Film Studies

Reimagining Ourselves: Race, Gender, and Disability in Black Panther and Wrinkle in Time

Sami Final-9Today’s guest post is by Sami Schalk, author of the new book Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction.

It is a good time to be a black nerd—a blerd, if you will. The past few years have seen increased appearances of not only black characters, but entire black speculative worlds, worlds where we are not merely sidekicks, but heroes and heroines. From Netflix’s Luke Cage and Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out to Ryan Coogler’s record-shattering hit film Black Panther and Ava Duvernay’s just-released A Wrinkle in Time, we are in an incredible moment for black speculative film, television, and literature. I use “speculative” here, like I do in my new book, Bodyminds Reimagined, as an umbrella term for non-realist representations, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and magical realism. For a long time, African American literature and film were heavily burdened by the need and desire for positive, realist representations of black people to combat a legacy of influential racist stereotypes. As I discuss in the introduction to Bodyminds Reimagined, available for free here, positive, authentic representations for black and other oppressed groups are often assumed to only occur through realism, like life-writing and historical dramas, but increasingly more writers and filmmakers are experimenting with how speculative fiction and film can also provide empowering representations of marginalized people.

978-0-8223-7088-8Black Panther represents an alternate version of our world in which the people of Wakanda, a secret African nation that went into hiding to protect its supply of vibranium from the colonizing world, have developed their own advanced technology and culture. In this cinematic universe, based on the comic book series of the same title, the Wakandan king, T’Challa, serves as the Black Panther, protector of Wakanda, and is given extraordinary physical abilities through a mystical heart-shaped herb. Throughout the film, T’Challa relies on his genius younger sister Shuri, princess of Wakanda, who develops and improves vibranium technology, and an army of strong black women, the Dora Milaje, who are led by General Okoye. In this speculative world, black people are leaders and inventors as well as farmers, warriors, and spies. Black Panther reimagines the meaning of blackness and womanhood as well as the roles and expectations for black men and women. Importantly, the film provides this reimagining in conjunction with political messages about the history of colonization while also remaining firmly in the superhero genre—full of dramatic fights and chase scenes required of any superhero movie. While black, disabled, and feminist authors of speculative fiction, like Octavia E. Butler, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nnedi Okorafor have been creating politicized non-realist texts which center marginalized characters for years, Hollywood is now beginning to catch up, learning to combine diversity and politics with superheroes, science fiction, and other non-realist genres.

The move to reimagine race and gender identity through speculative fiction and film continues in the new film A Wrinkle in Time, originally a 1962 award-winning speculative fiction novel by Madeleine L’Engle. The book was initially rejected dozens of times, due in part, the author speculated, to its divergence from genre norms at the time, such as featuring a female protagonist. In its current adaptation, A Wrinkle in Time casts a black girl in the lead role of Meg Murray and other characters are also played by women of color. In the film, Meg, along with her friend and younger brother, bend time to travel the universe in order to find and rescue Meg’s scientist father who has been missing for four years. While not as explicitly political at Black Panther and created for a younger audience, A Wrinkle in Time nonetheless reimagines race and gender norms by creating a smart black girl character who must learn to love herself as she is, using her knowledge of physics and love for her family to become a hero.

What is missing from the race and gender diversity of these recent black speculative worlds, however, is disability. In Black Panther, while we see some bodily and age diversity among the tribal leaders, we do not see disabled characters except for the villain Ulysses Klaue who has a prosthetic hand—a representation that aligns with the trope of disability as a symbol or cause of evil. In A Wrinkle in Time, although there are messages about self-love (especially for black people, women and girls) embedded throughout, from Meg’s self-consciousness about her naturally curly hair to Oprah Winfrey’s character Mrs. Which rhetorically asking “Is there such thing as the wrong size?”, disability makes no appearance in the film. Further, in Black Panther CIA operative Everett Ross is shot in the spine but is completely healed by Wakandan technology. This choice suggests that disability has been eliminated in Wakanda. In Chapter 3 of Bodyminds Reimagined, I discuss the role of disability and technology in representations of the future, particularly in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series. There I explain that western visions of the future are typically disability-free futures, like that suggested in Black Panther. Despite the fact that advances in human technology are often used for violence and war (especially against people of color) and despite the fact that technology increasingly allows people to live with more severe and varied disabilities than in the past, we continue to hold onto the ideal of a technologically-created able-bodied, able-minded future in which disabled people cease to exist. The belief in and hope for such a future or fantasy world is based on ableist notions that disabled lives are inherently worse than non-disabled lives and that disabled people do not contribute to the world in important ways.

