boyz, boyz, boyz: new black cinema and black masculinity patterns posirion (and re-position) womcrl

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  • Ch.rpter Fou r

    Boyz, Boyz, Boyz: New Black Cinema and Black Masculinity

    The nouon oi r ' ' -ew Black Cinerna rs:r per iodrzat ion, drawing on and expanding Tonrrny Lotr 's (1991) denrarcat ion of Blacl< Cinema: Ear ly Fi lms (1890- l '120); Eer l ,v Soundies and Race Fi l r r . r (1920-194- i ) ; I 'os.War Problenr Fi lms (1945-1965); lhe L.A- Rebel l ion (roughly 1967 1975); and (iontenrporlry Filrns. which I refer to as New Black Cincma (roughly 191i5 t

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  • 82 t*tYs, BoYz, Brtis

    black inJepe r lcnt [ i l rn, Diawara ProF()scs "rw(r par,rdigms of bhck r in ema arsahet ics." two i lcsthet ic rrajecrorres jn which rhe cor lvcnt ional and Hol lywood cl . rssrcrt narrat ive dimensions rr i r inre and space are deploycJ and rc-deploved as black cinernatic statenlen!s- l irr f) ian'ara, space ,rnd tinre becorne vectors of re schcrnatizeti l)n and rc thematization:

    I j l : rck hlrs Lrsc spatral nrrr i t lorr a\ . r wrv ol rcvcalrrrB ancl l r r r l

  • 84 Boys, Bol '2. Sois

    story in John Singleron's Boyz N the l t r r td. ' Ar rhe core of these fr lms' complcxit ies l l re the problematics and paradoxes of black masculiniry and images of b lack men and black masculrnrty. fhe operat ion of recoding mas- cul in i ty f rour esrabl ishcd, now hisror ic, t lo l lywood codings of h lack men and blacl< nrascir l in i ty v isu,r l izes a more,rnbiguous, morc discursive image, producing the nreanings of an tntr icalr l f constructeai mascul in i ry, more complexly dimensionel than thc submrssrvc. doci le J i rm or the moral ly cor- rupi , conDi\ ing, sexual ly threatening drrrg dc' ; r ler .a

    I lorvcver, thcse more ngBressive, l-ol ir ical l) charged black rnascul int trcs, rrorv tLrr 'ned clrf f icult , rrrvolvcd, rdcr, loqica] n'retaPhorsj constr l lct theln' selves, rn thc rrrne of meanings. f ( rnr thc exrstrng, pop cul tural and f i lnrrc representi l t i () f ls of rnascul inrty. Bv opcratrng rcferenttal ly t() rhe p()pular eLl l rurel images of bl lcl< men u'hich .rrc vrsihlv recurring, or simply frxed, instrucr ing homogeneous, monol i rhrc. . r r rd cul tLrral ly fami l iar (and rheretore, quire crr l tural ly consumable) constructs. rhc cri t ical attention that New Black Cincma rnarkers as black men and maseulinity then seemingly hecomes re- cnf()rcenrcnt ()f singular, monologic rnernirgs, only within di i ferent popular images. Whrt is cLr l tural ly tarni l iar-hip hop, rap nrusic, commodi i ied nco- natron.r l ism and the cool posed, "cndan*cre(l blacl< rr:n" beconrcs repre scnt i r t ion.r l ly and cul tural l l rotal ized rs thc I l lack Exper ience of the young, hert,rr>scrual urban black mrn, th. only cxpericncc possible.

    I hlve chosen t() examine rhrcc of the e.rr lrest Ncw Black Cinema f i lnrs: Sprke Lcc's nrusical, . lcfool f) ,r lr ; Regrrrald and Warringrort Hudlin\ teenprc, I louse [ 'arty: and John Singleton's .ot]r ing of age tale, Brt lz N tbe Hctctd. I have choscn thesc three f i lms for rhe furpcrses of cr i t iquing rhc discursive visual recodings of black masculinity. Ihave selected thcse three part icular i i lnrs bcc:ruse the codings arrd rccodings r, f rnascLrl ini t l ,and blacl< masculir t i r t ' are dif ierent across thc genres of nrusieal, Leen conredy and the more l i tcrarv conring of age srory. l ly exanrining thesc three f i l rns in a sequential order, I proposc io interrogate petrcrns of fornr,rt ion of black rnascul iniry as rhese patterns posir ion (and re-posit ion) womcrl and femalc sexuali t ,v, ale homo- sexuali tr and rhc parr iarch;r l corlstrLrclron of the farrr i ly. ' fhese f i lnrs' i f unmediirtcd. serve to construct i l nrastcI r)arrJt ive of black merr lnd mas_ cul in i tv and s(xual i tv that arenrprs to hc sc.rnr less. unir . r ry and phal l ic .

    SCHOOL DAZE "lhrs nlnr rs. . . ahout our cxrstcncc rs.r pcoplc in u,hrtc Amcrrca"\

    Scbool Daze is a musrcal , but nor qui tc what one might expect. As T()nl Cade Barnbara ( t991 ) notes: " l ,ee . chooses an enshr ined genre of rhc

    Botz, tsoyz, &t,t'l' g.t

    dontinant cinema . . . ultose convcnrions were not designed to address an embartled c()mmunrr\, 's c(,nccrns" (49). lrr the big MGl\l Hollywood tradi- tion of elalrorate sets, chrrreographS pageanrry and specraclc, School Daze is a musical fused wirh the hlack cultural signifiers of jazz, Nlotown sound, and D.C. go-go. Usrng an all blacl

  • Bot's, Boyz, Bctis

    communiryj thc problenr of race:tnd 13cial disunity is then seen ls en inrped iment and hindr.rnce to e{)rrrnruniry irrrrnation and functrr.rrr within an oppressrve et)v l r r )ntnent. 1h

