Gwendolyn Audrey Foster's
WOMEN FILMMAKERS OF THE AFRICAN AND ASIAN DIASPORA:DECOLONIZING THE GAZE, LOCATING SUBJECTIVITY
My main aim throughout this book is to locate the strategies that women filmmakers of the diaspora are using to decolonize the gaze and to ground their films in Black female subjectivity. After a brief introductory essay in Chapter One, considering some of the many questions of film practice within the African and Asian Diaspora, in Chapter 2 I locate Zienabu Irene Davis as one of a growing number of independent black women filmmakers who are actively constructing "an oppositional gaze," a term bell hooks uses to describe films that look through/at African-American female experiences through a black lens. Zeinabu films seek to reclaim black female subjectivity through poetic (re)constructions of time, the body, and an exploration of spatial configfurations. In Chapter 3, I consider the work of filmmaker Black British filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah, who, like Zeinabu Davis, takes on the issues of time and space in her work which embraces heterogeneity and multiple sites of subjectivity. Onwurah consistently navigates and challenges the limits of narrative and ethnographic cinema by insisting that the body is the central landscape of an anti-imperialist cinematic discourse.
In Chapter 4, I analyze the films of African-American Julie Dash, whose Daughters of the Dust challenges Hollywood narrative techniques which typically ignore African American history, particularly Black women's history. It also reflects how mainstream documentary and ethnographic approaches tend to objectify the Black subject as object. Like Davis and Onwurah, Dash is noted for her reconsideration of time and space, and her celebration of the black body and African -American cultural diversity. In Chapter 5, I discuss the films and videos of Pratibha Parmar, which center around issues of representation, identity, cultural displacement, homosexuality, and racial identity. The Kenyan/Indian born British Black filmmaker began working in film and video in the nineteen eighties. In Parmar's films she locates woman as speaking subject, gazing subject, interrogating corporeal performative subject who owns spatiality in an arena which once depended upon her invisibility, her silence, and the suppression of her subjectivity.
Chapter 6 is a study of Trinh T. Minh-ha, who revolutionized documentary filmmaking with her post-structuralist documentaries which displace the voyeuristic gaze of the ethnographic documentary filmmaker. Theorist, filmmaker, and composer, Trinh T. Minh-ha is one of the most respected post-colonial artists of the late twentieth century. Born in Vietnam, Trinh T. Minh-ha came to the United States in 1970. After graduate school, Trinh T. Minh-ha studied in Senegal and Dakar. Her work as an ethnographer led her to question the notions of ethnography. She argues that ethnographic filmmaking did not objectively represent the third world subject, and she questioned the validity of "objective truth." In Chapter 7 , I evaluate the work of Mira Nair, an internationally recognized Black Indianwoman filmmaker of the diaspora. Interracial identity is the central theme in many of the films of Mira Nair, who has emerged as a pioneering woman of color in the diasporic community. Nair's work in both documentary and narrative film is both challenging and celebratory. Born in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India in 1957, Nair came to the United States to study at Harvard University after working as an actress in New Delhi. Nair has a formidable career that began with her work in documentary and ethnography, and culminated in the more recent productoins of independent narrative films such as Mississippi Masala and The Perez Family.
Chapter 8, "Women Filmmakers of the Black Diaspora: Other Voices," considers the work of a broad range of women filmmakers including African-American lesbian director Michelle Parkerson, who is widely respected in the African-American and gay/lesbian/bisexual communities for her films that celebrate African-American and queer subjectivity. Other African-American women directors included in this chapter include Kathleen Collins, Jackie Shearer, Ayoka Chenzira, Camille Billops, Barbara McCullough, Alile Sharon Larkin, Dawn Suggs, Cheryl Dunye, Leslie Harris and Darnell Martin. Directors of the Pan-African diaspora found here include Martine Attile and Maureen Blackwood, both of the Black British Sankofa collective, and Maria Novaro, who is a fairly well known Mexican filmmaker, and Caribbean filmmaker Euzhan Palcy, who is best known for A Dry White Season, one of the first films to deal with apartheid in South Africa. I have also include sections on Aboriginal and Native -American women directors such as Merata Mita, Tracey Moffatt, and Alanis Obomsawin. In defining the scope of the Black diaspora, I have used the term is the widest sense in order to include women filmmakers of the Asian and Latin American diaspora including Gurinder Chadha, director of Bhaji At The Beach; Christine Choy, director of Who Killed Vincent Chin? and Ann Hui, director of Boat People. Finally, the text also briefly considers African directors Sarah Maldoror and Safi Faye.
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster is a Professor of Film Studies in the Department of English, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, specializing in Film Studies, Cultural Studies, and Postfeminist Critical Theory. Her many books include books include Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005); Performing Whiteness: Postmodern Re/Constructions (State University of New York Press, 2003); and Identity and Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003). Foster’s book Performing Whiteness: Postmodern Re/Constructions was cited by the journal Choice as “Essential . . . one of the Outstanding Academic Books of the Year” for 2004.
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