The lack of positive disability representation (that is, disabled characters who aren’t villains, especially ones played by actually disabled actors) in the increasingly diverse world of speculative film demonstrates that there is still more work to be done. In Bodyminds Reimagined, I analyze how black women writers reimagine the possibilities and limits of bodyminds by creating complex, interesting, and powerful representations of disabled characters. With the release and success of films like Get Out, Black Panther, and A Wrinkle in Time, it seems that speculative film is beginning to catch up the speculative fiction in terms of race and gender, but not as much in terms of disability. By highlighting the role of disability alongside race and gender in black women’s speculative fiction, I hope that Bodyminds Reimagined contributes to this powerful moment in black speculative representations so that perhaps in the Black Panther sequel and other future films, we might see the kind of engagement with and embrace of disability identity that we have begun to see around blackness and womanhood as well.

Pick up Sami Schalk’s Bodyminds Reimagined for 30% off using coupon code E18BODYM at dukeupress.edu.

Top Latin American Studies Titles Adopted for Course Use

cuba readerOur Latin American Studies authors are well known for their work in anthropology, art, cultural studies, Caribbean studies, Chicanx and Latinx studies, history, literature, film and media, and politics.

Our Latin American studies e-book collection includes over 500 titles in these subject areas. Many of our journals also cover Latin America. If you’re interested in gaining access to these resources, have your librarian contact our Library Relations team to get more information.

Here are the top 8 Latin American studies titles adopted for course use:

View the title list for the Latin American Studies collection, which features more than 500 e-books.

The Hypervisibility of Violence in Mexico

Rielle Navitski, author of the new book Public Spectacles of Violence: Sensational Cinema and Journalism in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and Brazil, brings us today’s guest blog post.

Photo by Dina Canup

The epidemic levels of violence affecting Mexico made international headlines this past month when a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies declared it the deadliest nation in the world after Syria, with a toll of 23,000 homicides in 2016. While the report’s critics called for greater nuance than this headline offers, there is no question that the conflict poses a profound threat to the very fabric of public life in Mexico. Criminal organizations challenge the government’s control of territory and its exclusive privilege to exercise physical force (its monopoly on violence, in sociologist Max Weber’s terms), although widespread corruption makes any sharp distinction between state and criminal actors difficult to sustain. Violence’s capacity to terrorize is amplified by unspeakable displays of cruelty—the staging of victims’ bodies in public spaces, the circulation of images of torture and murder online—even as forced disappearances and clandestine mass graves mask the conflict’s true extent.

As I observe in my book Public Spectacles of Violence, the proliferation of graphic images of violence and the blurring of boundaries between state and criminal aggression are far from a new phenomenon in Mexico. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920—arguably the twentieth-century’s first social revolution—novel forms of visual culture like illustrated newspapers and magazines, postcard photographs, and film offered a flood of images of combat, executions, hangings, and ravaged bodies. Sparked by opposition to the thirty-five year dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the revolution claimed an estimated 1 million lives in a country of 12 million, drifting away from democratic ideals and rural demands for economic equality. The character of the conflict—marked by prolonged struggles between military factions defined more by their charismatic leaders rather than by their ideologies—continually threw into question the legitimacy of the deadly use of force and attacks on private property.

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This crisis of political legitimacy is evident in the earliest box-office success of Mexican cinema, a 1919 crime film entitled El automóvil gris (The Grey Automobile). Based on the exploits of a criminal gang who traveled in the grey automobile of the film’s title and committed robberies dressed as soldiers from the army of Venustiano Carranza, El automóvil gris was shot by cameraman Enrique Rosas in an effort to mend the reputation of General Pablo González, who was suspected of complicity in the crimes. Patterned on popular crime films produced in France and the United States, El automóvil gris also drew on Mexico City’s sensationalistic press, which presented acts of robbery, kidnapping, and murder as signs of local modernity, since they demonstrated that the capital suffered the same social ills as industrialized metropolises like London, Paris, and New York. Implicit in these accounts of criminality was an acceptance of industrialization and urbanization’s social costs as the price of progress, measured by the standards of Europe and the United States.

As I hope to show in my book by examining parallel developments in the early mass cultures of Mexico and Brazil, the profound impact of violence on public life in modern Latin America cannot solely be attributed to failures of state formation or economic development in individual nations. Instead, it must be understood in light of the global dynamics of the capitalist economy, its role in the circulation of commodities and images, and its production of inequality. Commentators note that present-day criminal organizations in Mexico—whose ranks are swelled by young men with few opportunities in the formal economy—borrow and extend the business strategies of multinational corporations. In his book Narconomics, journalist Tom Wainright notes that Mexican cartels benefit from outsourcing select activities to Central American countries where operating costs are cheaper, and expand rapidly by lending their names and reputation to locally rooted criminal groups in a process akin to franchising. Observing the role of conspicuous consumption in cultures of organized crime in Mexico, Ed Vulliamy wrote in 2011 that “the greed for violence reflects the greed for brands, and becomes a brand in itself.” Observing that drug trafficking exemplifies the free flow of commodities underlying the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, he provocatively describes the accompanying violence as “the inevitable war of capitalism gone mad.”

