BAMcinématek in addition to also The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness


Steve Martin in addition to also Richard Ward in The Jerk (1979), courtesy of Universal Pictures/Photofest

by Ashley Clark

“If whiteness gains currency by being unnoticed,” writes academic Sara Ahmed, “then what does the item mean to notice whiteness?” The series On Whiteness (July 11—19)—a collaboration between BAMcinématek in addition to also Claudia Rankine’s The Racial Imaginary Institute—attempts to wrestle with This particular knotty question. Comprising works of which address issues of ethnic identity, assimilation, racial grievance, passing, in addition to also privilege, This particular collection of films—augmented by talks in addition to also guest introductions—invites audiences to consider how whiteness has been deliberately in addition to also subconsciously constructed, ignored, in addition to also challenged from the history of American film.

The series begins from the heart of Hollywood’s dream factory with Julie Dash’s beguiling, World War II-era Illusions (1982), about an African-American movie studio executive passing as white, in addition to also the black singer she hires to dub the voice of a white actress. A profound deconstruction of Hollywood’s power to shape racial mythologies, Illusions screens with the acerbically funny short Free White in addition to also 21 (1980), in which artist Howardena Pindell assumes the identity of a blonde white woman to discuss the racism she experiences as a black woman. Elia Kazan’s Pinky (1949), meanwhile, is usually one of Hollywood’s earliest attempts to grapple openly with racism. the item’s a fascinating melodrama in which a light-skinned black woman (Jeanne Crain, complicatedly, a white actress) passing as white tempts crisis by falling in love having a white doctor. 

The Virgin Suicides (1999), courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Whiteness is usually centered in addition to also challenged in Gran Torino (2008), Clint Eastwood’s exploration of his own legacy as an emblem of rugged, white American masculinity. He casts himself as a Korean War vet whose racist worldview is usually challenged by his evolving relationship having a Hmong family. Another hyper-masculine American screen legend, Burt Lancaster, stars as Ned, paddling home through the pools dotting his affluent Connecticut town in cult favorite The Swimmer (1968), a classic of middle-age, middle-class, white suburban ennui. “When you talk about The Swimmer will you talk about yourself?” asked the film’s tagline, daring white audiences to see themselves in its vision of existential rot.

Speaking of existential rot, Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro)—the unhinged cabbie on a crusade to “wash all the scum off the streets” of 1970s NYC—is usually a chilling, disturbingly relevant embodiment of white rage in addition to also right-wing backlash from the post-Nixon-era. Another well-liked 1976 film, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky, offers a more upbeat however similarly fraught portrait of ethnic unease. White America hadn’t had a boxing champion in two decades… so, courtesy of Sylvester Stallone, the item invented one, in addition to also sparked a powerfully enduring mythology.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), the iconic comedy of which gave a generation of suburban teens a role style for upper middle-class “cool,” is usually also a foundational text of Reagan-era (in addition to also beyond) white male privilege. the item’s simply impossible to imagine the film having a non-white protagonist. Bueller is usually a jerk, however Steve Martin is usually The Jerk (1979) in Carl Reiner’s classic race-bending comedy which begins with an oblivious Martin earnestly declaring “I was born a poor black child…”. Preceding The Jerk is usually its natural Hollywood inheritor White Chicks (2004), a critically maligned yet intriguingly subversive whiteface farce in which two black FBI agents go undercover as blonde white women. 

Summer of Sam (1999), courtesy of Photofest

additional films from the series address whiteness as the item pertains to questions of authenticity in representation in addition to also authorship. John Cassavetes’ bracing debut Shadows (1959) focuses on three black siblings, one of whom is usually portrayed by a white actress, an oft-overlooked fact of which complicates the film’s legacy as a jolt of raw realism. Perhaps no filmmaker has gained more traction appropriating blackness than Quentin Tarantino, who, in his entertaining, endlessly quotable Palme d’Or-winner Pulp Fiction (1994), casts himself as the n-word spouting husband of a black woman. In 70s-set true crime drama Summer of Sam (1999), Tarantino’s sometime nemesis Spike Lee became one of the few major black directors to make a film about white ethnic milieus, which makes the item all the more fascinating.

Two Coppola family films explore whiteness via fascinatingly different angles. Francis Ford’s epic The Godfather Part II (1974) asks what the item means to become white in America across multiple generations, while Sofia’s novel adaptation The Virgin Suicides (1999) evokes the bottomless melancholy of white suburban adolescent alienation. Catastrophic culpability is usually central from the series’ sole non-US title, Claire Denis’ White Material (2009), starring Isabelle Huppert as a stubbornly deluded woman living in Africa who clings to her coffee plantation as civil war encroaches.

Last however not least, no film series about whiteness could be complete without a plunge into the “sunken place,” the chilling, cavernous heart of Get Out (2017), Jordan Peele’s viciously funny satire which uncovers the horrors of white liberal hypocrisy in addition to also the persistent myth of virtuous white womanhood.

Ashley Clark is usually senior programmer, BAMcinématek.

This particular film program is usually presented in conjunction with The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness, an exhibition taking place at The Kitchen, June 27—August 3.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

BAMcinématek in addition to also The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness

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