spectatorship an race of cinema

Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks addresses the process of the identity-formation of a member of the African-American race in a hostile environment.  The ontological position of the subject, Fanon argues, is compromised in the social realm.  While this can be said of any subject (Fanon gives the example of Sartre’s Jew), it can be said even more so of the Black subject because his identity constantly refers back to the era of slavery; that is to say, his identity is predicated on the privation of identity.  This fact mars every social interaction: ‘’When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color.  When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color.  Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle’’ (Fanon).  The figure of entrapment by the contingencies of one’s social reality is repeated throughout Fanon’s essay.  I agree with Fanon’s thesis because it emphasizes the fact that the individual is not a self-determined unit but is rather given to the dialectical shifts that are determined by the power structure of society.

Richard Dyer’s article, White, is an examination of the way that ‘white power’ ‘hides’.  The ideology of power is such that it denies that it has an ideology.  It appeals to truth, reality and the way that things are without acknowledging that those constructs owe their legitimizing authority to the fact that it has the power to do so.  Dyer applies this formula to the concept of whiteness, which, because it is presented normatively, is permitted to hold sway over other interpretations of subjectivity: ‘’This property of whiteness, to be everything and nothing, is the source of its representational power’’ (Dyer).  The strength of Dyer’s argument lies in its ability to expose and undermine traditional and repressive modes of thinking.

Bell Hooks’ article, The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators, examines the political nature of the ‘gaze’.  She contends that the way women are looked at in film is through a phallocentric lens; that is to say, women are subject to oppressive male gaze which finds sees ‘’womanhood as object, replacing her body as a text on which to write male desire with the black female body’’ (Hooks).  In film, women are denied a proper and full subjectivity; this violent procedure is reproduced in the viewers who watch films so that men and women ‘learn’ how to interact with one another.  Hooks’ article has an element of truth in it, as anybody who watches films can confirm–there is a definite way that films organize our responses to them.  We expect certain things of characters in certain situations–these expectations are determined by normative cultural narratives.

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