In their response to the IISS report mentioned above, Mexico’s foreign and interior ministries stressed the transnational character of the current violence, fueled by demand for narcotics north of the US-Mexico border and the flow of illegal firearms south from the United States. (A 2014 study found that arms purchased in the United States account for at least 70 percent of the weapons used in the conflict). Rather than remaining as spectators of this horrific conflict—or worse, turning away our gaze—it is essential that we examine our own position within the flows of narcotics, weapons, and images fueling it. Attending to its historical echoes can better attune us to the national and transnational forces that forge public spheres profoundly marked by spectacles of violence.

Read the introduction to Public Spectacles of Violence free online, and save 30% on the paperback using coupon code E17NAVIT on our website.

Ten Queer Films that Changed the World

978-0-8223-6261-6_prToday we’re excited to present a guest post by Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt, authors of the new book Queer Cinema in the World.

In our new book, we attempt to reorient queer film studies away from a largely American and Eurocentric canon and toward non-Western forms of queer filmmaking that have increasingly been important for the circuits of world cinema and local queer politics. Here are ten queer films that we think you should see.

Dakan (Camara, Guinea, 1997)

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Dakan is widely viewed as the first sub-Saharan African film with a gay theme. In it, Manga and Sori fall in love as high school students but are separated by their families. Manga’s mother sends Manga to a traditional healer to be cured of homosexuality while Sori’s father insists Sori take over the family business and marry. Sori does get married and has a child. Meanwhile, after years with the healer, Manga enters a relationship with Oumou, a white woman he meets through his mother. Both in some way outsiders, the two forge a bond. When the men see each other again in a bar, though, they immediately recognize their mutual desire. Despite their love for their families and apparently genuine relationships with women, Manga and Sori ultimately leave everything behind to be together. The film was controversial precisely for its direct representation of homosexuality, perceived by many African critics as un-African, sinful, or an unwanted relic of European colonialism.

Fish and Elephant (Li, China, 2001)

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Fish and Elephant  is often heralded as the first lesbian film from mainland China, but it does not tell a story of sexual awakening like so many other queer films from the period. Its protagonist Qun already knows she is gay when the narrative begins, and fending off her family’s expectations that she date men is a quotidian necessity.  Qun and Ling do not simply refuse the dramatics of coming out of the closet; more than this, they refuse to serve as figures of the universality of queer identity or experience. At the same time, neither do they demonstrate the existence of queerness as a pre-existing local, indigenous, or non-Western formation. The best part of Fish and Elephant, though, is surely the amazing moment in which Qun and Ling ‘s mutual attraction is routed through the point-of-view of an elephant snuffling out sweet apples with her trunk.  The film offers tactile and sensory pleasures at the same time that it locates nonhuman nature as part of the life world of queer humanity.

Funeral Parade of Roses (Matsumoto, Japan, 1969)

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Toshio Matsumoto’s film combines documentary, narrative, and experimental form in an exuberant Oedipal melodrama set in the world of Tokyo’s “gai bois” or “queens.” Eddie is a young queen who works in a gay bar and travels in a mixed hippie scene of drug dealers, Marxist protesters, and avant-garde filmmakers. He is having a relationship with his boss at the bar, Gonda, and the film’s climax comes with the discovery that Gonda is the father who abandoned Eddie’s family as a child. Horrified by the realization, Gonda commits suicide, and Eddie blinds himself. Part of the film’s fascination is its combination of this melodramatic plot with a close attention to the thriving gay scene in Tokyo, and its links to counterculture and radical protest. The film mixes its fictional narrative with documentary sections interviewing some of the film’s actors, as well as gay men on the street. Moreover, many of its actors are nonprofessionals discovered in the bar scene. This self-reflexive mixture of documentary and fiction recapitulates the narrative’s move between underground scene and public performance—so that the film is always asking its audience to consider social and intimate relations as a question of inside and outside.

Futuro Beach (Aïnouz, Brazil, 2014)

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Karim Aïnouz’s Futuro Beach testifies to an experience the director calls “queer diaspora.” The film begins in the Brazilian beach city of Fortaleza, where the lifeguard Donato is unable to save a drowning German tourist. After breaking the news to Konrad, the dead tourist’s friend, the two men begin a relationship that eventually takes Donato away from his family to live with Konrad in Berlin. Though following the lives of gay men from the global south to the center of Europe, Futuro Beach resists world cinema’s more Eurocentric and heteronormative impulses in its intense sensitivity to the alternative resonances of queer time and space. Focusing on gesture and bodily movement, the film evokes a powerfully affective sense of queer relationality as Donato and Konrad move in and out of alignment. And while queer bodies have the potential to remake subjectivity, the space between Brazil and Germany is equally crucial as a material, emotional and geopolitical fracture with which these characters must reckon.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai, Taiwan/Malaysia, 2006)

