From Black Voices
When teaching the film Precious (2009) I would have to encourage students to grapple with issues of spectatorship with regard to representations of Blacks in American cinema. Although Black Americans or African Americans have been filmmakers since the early 1900s, it was not until the 1980s that mainstream producers and audiences would sustain support for works by and about Black Americans for more than a decade. Unfortunately, since that prolific period, African American cinema has again become scarce Discussing Precious in this cinematic landscape may unfairly burden the film, but as a contemporary representation of Black life in America, it requires our close examination. So – despite Black participation in the making of Precious – how will my students categorize the portrayal of Black characters?
In class (Anatomy of Difference) I teach how racial constructions — one way of defining difference — were depicted in early American cinema. I note that in film criticism more attention is given to the authorship of films than to the point of their reception – the individual spectator. Conversations about Precious then, must connect both the creation and reception of the images therein. To do so would require a dialogue between Precious and critiques of Black images that have preceded it. The film captivated audiences during a time of racial recalibration in our nation and since its images may recall regressive representations of blackness I would have to include clips that depict these early representations. The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939) are useful as they provide visual templates for Black American stereotypes. Because Precious is now a celebrated cultural artifact, it begs the question — what does this film add to the conversation about race?
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