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Manthia Diawara

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E Karbin

on 7 May 2017

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Transcript of Manthia Diawara

Further Questions:
1. Is there a way in which we can envision Diawara's ideal of Afro-American independent cinema?

2. Resistant spectatorship is not only the province of Black spectators, how resistant spectatorship extend to other forms of popular culture?

3. How can non-Black spectators resist and negotiate with the ways in which Black people historically have been represented on the silver screen.

4. Let's talk about Tyler Perry...
"Birth of a Nation" & "The Color Purple"
Diawara uses the examples of
Birth of a Nation
The Color Purple
to illustrate the complex and subtle ways in which identity and spectatorship are fractured. Their portrayals of Black identity, he argues, represent Blackness as constituted by a particular subconscious performance that instructs identification with either a "racist inscription of the black character" (769).
In Birth of a Nation,
"evil and lust are attributed to Black characters" (774) while in The Color Purple these negative traits are only applied to Black males.
Hollywood cinema represents a space where Afro-American cinema cannot be found--it contains no analogue for the experience of the Black spectator because much of Hollywood cinema depicts Black individuals as stereotypes or 'noble savages', as evinced by Diawara's example of Little Colonel in
Birth of a Nation.

Diawara makes the argument here for the creation of a space that eschews classic Hollywood narrative formulas-- an "Afro-American independent cinema” (767)
Manthia Diawara's
Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance

Biographical Sketch
Born in 1953 in Bamako, Mali, Manthia Diawara received his early education in France. He received his PhD from Indiana University in 1985 and is currently Professor at New York University, where he is Director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs. Prior to teaching at NYU, Diawara taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Santa Barbara. In addition to his academic career, Diawara is also an accomplished filmmaker, art and cultural critic.
Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance
was published in 1988.
"Black characters in contemporary Hollywood films are made less threatening to whites either by white domestication of black customs and culture . . . or by stories in which blacks are depicted playing by the rules of white society and losing" (773).
On the Films of
Eddie Murphy
Diawara, writing in 1988, uses the canon of Eddie Murphy to argue the opposite and equally problematic end of the spectrum: the portrayal of contemporary Black characters as "castrated" (770) figures “deterritorialized from a black milieu and transferred to a predominantly white world” (770) to remove the possibility of them appearing as a threat to white audiences.
Diawara’s essay examines notions of pleasure, race and spectatorship. Specifically, Diawara is interested in the ways in which Black spectators resist identification with racial representation in classic Hollywood films, suggesting that Hollywood cinema presents unrealistic and potentially harmful depictions of black characters in an effort to appease and the dominant audience of white viewers. Diawara focuses on films like Birth of a Nation, The Color Purple and contemporary films of Eddie Murphy to illustrate these principles in action, while offering the founding on Afro-American independent cinema as one method for grounding cinema in a greater discourse of representation and combating complacent spectatorship.

Diawara takes up Metz’ and Mulvey’s concepts of spectatorship as it pertains to elements of gender and sexuality respectively, and adds to the discourse, arguing that race is also a particular form of spectatorship.
Further, he examines the terms “black spectator” and “resisting spectator”, arguing that many Black spectators struggle to identify with the images of blacks represented in Hollywood cinema and resist their racial representation in much of dominant cinema.
Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance
“When blacks are presented in Hollywood, and sometimes when Hollywood omits blacks altogether, there are spectators who denounce this result and refuse to suspend their disbelief altogether" (767).
Diawara posits that Hollywood cinema "situates black characters primarily for the pleasure of white spectators (770). This notion of pleasure, in Diawara's work, refers to that which does not seek to threaten the dominant spectator. This is accomplished by portraying clack characters as stereotypes and placing them in predominantly white settings where they may act as foils to the white heroes.

“The Afro-American spectator is denied the possibility of identification with black characters as credible or plausible personalities thus it can be not be assumed that black spectator share in the ‘pleasures’ which such films are able to offer white audiences” (771)
Elisa Karbin
Full transcript