This essay examines black women's transition from cultural consumers to artistic producers in Martha Southgate's under-studied novel Third Girl from the Left. Analyzing the text's exploration of black women's misrepresentation in popular film and mainstream narratives of history, this essay argues that Southgate rewrites the script of black female desire beyond sexual subjugation and racial stereotype over the course of the novel's three generations of mothers and daughters. Southgate reveals the importance of black women controlling the narrative of black female subjectivity portrayed on the movie screen. Moreover, she illustrates the significance of black women's performance of subjectivity in their own lives. By charting a “reel” and “real” history of the erotic, Southgate not only explores the repercussions of movie-watching and movie-making for black female spectators, but she also demands that her readers participate in the critical interpretive work necessary for recognizing the difference between “fact” and “fiction.” Her novel reveals that such cultural work is important for interrogating and reconfiguring past and present representations of black female eroticism. This essay looks at the nuances in Third Girl from the Left by placing the novel in the context of its explicit movie allusions as well as films with which the text is in tacit dialogue.

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