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In I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, homosocial proximities gradually become homosexual intimacies, but that transition is unremarked upon diegetically. As the narrative develops, the protagonist Hsiao-Kang also begins a sexual relationship with a woman, and his bisexuality goes equally unremarked. There is something of the bathetic here in the sense that the queer does not operate as a force of the revelatory, the climatic, or the confessional, and instead is commonplace. The film de-emphasizes its unfolding of Hsiao-Kang’s choices of sexual objects and locates sex as equivalent to quotidian acts of human survival, like peeing, walking, and food gathering. In one of its most visually striking shots, the three lovers float through the frame on an old mattress, embracing in an affectless polyamorous tableau. The film’s staging of the precarious lives of transnational migrant laborers in Kuala Lumpur places sexual acts in an unremarked category. The mattress speaks as much of their squalid living conditions as of their sex acts, and it has already played a narrative role when Bangladeshi migrant workers use it to rescue Hsiao-Kang after he has been beaten up and left for dead on the street. The very ground of sexuality—the physical object on which the lovers lie—speaks vividly of economic precarity and cross-cultural solidarity and care.

The Iron Ladies (Thongkongtoon, Thailand, 2000)

The Iron Ladies tells the true story of a mostly trans (in Thai terms, kathoey) volleyball team who became Thai champions. The heterogeneity of contemporary gender dissidence in Thailand is vividly staged in the film which, in putting together its volleyball team of outsiders, represents genders across the modern Thai spectrum. These kathoey players are both specifically Thai and, through sport, engaged with the world. Instead of an East–West logic that pits Western imperialism against conservative nativism, The Iron Ladies nests the national inside the global. Moreover, its strategy for constructing extra-national modes of identification is to engender a queer popular. The moment when the institution’s sexism and transphobia is revealed and the audience start cheering in support of the Iron Ladies is a feel-good cinematic coup that leverages the generic pleasures of the sporting underdog in order to champion queer publicity on a world stage.

Memento Mori (Kim and Min, South Korean, 1999)

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This popular Korean horror film takes place in an all-girls secondary school, borrowing from the potent homosocial mises-en-scène of both queer classics such as Mädchen in Uniform and mid-twentieth century exploitation cinema, such as the single-sex boarding school or women’s prison. The intimacy between two girls––Hyo-shin and Shi-eun––comes to a head when they hold hands in the middle of class and, when violently punished, kiss on the mouth. When Hyo-shin commits suicide, her ghost returns to haunt the school. The disjunctive spaces and times brought on by her ghostly presence results in a formal and narrative intricacy that is as aesthetic as it is suspenseful. As living characters are pulled more and more towards the apparitional, their initially clandestine desire goes dangerously public. In other words, Memento Mori transforms the key generic elements of the globally popular East Asian horror film (longing, dystopic melancholy, surreal but extreme violence) into lesbian drama, making the genre suddenly seem inseparable from same-sex desire.

Proteus (Lewis and Greyson, South Africa/Canada, 2003)

Proteus is co-written and directed by South African filmmaker Jack Lewis and Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, and thus embodies an unusual cross-cultural queer collaboration. The film takes place in eighteenth-century South Africa and is based on archival records of a sexual relationship between a Khoi herdsman Claas Blank and a white Dutch sailor Rijkhaart Jacobsz when the two men were imprisoned on Robben Island. The film is noteworthy as the first gay-themed film made in South Africa after the end of apartheid. But rather than providing a conventional historical drama of gay life in the distant past, it proposes a queer approach to the passage of time and our relationship to what came before us: temporality and historicity are mutually imbricated in a disjunctive elaboration of cinematic time. The film uses visual anachronism to fracture time and to link colonial exploitation with apartheid-era incarceration and with the present day. It insists that systems of words and images often violently shape the world, but also that queerness leaves powerful traces.

Tropical Malady (Apichatpong, Thailand, 2004)

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady unsettles typical logics of modernity and folkloric belief, desire and its object, and what it means to be human in a beautifully queer tale of two boys and a tiger spirit. The film is constructed as a diptych, a film made of two distinct parts. The first section tells the story of a soldier, Keng, who is stationed in the rural north of Thailand. He meets Tong, a local boy, and the two embark on a romantic relationship. When Tong walks off into the jungle, he leaves Keng to an exhilarating but melancholic motorbike ride through the town on his own. Shortly after this encounter, the film flickers and vanishes, the screen goes black for thirty seconds, and the image returns with what seems to be a credit sequence for a different film, called A Spirit’s Path, about a shape-shifting Khmer shaman. In the second part, the same actors may or may not be playing the same parts. Maybe-Keng goes into the jungle to find Maybe-Tong, and in the almost complete darkness of the jungle, he encounters a magical tiger who may or may not want to consume him. Visual and narrative opacity are combined with a mysterious erotics of the shamanic were-tiger: by allowing himself to be eaten, Maybe-Keng can enter the shaman’s world.

