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Black Bodies Matter: Our Flawed Portrayal of Black Sexuality in Film



There's a lot to be said this month about progress. Progress in movies, literature, TV, representation anywhere in the media. Some of this stuff doesn't get talked about too complexly because for me personally, I think people have a long way to come in understanding the complexities of these issues. So when I write an article about a movie, or a list or an essay, I am using my voice as a platform to represent my ideas and opinions. As political as I try not to be, I also believe I have incredible amounts of privilege and with this privilege, I have the opportunity to use my voice as a white male to express issues that I want to explore that don't necessarily directly effect me. With my previous article Black Films Matter , I wanted to direct my scope of followers and immediate audiences to titles that aren't just important to watch this Black History Month, but also any time of the year. Independent films deserve all the spot-light they can get and some of these films don't get the same opportunities that others do upon release. I believe truly that this month is specifically important for perspective on how times have changed for the better; how film and entertainment medias portray and explore black characters and settings into increasingly more positive ways. But its impossible to deny the issues still existent in media today, specifically the racial stereotypes that are sometimes even subconsciously prevalent in black men on the big screen. And as a writer for Purely Kino, I will do my best to use my voice as a platform to discuss this issue and hopefully raise some awareness for a topic that doesn't directly effect everyone who reads this.


The issues that lie in black representation can be broken down in layman's terms quite easily when put under the scope of the 100+ years that they've existed. I won't break it down per trope but a great article to read on the subject is on Thought.co by Nadra Kareem Nittle who starts it off by saying...


Black people may be scoring more substantial parts in film and television, but many continue to play roles that fuel stereotypes, such as thugs and maids. The prevalence of these parts reveals the importance of #OscarsSoWhite and how Black people continue to struggle for quality roles on both the small and big screens.... - Nadra Kareem Nittle


This article explores five continuously common stereotypes for black men and women in films and I highly recommend it. You can read it here.


https://www.thoughtco.com/common-black-stereotypes-in-tv-film-2834653


The issues go beyond the characters that are relied upon in large productions of TV or Film. One of the issues comes into something that I recently learned as a term which is "oppositional gaze". I'll go into breaking this down in a minute, but lets start with understanding to what something is very commonly referred to: the male gaze. The male gaze is as old as institutionalized racism is in Hollywood, and refers to the sexualization that comes from the voyeuristic examination of women and their bodies in films. This is a tricky subject too, because some of these films actually pass the Bechdel test but still manage to suffer from the use of sex appeal when showing off their female characters. That being said, a female-centric film or one that can be appreciated for it's "wokeness" regarding feminism and gender roles in films can still trip up when it comes to presenting these characters.


Here's an example. The James Bond movies that have existed since the 60's introduced our martini shakin' machismo lead with multiple male actors over the years, each of them attractive and with a good amount of sex appeal. That being said, these films succeed with male audiences almost exclusively over time because of the "bond girl" usage. Bond's "women", even though he oft shows no interest in pursuing them sexually, throw themselves on him. Worst yet they're often bared down and sexualized upon introduction. Now I'm no prude, but a character's introduction says a lot about their purpose in the film and seeing women introduced in bikinis or half-naked.... yeah. Need I say more. On the subject of progress, I avert your "gaze" to the below photo.

Casino Royale (2006)

Why did it take until 2006 to flip the imagery and show a half-naked James Bond emerging from the water on a sun-kissed beach?! Kudos to Casino Royale. (It's really good too, check it out.)


And that's just the start of it. The term I'm returning to is oppositional gaze, accredited to Black feminist Gloria Jean Watkins (Bell Hooks), which is an even more complex and rooted issue in Hollywood that....


"was first developed as a critique of film theory by bell hooks in her essay "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators". hooks describes the