Cinematic Blackness in the Age of Obama and #BlackLivesMatter
Woodhouse, Douglas Thomas
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CitationWoodhouse, Douglas Thomas. 2018. Cinematic Blackness in the Age of Obama and #BlackLivesMatter. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis thesis examines the representation of Black protagonists in mainstream Hollywood films over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency and the ways in which those representations change and evolve concurrently with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. In creating a framework in which to investigate the relationship between commercial Hollywood productions and social activism, I take care to adopt an approach that can accommodate an array of determining factors while situating the Black Lives Matter movement as an important potential determinant. I focus on five films—The Blind Side (2009), Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Fruitvale Station (2013), and Selma (2014)—that serve as representative examples of broader filmic trends. I provide a textual analysis of each film, evaluating the ways it utilizes or rejects common cinematic racial tropes, approaches issues of systemic racism, and works to generate empathy within the viewer. I also review the origins and evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement, paying particular attention to the ways in which it effectively influenced the national dialogue generally and the rhetoric of Barack Obama specifically.
I conclude that the representations of Black protagonists do evolve during the course of Obama’s presidency. The Black protagonists in early Obama era films are generally still reliant on white saviors and white benevolence, while the protagonists of the later films gain greater personal agency, possess more accessible inner lives, and more readily become vehicles for the audience’s empathy. I illustrate the ways Black Lives Matter was successful in shifting public attitudes regarding race and racism by giving voice to the Black experience in America, and how that shift exposed a market for films with more diverse perspectives.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42004063