The World Unseen (Sharif, UK/South Africa, 2007)

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When the Dubai International Film Festival rejected Shamim Sarif’s film about lesbian love in early 1950s South Africa, the organizers said it was on the grounds that “the subject matter doesn’t exist.” The film’s evocation of an Apartheid past proved incompatible with its representation of sexual intimacy between two women. The World Unseen’s main character is Amina, an Indian South African woman whose progressive attitudes toward gender and race as well as her butch style mark her as out of sync with the other characters in Apartheid-era South Africa. Her romantic attraction to Miriam centers a web of untimely intimacies, in which the women explicitly reject hierarchies of race and gender. The film uses conventional tropes of the heritage film both to foreground women’s desire and to counter that genre’s more conservative impulses. The World Unseen refuses to make apologies for imagining something that conventional history would dismiss as impossible: a same-sex and interracial love in this particular time and place.

Use coupon code E16QCIN to save 30% on Queer Cinema in the World by Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt.

New Books in July

We are excited to open our Fall 2016 season with these wonderful books, coming out in July. From Black music to the Cold War, we have something for everyone. Keep an eye out for these books this month.

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Flyboy 2 provides a panoramic view of the last thirty years of Greg Tate’s influential cultural criticism of contemporary Black music, art, literature, film, and politics. These essays, interviews, and reviews cover everything from Miles Davis, Ice Cube, and Suzan Lori Parks to Afro-futurism, Kara Walker, and Amiri Baraka.

In Real Pigs Brad Weiss traces the desire for creating “authentic” local foods in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina as he follows farmers, butchers, and chefs as they breed, raise, butcher, market, sell, and prepare their pasture-raised hogs for consumption.

 

from washingtonIn Cold War Ruins Lisa Yoneyama argues that the efforts intensifying since the 1990s to bring justice to the victims of Japanese military and colonial violence have generated what she calls a “transborder redress culture” that has the potential to bring powerful challenging perspectives on American exceptionalism, militarized security, justice, sovereignty, forgiveness, and decolonization.

In From Washington to Moscow veteran US Foreign Service officer Louis Sell draws archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences to trace the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and to explain what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Nation Within is the complex history of the events between the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 and its annexation to the United States in 1898. Highlighting the native Hawaiians’ resistance during that five year span, Tom Coffman shows why occupying Hawaii was crucial to American imperial ambitions.

this thing called.jpgDebjani Ganguly’s This Thing Called the World theorizes the contemporary global novel and the social and historical conditions that shaped it, showing how in 1989 the consolidation of the information age, the perpetual state of war, and the focus on humanitarianism transformed the novel into a form that addresses contemporary social, technological, and political upheavals.

Offering a new queer theorization of Melodrama, Jonathan Goldberg explores the ways melodramatic film and literature provide an aesthetics of impossibility and how melodrama as a whole provides queer ways to promote identifications that exceed the bounds of the identity categories that regulate and constrain social life.

color of violenceIn Encoding Race, Encoding Class Sareeta Amrute explores the lives of Indian IT coders temporarily working in Berlin, showing how their cognitive labor reimagines race and class and how their acceptance and resistance to their work offers new potentials for alternative visions of living and working in neoliberal economies.

Presenting the fierce and vital writing of organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center, covers violence against women of color in its myriad manifestations, and maps strategies of movement building and resistance.

 

 

 

Batman, Superman, and the Literary Use of Superheroes

Batman v SupermanWith Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice continuing to perform well in theaters, it is worth asking why it received negative responses from American comic book fans, despite being one of the most anticipated comic book movies in recent memory. Batman v Superman’s financial success comes despite a 71% drop in ticket sales between its first and second Fridays at the box office. Drops that large are rare, even for superhero movies. This decline highlights a word-of-mouth reaction that has spread among comic book fans: this is a character-driven movie that gets the characters wrong.

Isaac Cates addresses the deceptive complexity of superhero comic book stories in his American Literature essay, “On the Literary Use of Superheroes; or, Batman and Superman Fistfight in Heaven” (volume 83, issue 4):

To understand the work that superheroes do both within and outside their genre, it is necessary to understand the dense symbolic freight they carry—for the knowledgeable readers for whom these stories are written—by virtue of their decades of preceding stories and associations. This density of meaning is rarely made explicit, but through the accretion of memorable moments . . . these allegorically charged characters can be placed in combination or conflict in order to act out psychological, moral, or political claims.

Cates holds Batman and Superman up as a prime example. When Batman and Superman fight (as they have several times), the context is more important than the question of who will win. While each character may be portrayed in a variety of ways and still be recognizable, any conflicts between them need to make sense in light of the “density of meaning” that has built up around them over fifty years.

