Recent African American film scholarship has called for an attention to the structures of black representation on screen. This work echoes the calls made in the 1990s by black feminist film and cultural scholars to resist the allure of reading for racial realism and to develop more appropriate critical tools and terms to acknowledge black artistic innovations. This essay takes up and reiterates that call, drawing attention to the problems of film interpretation that attend to a version of historical analysis without an understanding of form and medium. Foregrounding film as a terrain of struggle, the essay mobilizes an analysis of the 2014 film Selma to illuminate the multiple resonances of the concept representation. Focusing on the film’s representation of women and girl characters, the essay argues that cinematic play with the terms and conditions of representation comment powerfully on the limitations of cinematic and historical discourses to speak about the black femme as a political subject. Analysis of Selma exposes the key problems of reception and criticism facing contemporary African American film. The film speaks to the failure of de jure representational regimes in post–civil rights movement America and offers up the cinematic terrain as an important twenty-first-century site of African American struggle.
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Courtney R. Baker; Framing Black Performance: Selma and the Poetics of Representation. Camera Obscura 1 September 2020; 35 (2 (104)): 37–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-8359506
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