Under a Bad Sign: Criminal Self-Representation in African American Popular Culture

By Podair, Jerald | Film & History, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Under a Bad Sign: Criminal Self-Representation in African American Popular Culture


Podair, Jerald, Film & History


Under a Bad Sign: Criminal Self-Representation in African American Popular Culture. Jonathan Munby. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 216 pp. $65.00 cloth, $22.50 paper.

The controversy over black criminal self-representation in American popular media has vexed critics of all races for the better part of a century. What is to be made of the fact that, beginning in the 1920s, African Americans have been complicit in, and often auteurs of, cinematic and literary treatments of a black lower class culture suffused with violence, drug use, misogyny and avarice? No other group on the American margins has participated in what to the casual eye appears to be acts of willful selfdegradation. Jonathan Munby's Under a Bad Sign: Criminal SelfRepresentation in African American Popular Culture sets out to untangle this apparent paradox for a scholarly audience, offering a nuanced account of how an intergenerational array of avowed "race men," including filmmakers Oscar Micheaux, Gordon Parks, Rudy Ray Moore, and John Singleton and novelists Chester Himes, Julian Mayfield and Donald Goines have used the "black badman" as a powerful weapon in a long twilight struggle against a white cultural imperialism that aimed to hegemonize African American identity. Criminal self-representation, Munby argues, allows black cultural producers to reclaim definitional control over their lives, resist white assaults on their masculinity, and tell their own stories in their own way.

But what are those stories, and which are authentic and true? At the height of the "blaxploitation" film movement of the 1970s, NAACP leader Junius Griffin savaged the drugs-and-mayhem epic "Super Fly" as "an insidious film which portrays the black community at its worst" (129). More recently, the white critic Nick Tosches described "gangsta" rappers as "theatrical coon acts" (175). As African American writers and directors have acquired more control over the content of the films in which African Americans are portrayed, they have borne more responsibility for what has appeared on the screen. Oscar Micheaux, who struggled between the 1920s and 1940s to finance his black-themed films on a shoestring, labored under far more rigid constraints than the "hood" directors of the 1990s and early 21st century, with their major studio sponsorship, generous budgets and unprecedented degree of artistic autonomy. As a consequence, black artists who take as their genre the gangsta or "thug" life and its accompanying culture and values expose themselves to charges of opportunism and even of race treason.

Munby seeks to explain why criminal self-representation has been so prominent in African American film, literature and music during the 20th century. He mediates between the poles of what might be labeled the "middle-class uplift" position of appalled critics who view gangsta culture as a badge of racial servitude, and those observers who contend that depicting the "real" conditions of lower-class African American urban life exposes racial injustice and might even offer "revolutionary" inspiration. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Under a Bad Sign: Criminal Self-Representation in African American Popular Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.