When Zack Snyder puts Ben Affleck in a suit of armor that is adapted directly from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, he is drawing attention to a story rife with commentary on Reagan-era America, a story in which Batman and Superman have been friends for decades, Superman’s patriotism has become misguided, and Batman refuses to compromise his principles for politics. But Snyder discards that context for a very different story, one replete with post-9/11 symbolism, in which Batman and Superman don’t know each other and have little reason to be enemies. Visual references to Miller’s comic appear throughout Snyder’s film. But in Miller’s Reagan-era comic, Batman and Superman fight because Superman is beholden to the government. In Snyder’s movie, they fight because he isn’t. Such differences will have a significant effect on how audiences perceive the characters’ authenticity.

Cates’s essay goes beyond Batman and Superman to discuss several superhero comics that have used allusions and references to layer social commentary into their stories, including Watchmen, Kingdom Come, Jimmy Corrigan, and David Boring. A reference can be a powerful thing, and while Batman v Superman may be one of the most successful superhero films of all time in terms of global ticket sales, some of its creative decisions will likely be a sore spot with comic book fans for some time to come.

New Books in March

It is already March and Spring is on its way, but even more exciting are the new books coming out this month. And we have plenty of them!

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Diana Taylor’s Performance explores the multiple and overlapping meanings of performance, showing how it can convey everything from artistic, economic, and sexual performance, to providing ways of understanding how race, gender, identity, and power are performed.

In Indian Given María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo provides a sweeping historical and comparative analysis of racial ideologies in Mexico and the United States from 1550 to the present to show how indigenous peoples provided the condition of possibility for the emergence of each nation.

In The Official World Mark Seltzer analyzes the suspense fiction, films, and performance art of Patricia Highsmith, Tom McCarthy, Cormac McCarthy, J.G. Ballard, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and others to demonstrate that the modern world continuously establishes itself through the staging of its own conditions.feminist bookstore

Kristen Hogan traces The Feminist Bookstore Movement‘s rise and fall, showing how the women at the heart of the movement developed theories and practices of lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability that continue to resonate today.

Drawing on an eclectic range of texts and figures, from the Greek Cynics to Tori Amos, Nick Salvato’s Obstruction finds that embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness can paradoxically enable alternative modes of intellectual production.

A celebratory new edition to Jane Lazarre’s Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness, in which she, a white Jewish mother, describes her experience being married to an African American man and raising two sons as she learns, from family experience, teaching, and her studies, about the realities of racism in America.

In Cold War Anthropology, David H. Price offers a provocative account of the profound influence that the American security state has had on the field of anthropology since the Second World War by mapping  out the intricate connections between academia and the intelligence community.

diaspora and trustIn Memorializing Pearl Harbor Geoffrey M. White examines the challenge of representing history at the site of the attack that brought America into World War II, showing that the memorial to the Pearl Harbor bombing is a site in which many histories are continually performed, validated, and challenged.

In Diaspora and Trust Adrian H. Hearn proposes a new paradigm for economic development in Mexico and Cuba that is predicated on the development of trust among the state, society, and each nation’s resident Chinese diaspora communities, lest they get left behind in the twenty-first century economy.

In Sexual States Jyoti Puri uses the example of the recent efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in India to show how the regulation of sexuality is fundamentally tied to the creation and enduring existence of the Indian state.

the geographiesAntoinette Burton’s Africa in the Indian Imagination challenges nostalgic narratives of the Afro-Asian solidarity that emerged from the 1955 Bandung conference by showing how postcolonial Indian identity was based on the subordination of Africans and blackness.

In The Geographies of Social Movements Ulrich Oslender examines the activism of black communities in the lowland rain forest of Colombia’s Pacific coast to show how the mutually constituting relationships between residents and their environment informs the political process.

In Domesticating Organ Transplant Megan Crowley-Matoka examines the iconic power of kidney transplantation in Mexico, where the procedure is inexorably linked to the imaginings of individual and national identity, national pride, and the role of women in creating the Mexican state.

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In The Sublime Perversion of Capital Gavin Walker examines the Japanese debate about capitalism between the 1920s and 1950s, using it as a “prehistory” to consider current problems of uneven economic development and contemporary topics in Marxist theory and historiography.

In Motherless Tongues Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history as seen through the work of translation in the context of empire, revolution, and academic scholarship in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond.

In Tourist Distractions Youngmin Choe uses Korean hallyu cinema as a lens to examine the importance of tourist films and film tourism in creating transnational bonds throughout East Asia and how they help Korea negotiate its twentieth-century history with the neoliberal present.

Ricardo D. Salvatore’s Disciplinary Conquest rewrites the history of Latin American studies by tracing its roots back to the first half of the twentieth century, showing how its ties to U.S. business and foreign policy interests helped build an informal empire that supported U.S. economic, technological, and cultural hegemony throughout the hemisphere.

