematic Encounters in Beijing; Interviews With Jonathan Caouette and Ross Mcelwee