Reel Progress: Race, Film, and Cinematic Melancholy
This chapter draws attention to film as a medium that both reinforces and contests images of progress. After reviewing themes that are pertinent to race and film studies as well as critical theory, this chapter looks at films that offer different ways of viewing and thinking about race, progress, and remembrance. Stanley Kramer’s film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner prompts the viewer to align black freedom struggles with a postracial, forward-gazing imaginary that downplays the connections between race, class, and gender. Sidney Poitier’s character, the chapter argues, anticipates yearnings for a position that is beyond race; he becomes a signifier for the supposed end of black freedom struggles- a color-blind society that has left racial reasoning behind. Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, the chapter contends, gestures toward a different way of thinking about the 1960s civil rights struggles, a way of remembering that underscores the failures, limitations, and ambiguities of this legacy. Finally, F. Gary Gray’s Set It Off cuts against visions of the American dream that disavow the relationship between progress and theft, or freedom and dispossession. In addition, this film exposes how certain appeals to black uplift and progress ignore the complexities of class, gender, and sexuality.