Reading this article gave me another perspective on the power of the gaze. We can always analyze the spectator but now we must look at that spectators history and/or life experiences. Each spectator can or maybe will, have different reactions to the same scene being shown. And this happens all the time everybody has different tastes when it comes to films, but I’m not really talking about whether they will like a film or hate it, I’m talking about a more psychological reaction. (and not castration)
Bell Hooks article talks about the black female gaze. White slave-owners denied slaves their right to gaze, and slaves were punished for looking. She believes this traumatic relationship to the gaze effected black spectatorship. According to Hooks it produced in them “an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze. By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: ‘Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality’.”


When black people in the US had the opportunity to watch film and TV they did so fully aware that “mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy”. There was no black representation and/or misrepresentation. Black figures were stereotypically degrading and dehumanizing, a famous example is the Amos and Andy show (which were in fact white men doing the voices). The oppositional black gaze responded to these by producing black independent cinema as “a response to the failure of white dominated cinema to represent blackness in a manner that did not reinforce white supremacy”.

    -The Characters     -The Voices

Black female gaze has its own category, for black females went to the cinema never expecting to see compelling representations of black femaleness, “they were acutely aware of this cinematic racism, it’s violent crasure of black womanhood” When female representations were on screen they were merely there to serve, enhance, and maintain white womanhood “as the object of the phallocentric gaze”. Grown black women resented the way screen images like Sapphire from Amos and Andy could assault black womanhood, meanwhile younger black women accepted it as a form of entertainment. They didn’t long to be on screen, but they still laughed at this female character “who was not us”. Thereby black female spectators choose not to identify with films. One women said that “she could only get pleasure from movies as long as I didn’t look too deep”. Another well known character is the Mammy, which I find interesting Hooks discussion of it. To me the Mammy is another extremely racist sterotype but Hooks describes her experience when watching Imitation of Life as a comfortable image. I understand that she related her to a hard-working blacking woman, who loved her daughter so much, she said the mammy figure reminded her of the hardworking, church going big mamas. The Mammy character in this film was definitely different from all the others, the Mammy had more substance, and was an actual character in the film rather then a mere entertainer but she was still happier to be the servant and live downstairs, that’s where she wanted to be. So I wouldn’t refer to her as “the comfortable Mammy”.

There is so much history with black representation in cinema and I think it is important for people to learn and/or be aware of it. I took the 346 course and I felt I learned and understood a lot, but we really didn’t focus on the female spectator and where she stood in all of this. And if I never would have read this article I don’t think I would have ever thought to analyze it.

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Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 9:49 am Comments (3)

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3 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. on May 4, 2010 at 7:04 pm saramungiguerra Said:

    I though this post was really interesting! The Amos and Andy pictures are really crazy. In the movie that Professor Herzog showed last week, the man in the movie used black makeup, but seeing it up close is actually…really offensive! And you’re right that there is a huge history of black representation in films, and it’s good to be made aware of it.

  2. on May 11, 2010 at 7:14 pm justina87 Said:

    Great post! I’ve seen some episodes from Amos and Andy which is a very racist show I can’t get over the fact that it lasted for as long as it did. The blackface within earlier cinematic days was completely horrible especially within the movie Birth of a Nation that Manthia Diawara describes as the Black face men are considered rapists. I definitely agree with him as he states that dominant cinema paints the typical Black characters image as suspects within movies. He also describes how Disney movies almost always have a White hero which is another racial characteristic to really think about.

  3. on May 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm kayeco Said:

    Pretty recently Disney came out with the Princess and the Frog and it got me to thinking that why did it take so long for Disney to have a Black Disney princess. I feel like it doesn’t really make a difference either way because Disney had this formula where the princess is abused and is rescued by the handsome strong prince. I guess now little girls of color now have a princess they can relate to too.

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