 

Walter Murch on Anand Pandian’s Reel World

WalterMurch.jpgWe were very excited that renowned film editor and sound designer Walter Murch agreed to write a foreword for Anand Pandian’s recent book Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation. Known for his work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I and II, American Graffiti, and The English Patient, he has received three Academy Awards. Roger Ebert called him “the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema.” Pandian’s book uses ethnographic stories about Kollywood, the home of Tamil cinema, to explore ideas about creation itself. In the following excerpt from Murch’s foreword, he recalls a particular moment of creation during the making of Apocalypse Now.

Reel WorldThe precariousness and contingency we see during [film] production seems to extend to all aspects of the industry, no matter what the underlying technology or culture. Apart from a few huge successes, the return on investment for the industry as a whole, worldwide, is meager compared to other major industries. Which begs the question, asked in a broad cultural context: Why do we keep doing this? Collectively, we are clearly not doing it solely for profit, though inevitably a few lucky individuals do become wealthy.

One of the answers is that the matter is out of our control: we filmmakers appear (to ourselves) to be intermediaries, not authors. We do this because we cannot not do it. Nirav, the cinematographer, observes, “I am not a magician. I am the medium. I’m not creating anything.” Yuvan, the composer, says: “I’m sort of a messenger. It just flows through me . . . I’m just a mediator.” The same idea is expressed many other times throughout Reel World: the inspiration (the breath) blows through us, sometimes unbidden. We do not create it, we transmit it from somewhere else into this world. A mysterious creative force appears to be using us (all of us) to further its own ends, and we are devotees of this force—resistance is hopeless.

Of the many unique things about Reel World, the most ambitious is Pandian’s attempt to capture this moment of creation, in writing, composing, directing—the moment that the spark of inspiration connects the individual artist to the numinous forces around him—Cocteau’s angels, so to speak. This is overtly referenced in the chapter on music, where the spark of creativity is simply ascribed to the goddess Saraswati: “Where else does it come from?” asks the sound engineer working for composer Yuvan. From personal experience, I can say these moments (when they do occur) are very quick, and must be acknowledged rapidly or else they vanish in a pique. We must always, even in our most mundane moments (paradoxically, frequently the most fertile), be ready to see things, or hear things, out of the corner of our eye/ear, and drop everything to seize the moment. Most of all, we cannot solicit these moments: they will come when they feel we are ready for them (which may not be how we feel). As Picasso said, “Inspiration comes, but she has to find you working.”

I still strongly remember one of my own “Saraswati moments”—the stunned shock I experienced when, almost on a whim, I put the sound of a helicopter in synchronization with the rotating ceiling fan in Willard’s Saigon hotel room in Apocalypse Now. The effect was so powerful, and the power was so unanticipated, that the editing machine I was using seemed to have been transformed. I, who was conscious of what was happening mechanically was nonetheless completely convinced that the sound was being created by the fan itself. “If it convinces me, it will convince an audience,” I remember thinking. That fleeting moment was the fertilized egg out of which I could construct, in a montage of superimposed images, sounds, and Jim Morrison’s music, the opening eight minutes of the film (which was unscripted): a nightmare of slow-motion helicopters and napalm that swirl and coalesce into this one concrete (and mundane) image/sound, which pulls dreaming Willard back into consciousness (Saigon. Shit. I’m still only in Saigon.), and from which he then descends into the darker and more jungly nightmare forecasting his future.

Anand Pandian’s Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation is available from online and local bookstores. Or order directly from Duke University Press and save 30% by entering coupon code E15REELW at checkout.

Happy Birthday, Patricia Highsmith!

ddal_87_4Born on this day in 1921, Patricia Highsmith was a prolific author of intense psychological thrillers. Her characters, misfits and con artists plagued with identity crisis, class envy, and sexual frustration, often met sensational ends, but Highsmith’s writing maintained a literary and philosophical sophistication that separated it from pulp crime fiction of her time.

A 2015 film adaptation of Highsmith’s novel Carol (originally titled The Price of Salt and published in 1953 under the pseudonym Claire Morgan), has lavished new attention on Highsmith’s work with a string of award nominations. In the most recent issue of American Literature, Benjamin Mangrum’s “The Age of Anxiety: Patricia Highsmith, Existential Psychology, and the ‘Decline’ of American Naturalism” (87:4), isolates the unique historical moment of two other Highsmith works with famous film adaptations: Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955).

Mangrum identifies the American adoption of European existentialism and the postwar gravitation to psychoanalysis as explanatory agent of human behavior as keys to understanding Highsmith’s troubled characters. He writes,

 The growing public purchase of these developments had significant consequences for American intellectual life: in effect, the ego and its vicissitudes—rather than socioeconomic or structural conditions—became the normative template for understanding society and the self. Highsmith’s novels helped shape this intellectual terrain by representing public phenomena such as violence, class envy, and social alienation as existential crises of an embattled private realm.

