Blackhood At-Large: The Cinema of Social Death
Obscured in the #MeToo movement’s exposure of the rampant misogyny and sexually predatory behavior by men in the entertainment industries is the recognition that this violence cannot be separated from the images of race, gender, and sexuality in the films Hollywood makes. Likewise, it is axiomatic that all film will bear the sedimented evidence of an antiblack world. The merit of the project, then, begins with the fact that it is a study of the circulation of black images not out of a concern for aesthetics, but rather because such an inquiry facilitates a certain kind of intervention into the material violence that gains expression through such aesthetics. Blackhood At-Large is the kind of text that teachers will use to help students broaden their capacity to use images to think through how society is held together by antiblack violence.
Additionally, consider the case of Elena Mondragon, killed by police on March 14, 2017 in Hayward, CA. Although the officers involved were equipped with body cameras, they were turned off. Supporters of the Mondragon family claim that with no video record of the incident, their case against the police is unwinnable; without video evidence, they argue, it’s as if it never happened. Alternatively, there is the case of Stephon Clark, killed by Sacramento, CA police officers one year later on March 18, 2018. Video evidence shows police shooting Clark in the back as he attempts to enter the backdoor of his house. The police subsequently produce a video montage of images spliced from multiple sources intended to validate their claim that Clark was armed and dangerous at the time of the shooting. This video included extended footage from a police chase of a suspected car theft, infrared night camera, aerial footage from a helicopter, and footage of officers running, all spliced to the assaulting officer’s body camera. Video evidence does not produce police accountability since policing and its high-tech surveillance equipment are inseparable from the production of black criminality, a discourse that emanates not simply from the state but from society itself, as the study of cinema is uniquely positioned to reveal.
In sum, Blackhood At-Large confronts this situation in three unique ways:
It evaluates viral videos of state violence and cinematic treatments of blackness in relation to each other, an unprecedented approach to the study of each.
It examines the black image on film against the grain of the film studies emphasis on aesthetic and performance, an approach increasingly favored within black studies as well. For reasons that I lay out in my first book, a certain kind of black studies has become popular in the “post-racial” era wherein scholars and artists assert that aesthetics and performance forms of resistance or a new way of being black, as if aesthetics were going to feed the kids or solve the problem of a predatory state. For instance, witness how the Marvel comic book movie was supposed to offer some kind of deliverance for black people.Instead, I read aesthetic imagery positionally and structurally—not political struggle but for what it signifies about the capture pedagogy that produces such images. This book critically engages with film studies and black performance studies to chart the limits to performativity and its academic discourses.
It employs “blackhood” to de-center the spectacle of policing in favor of a focus on the police power of state and civil society together.I argue that the films I examine the police power against black liberation. Blackhood paves the way for this argument because it rethinks gender and sexuality in terms of antiblackness. Blackhood is key also because it soberly apprehends the structure of social death black people confront, while at the same time assessing the manner in which blackness remains at-large.
Through this unique approach, Blackhood At-Large stands poised to advance our understanding of the intractability of antiblack violence, as well as positively influence the direction of a variety of academic fields of study, including film studies, black studies, black performance studies, law and society, and cultural studies.