Race and the Revolutionary Impulse in the Spook Who Sat by the Door

Race and the Revolutionary Impulse in the Spook Who Sat by the Door

Race and the Revolutionary Impulse in the Spook Who Sat by the Door

Race and the Revolutionary Impulse in the Spook Who Sat by the Door

Synopsis

Ivan Dixon's 1973 film The Spook Who Sat by the Door captures the intensity of social and political upheaval during a volatile period in American history. Based on Sam Greenlee's novel by the same name, the film is a searing portrayal of an American black underclass brought to the brink of revolution. This series of critical essays situates the film in its social, political, and cinematic contexts and presents a wealth of related materials, including an extensive interview with Sam Greenlee, the original United Artists' press kit, numerous stills from the film, and a transcription of the screenplay. This fascinating examination of a revolutionary work foregrounds issues of race, class, and social inequality that continue to incite protests and drive political debate.

Excerpt

Michael T. Martin and David C. Wall

A profitable and appropriate beginning for introducing the subject of this book recalls the events that spawned it, and with which it directly engages: a symposium organized and hosted by the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University. the two-day event, provocatively titled—Cinematic Representations of Racial Conflict in Real Time— addressed two defining American films of the 1960s and 1970s: Michael Roemer and Robert Young’s Nothing But a Man (1964) and Ivan Dixon and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973). Each film, having utility for ideological accounts of historical activity, renders a distinct and compelling mode of political address in real time and during a particularly intense moment of racial conflict in the United States. Indeed, both films foreground the mobilizing strategies of black militants and civil rights activists at the time of their release and similarly share several thematic concerns, from the moral and physical decay of black life in urban America and the challenges of gender and the black underclass to inequality and political oppression.

At a conceptual level, the symposium engaged two concerns: first, the representational strategies deployed in film to signify modes of political address, and second, assessing whether such films contribute to the intelligibility of the present. Do they suggest alternative constructs of agency and social change? Do they contribute to the project of world making? and comprising cine-memories, do they mediate between historical moments and infer a futurity?

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