Tracing Highsmith’s study of existential philosophy—in particular that of Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard—alongside her own struggles with sexual identity (she wrote Strangers on a Train shortly before attempting therapy to “cure” her same-sex preference), Mangrum notes that “Highsmith’s sensibilities about humanity’s universal penchant for evil become an avenue for replacing a discourse about crime and morality with concerns about authentic existence. She presents a narrative world beyond good and evil, identifying instead the authentic willing of a self as the narrative center of gravity.”

Read the full article, made freely available, here.

Black Fashion

Nka_37_00_CoverIn the most recent issue of Nka entitled “Black fashion: Art. Pleasure. Politics.,” special issue editor Noliwe Rooks argues that black fashion is a key, though underexplored, facet of black history, culture, and identity in the African diaspora. Contributors to the issue include academics, artists, journalists and writers, and a filmmaker. From the introduction: “While it is not an encyclopedic compilation of thinking about race, art, politics, or fashion, each contribution functions as an individual lens, so to speak, capturing crucial snapshots of particular moments, figures, and events that are central to understanding the whole. Taken together, the texts in this volume explore various definitions and meanings of black fashion as a launching point for thinking about race, gender, politics, power, and class.”

Included in this issue are articles on topics such as Josephine Baker and skin fashion, a conversation with Anthony Barboza and Bill Gaskins, Janelle Monáe and fashion as art, fashion and black masculinity, the “afro look,” and #TeamNatural, examining the relationship between black hair and community in digital media. Read the introduction, made freely available, and browse the table-of-contents to learn more about this special issue of Nka.

Lewis cover image, 5934-0If you are looking for further reading that explores the intersection of fashion with race, politics, and class, consider Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures by Reina Lewis. In the shops of London’s Oxford Street, girls wear patterned scarves over their hair as they cluster around makeup counters. Alongside them, hip twenty-somethings style their head-wraps in high black topknots to match their black boot-cut trousers. Participating in the world of popular mainstream fashion—often thought to be the domain of the West—these young Muslim women are part of an emergent cross-faith transnational youth subculture of modest fashion. In treating hijab and other forms of modest clothing as fashion, Reina Lewis counters the overuse of images of veiled women as “evidence” in the prevalent suggestion that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with Western modernity. Muslim Fashion contextualizes modest wardrobe styling within Islamic and global consumer cultures, interviewing key players including designers, bloggers, shoppers, store clerks, and shop owners. Focusing on Britain, North America, and Turkey, Lewis provides insights into the ways young Muslim women use multiple fashion systems to negotiate religion, identity, and ethnicity.

Pham cover image, 6030-8In Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging the first ever book devoted to a critical investigation of the personal style blogosphere, Minh-Ha T. Pham examines the phenomenal rise of elite Asian bloggers who have made a career of posting photographs of themselves wearing clothes on the Internet. Pham understands their online activities as “taste work” practices that generate myriad forms of capital for superbloggers and the brands they feature. A multifaceted and detailed analysis, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet addresses questions concerning the status and meaning of “Asian taste” in the early twenty-first century, the kinds of cultural and economic work Asian tastes do, and the fashion public and industry’s appetite for certain kinds of racialized eliteness. Situating blogging within the historical context of gendered and racialized fashion work while being attentive to the broader cultural, technological, and economic shifts in global consumer capitalism, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet has profound implications for understanding the changing and enduring dynamics of race, gender, and class in shaping some of the most popular work practices and spaces of the digital fashion media economy.

978-0-8223-4603-6Monica L. Miller’s Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity is a pioneering cultural history of the black dandy, from his emergence in Enlightenment England to his contemporary incarnations in the cosmopolitan art worlds of London and New York. It is populated by sartorial impresarios such as Julius Soubise, a freed slave who sometimes wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London, and Yinka Shonibare, a prominent Afro-British artist who not only styles himself as a fop but also creates ironic commentaries on black dandyism in his work. Interpreting performances and representations of black dandyism in particular cultural settings and literary and visual texts, Monica L. Miller emphasizes the importance of sartorial style to black identity formation in the Atlantic diaspora.

Crowston cover image, 5528-1Continuing in this historical vein, Credit, Fashion, Sex: Economies of Regard in Old Regime France by Clare Haru Crowston examines the concept of credit and fashion in Old Regime France. At that time in France, credit was both a central part of economic exchange and a crucial concept for explaining dynamics of influence and power in all spheres of life. Contemporaries used the term credit to describe reputation and the currency it provided in court politics, literary production, religion, and commerce. Moving beyond Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of capital, this book establishes credit as a key matrix through which French men and women perceived their world. As Crowston demonstrates, credit unveils the personal character of market transactions, the unequal yet reciprocal ties binding society, and the hidden mechanisms of political power.