Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
DescriptionRed, White & Black is a provocative critique of socially engaged films and related critical discourse. Offering an unflinching account of race and representation, Frank B. Wilderson III asks whether such films accurately represent the structure of U.S. racial antagonisms. That structure, he argues, is based on three essential subject positions: that of the White (the "settler," "master," and "human"), the Red (the "savage" and "half-human"), and the Black (the "slave" and "non-human"). Wilderson contends that for Blacks, slavery is ontological, an inseparable element of their being. From the beginning of the European slave trade until now, Blacks have had symbolic value as fungible flesh, as the non-human (or anti-human) against which Whites have defined themselves as human. Just as slavery is the existential basis of the Black subject position, genocide is essential to the ontology of the Indian. Both positions are foundational to the existence of (White) humanity.
Wilderson provides detailed readings of two films by Black directors, Antwone Fisher (Denzel Washington) and Bush Mama (Haile Gerima); one by an Indian director, Skins (Chris Eyre); and one by a White director, Monster's Ball (Marc Foster). These films present Red and Black people beleaguered by problems such as homelessness and the repercussions of incarceration. They portray social turmoil in terms of conflict, as problems that can be solved (at least theoretically, if not in the given narratives). Wilderson maintains that at the narrative level, they fail to recognize that the turmoil is based not in conflict, but in fundamentally irreconcilable racial antagonisms. Yet, as he explains, those antagonisms are unintentionally disclosed in the films' non-narrative strategies, in decisions regarding matters such as lighting, camera angles, and sound.
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About the Author
Frank B. Wilderson III is Associate Professor of African American Studies and Drama at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the American Book Award. He is also the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
"Red, White & Black is unique, incisive, and thought-provoking. The analytic frameworks that Frank B. Wilderson III develops surpass the conventional paradigms for exploring theory, race, power, and film in U.S. culture."--Joy James, editor of Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy
"I have not read anything as striking as Red, White & Black in some time. In this unsettling work, Frank B. Wilderson III theorizes the singularity of anti-Blackness as he refines our understanding of how political economy, popular culture, and law are shot through with identification and desire, pleasure and pain, sexuality and aggression. Anti-Blackness, which is carefully distinguished here from White supremacy, is not only an ideology and an institutional practice; it is also a structure of feeling with pervasive effects. This last, crucial point is glossed over by too many authors in their haste to provide rational analyses of and challenges to racism."--Jared Sexton, author of Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism
"The work exceeds the typical trajectory of film writing, and Wilderson
writes with a conviction that can incite further thought, discussion, and even action. In a panel on literary activism at the National Black Writers Conference in 2010, Wilderson clarified his intentions: 'The relationship of literature to struggle is not one of causality, but one of accompaniment.' As such, Red, White and Black is valuable reading for any filmmaker or theorist
interested in socially engaged cinema." - Malia Bruker, Journal of Film and Video
"Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms is a provocative and challenging book. Wilderson exposes the darker side of cinematic narrative and the unspoken messages sent through film which reinforce the identities and cultures on all three groups mentioned, despite these identities and cultures being imposed rather than inherent. . . . A truly unique analyses of cinema, race, politics, power, society and identity."--Danielle Mulholland "M/C Reviews "
"[An] exceptional and provocative book. . . . [T]he volume is clearly written, persuasively argued and - reflecting a particular strength of the book - immensely detailed."--Adam Brown "Media International Australia "
"Wilderson's style of writing is persuasive while his passionate, uncompromising commitment to every word, passage, idea, in his book is undeniable."--Säer Maty Bâ "Cultural Studies Review "