  • 83 Bot's' BrrJ't ' Erris

    simulr.rneously rcpresenrs rhe lack of blackness and the phallrrs. (bnsc- qucrttlt ' , racr end scxual differcncc are fcrishizcd. Sexrral difference becomes containrnenr in a convcnrional consrruarr()n

  • 90 l lr . ,ys, Boyz, l l r , is

    Tlrc secc'nd usc ol homrrsr, 'x ur lr tv lrcs in the subnrcrgcd text oi cl :rss drf- fcrerrce- l i homoscxullr ty is : rrrct irphor lor thc conflrct berween black mcn and crirninl lr t l ' , rh( nretaphor cri drsavrrw:r l , rhen mctap.hor intersecrs rvith rne()nym . l t thc p.r int of class. (, lar. is subnrerged in a discorrrse oi heterosex ual , nrascLr l r r r . 'd i f fcrcncc and is dcfrned,:rnd subsequent ly undeirncd, by rhe rcmov.t l oi h, 'nrorcxir: : l i ty and the dif icrentiat ion of a grxrd, str!rgh( blf , .k man fr()m .r b.rsure of r charactcr , is decepr ive rn that rhc physic.r l absencc rrst ' l f grvcs prcscncc ro fhe homosexual . I nrean that horno- sexrrals, specrfrcal lv gi) n ' rcn. i t re r)ot in the f i lm, bur f igurarrvely str l l rhere. The f i rst rhree gav rDen rpfc:rr on rhe boclv of Bi l ia l , the dj ior thc cvening's in lanrous part t . Bi l ra l rs bedecked wrth Kcrth l i l r ing "Free South Afr ic i t " hurrons. rhe oversrzed Vi l l i Smith c lothrng, and Parrrc l< Kel ly desrgner hut tons and conrbs.r" Tlrese thrce men, a pop art ist and two Jesigners, rcspec- t ively, $cre . r l l dving or had elready died of AIDS by the release rr i Hozse Patty. Al l rhrt 'e of rhesc mcr were gry; two of them, Wil l i Smirh and Parrick k cl lv, rvcre black. During the ja i l scene, the last two gay nren, Rock I ludson and I tbcracc, appcar in leference to their dearhs from AIDS.

    Thc presence oI rhc abscnr homoscxual total izes the coding of b lack men and masculrni ty as uni tary and heterosexual . Gay black men, l . r r example Wi l l i Srnrrh and Patr ick Kel ly, ere conmodif icd and erased, in rhe appropriated commodity form, from thc reprcsentational black commu- ni t l ' , and gay white nren, Rock I ludson end Liberace, s igni fy the homosex- ual bocly. Ihe c.rrhexis of thc hornosexual i ry onro the absent, whi te, male homosexral body negates the possibi l i ty of a black gav man. Ot course in view of the jai l cel l f inale, t l re absent honrosexual body, indeed the perfor mative hody, rs r loubly negated frorn thc blacl< conrmunity as i t is cr>ntained wirhin the f i l rn 's insrr l ious AIDS discourse, a discourse of cr i rn inr l i ty , con- f inement and rrce.

    Boj,1. Boyz, Boyz 9l

    Agrrin, as r'" ' irh School Daze, rhere is an r,pposirional 0esrheric which loreqrounds race and the constrLrct ion of race, onl t , to rc- inscr ibe raue rn a dtscorrrse of p:r t r iar-ch1,:Lnd hererosexu:r l rn, . ' l he reversal of denigrat lng stereotypes into thc positive role model ch:rracrer of Kid is problematic in ch.rt the r

  • 92 Boys, Bo1z, Brt:

    lJnl ikc School Daze and I l rruse I 'art1, Boy< does not usc scxui l l di f ier ence and sexuali ty, wornen and honrc,scxualrty, co dcirrte and neg,otiere black mascLr l in i ry and black men. In turn, In the at)scncc of homosexual i ty and wirh rhe opposir ional s lnrbolrsm of iather and tnother, h l rck nt .n. .e def ined against hcrerosexual , nrascLr l inc di f ferences, and oncc dcf ined hlack nren are presenrcd in an Ocdipal ( )pp() . i r t ion to bl : rck rvornen as nro(hcr5 in a fami ly srructure. This disrrnct iorr o i the de[ in i t ion hy drf ferenccs in r l ras cr.r l in i tv is crLrcial becausc i t then rs tht causc for the f i lnrrc crpposi t irnen.

    First I wanr t ( ) cxtmrlc thc nrcn, I -unous, Tre Ricky and t)oughbov. There is a parental f rgure, furrous, f rcrrrr whonr the co

  • 94 [Jny5, $rry7, l3ots

    father Fur ious Stvlcs. As a conscqrrcnc(. l rc is invesred with the future oi the fi lnric conrmu n ity.


    ln l99l thcrc werc somc nrnctccrr i r l r r . hy black directors schcdulcd f r r r re lc.rse. l jy the end of 1991, rr leasr rraclrc r>[ t l resc f i lnrs were relc,rsed wrrh the brckr ng of h ig I lo l lywrxrd sruLl ' r )s i ( . t ) le I 99f) . Clee r lv thesc t i im\ werc popular.rnd profr t : rb le, hur thr c()nte.r l r | ld suhlcct marrer oi thesc i r lnrs, black people, b lack peoplr ' r l ivcs and cul tural space and id( 'nrrrYj $cre seerr ingl ; ' i r contrast to , r l l t ' r l txrd 's rrcr . r l r radi t ions. As popular rrcnds go, New Bleck Cinema was precedcd hr rap and hip-hop music, the po;ru lar image of rhc 'cndang