Historically, the study of the idea of black film has been a fraught, insightful, and generative enterprise—be it a matter of industrial capital and its delimitation of film practice in terms of profit, or the tendency to insist that the “black” of black film be only a biological determinant and never a formal proposition. In many ways, the black film as an object of study mirrors the history of America, the history of an idea of race. While the field continues to shift and change, and the study of black film becomes more common, it is often still tokenized by the industry. Discussion about black film and media is booming in academic programs (e.g., American Studies, Women and Gender Studies, English) and in Film and Media Studies, but it is doing so even more in nonacademic spaces, with blogs, podcasts, and think pieces proliferating at a rapid pace. We offer our manifesto, recognizing that film manifestos never whisper. Their messages envision political, aesthetic, and cultural possibilities. They demand and plot. They question and insist. What follows are expectations bundled as concerns for not only the renderings of black film to come but, as well, the thinking on blackness and cinema that we hope will thrive and inspire future discussions. We are devising new terms of engagement with current developments in mind.
Editor in Chief, B. Ruby Rich, weighs in on the latest in film and media culture. She recaps the recent Visible Evidence conference that took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina; reviews the content of the current issue, and introduces the important dossier on black film and media.
Two special evenings took place at BAMPFA on November 17 and 18, 2016 featuring filmmaker Madeline Anderson and Orlando Bagwell, former Director of the documentary program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, in conversation on Anderson’s groundbreaking career.
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.
One of the most significant aspects of the wave of protests and uprisings that began in Syria in 2011 was the use of the cell phone camera as a tool of documentation, political activism, and creative expression. With professional journalists and major news networks barred from entering the country, Syrian citizens took it upon themselves to record their own protests as well as the violent reactions they provoked from members and supporters of the Assad regime. In the first few months of protests (March–June 2011), these recordings were virtually the only images coming out of Syria. Gradually, however, exiled political activists smuggled cell phones, cameras, and laptops into Syria with the specific aim of documenting protests and violence.
It is not uncommon for me to pick up a book—any kind of book—and as I begin to read it, to make mental notes of elements of the story or facts that intersect with my own experiences. I am certain that I am not alone in this practice of suturing myself into these written realms. Film scholars have been developing multiple theories regarding notions of subject formation ever since Jacques Lacan first developed the concept in the 1950s–60s. From Daniel Dayan and Pierre Oudart to Jacques Alain-Miller to Christian Metz to Stephen Heath to Laura Mulvey to Kaja Silverman, despite this post-post–ad infinitum structural moment, debates on the logic of the signifier persist in film and media studies.
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.”
Documentary has been in the grip of a shape-shifting transformation, thanks to shifts in technologies, genre, journalism, and the status of evidence and veracity. Not since the 1980s—when the invention of camcorders, VHS tape, and VCR machines, alongside the debut of cable television, fueled the last great upheaval—has the field been so explosively inventive and destabilized
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.”
Summertime is usually an interregnum for Film Quarterly and many of its readers: a time between university terms and, with the singular exceptions of Locarno and Karlovy Vary, between film festivals as well: after Cannes, before Toronto/Telluride/Venice/New York. As this issue went to press, however, production was repeatedly interrupted by a need to attend to the news.