They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary

They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary

They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary

They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary

Synopsis

This text examines documentary in print, photography and film from the 1930s to the present day, using the lens of recent feminist film theory as well as scholarship on race, class and gender. Rabinowitz discusses the ways in which the media have shaped the truth over the decades: in the 1930s, about poverty, labour and popular culture during the Depression; in the 1960s, about the Vietnam War, racism, work and the counterculture; and in the 1980s, abut feminist and gay critiques of gender, history, narrative and cinema.

Excerpt

While I was completing the final revisions of this manuscript, Marlon Riggs, director of Tongues Untied and other films, died of aids. the bizarre saga of his moving portrait of African-American gay men serves as a telling instance of the multiple and contradictory ways in which documentary representations are put to use by their audiences. Commissioned originally for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) showcase of independent documentaries, Point of View, and partially funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Tongues Untied was withdrawn from most television stations after organized protests by the self-appointed censors, Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, and North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. But such is the strange history of images that the film did appear on local television after all, or rather, a brief thirty-second segment of two, leather-clad black men kissing appeared, as part of an advertisement for Patrick Buchanan's presidential campaign during the Georgia Republican primary race. Buchanan was chastising then- President George Bush for allowing the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to sponsor this 'pornography' under his watch. As a result, Riggs's film attained unprecedented notoriety for a documentary, a fact made especially perverse because practically no one had seen it. His story of giving voice to marginalized people only to have those in power fight over who was going to suppress those voices and, in so doing, ensuring the voices would be heard because of their notoriety, details the ways in which documentary forms, despite the intentions of directors and producers, on the one hand, censors, on the other, take on a life of their own. Audiences of all stripes do what they will with images, no matter how instrumental their makers. in this case, Riggs's film ultimately was influential -- the controversy alerted audiences to . . .

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