Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Young Soul Rebels: Negro/queer Experimental Filmmakers

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Young Soul Rebels: Negro/queer Experimental Filmmakers

Article excerpt

As someone who (barely) makes a living writing about popular culture, I find myself drawn more and more these days to those artists (filmmakers, musicians, writers) who voluntarily/or not, happily/or not, find themselves creating from the fringes of mainstream visibility and comprehension. The admiration that I once freely gave to almost anyone who identified her or himself as an artist is now an item that I'm miserly with; it's increasingly reserved for those who eschew celebrity (or at least don't have it as their primary goal), who strive to question as passionately as they declare, and who challenge or subvert rather than giddily position themselves to be co-opted by the sprawling machine of corporate culture. It's for those who grapple honestly with the issues of race, sexuality, class, culture, and politics while trying to produce art.

The relationship(s) between the black body, black psyche, and cinematic representation is/are fascinating. It only becomes more so as 21st century Hollywood-inspired by the global success of the glossy, reductive, materialistic wing of hip-hop culture, both for the sub-dimensional representations of blackness that it offers via MTV, BET, and mainstream music videos, and for its huge appeal to white suburban teenagers (and those two elements are clearly intertwined)-grapples with ways to bring blackness that "keeps it real" to the big-screen. But is "realness" what people-black, white, gay, straight, or otherwise-really want when they sit in a darkened room and gaze at a screen that contains images of black folk?

Because American culture is so visually oriented, the power of the image is enormous. We constantly learn, mis-learn and shuffle information about others and ourselves based on cues gleaned from mass media. At the movies, we learn genre formulas before we even know what genre is. We learn what a man is, what a woman is, and how the two are supposed to relate. We learn about assorted power dynamics and how they pop according to gender and sexuality. We learn who has what kinds of power as determined, if not overdetermined, by race and class. Occasionally, we're shown how to fight the power.

There is, I think, a longing on the part of many black and queer folk to watch films and simply see themselves slotted smoothly into the genre outlines and movie formulas that they've had stamped upon their mental and aesthetic taste buds. And this ain't just a black or queer thing, of course. We all receive the same information, the same cultural lessons, are subject to the same attempts to fashion our desires and realities into something easily marketed and consumed, something recognizable as the "norm." And we're all seduced into wanting to play along, to belong. This desire can be especially powerful in those who are marginalized in real life. Movies act as agents that validate us and argue on our behalf; they prove our citizenship.

Moreover, a lot of us long to be shoe-horned into banal narratives or threadbare blueprints that pointedly shear away quirks or identity-markers that stamp us as "other." Deeper: We long to be couched in someone else's comfort zone in order to not be called out. This can lead to all sorts of ironies and paradoxes when it comes to the representation of black folk. Whether it's the spoon-fed uplift-the-race bullshit or plantation legacies (refurbished by mainstream rap music and videos) of thugs, pimps and gangstas, we are comfortable with and eagerly support images and storylines that merely regurgitate cliché and stereotype or that allow us to be "empowered" by simply putting black faces on cinematic archetypes and creaky formulas. Think of any action film of the last few years in which, say, Steven Seagal, is paired with a growling/phlegmatic rap star who gets to glower, swagger, and finger all manner of state-of-the-art firepower. Not only do you get recycled black/white buddy flicks, but you have exhausted white hetero maleness given a dose of cultural Viagra by its proximity to hetero nigger dick-and all said nigger has to do is stay within the narrowly defined realm of dangerous/menacing/crazy. …

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