Reflections on Non-Fiction Film and Media in the Black Lives Matter Era

Summer 2021

Vol. 21 no. 2

The three articles illuminate non-fiction film/media’s immeasurable differences, which reveal distinctions in aesthetics, format, and cultural politics. Jamie Ann Rogers analyzes Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, 2019) and A Love Song for Latasha (Sophia Nahli Allison, 2019) to describe how their explorations of Black spaces and soundscapes humanize their subjects with sound-image selections that “produce narratives of memory and experience . . . wrested from the control of white hegemony.” Introducing perspectives to be examined in the journal’s forthcoming issue on community media, William Brown’s essay about collaborating with partner Mila Zuo to create Coyote (2020), one piece in a fourteen-part film reflecting the era of coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, self-reflexively explores queer caregiving grounded in a heightened awareness of cultural realities. Dan Cullen considers appropriated/exploited Black cultural performance, analyzing the 2012 recording “Harlem Shake” by electronic dance music DJ Baauer and the “mimetic minstrelsy” in the 2013 trend of Harlem Shake internet dance video memes in relation to their source materials, the dance form originating in Harlem in the 1980s.

                       --Cynthia Baron, Editor

Image by Clay Banks

Affecting Geographies of Blackness and Non-representationality in Documentary Film

by Jamie Ann Rogers

A southern plantation house half-hidden by trees; an empty pool semi-obscured by the bars of a gate; children leaning against yellowing stucco walls papered with posters advertising 40-ounce bottles of beer; these are among the images that mobilize affecting geographies of Blackness in RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018) and Sophia Nahli Allison’s A Love Song for Latasha (2019). Affecting geography in film, as conceived in this article, refers to the manufacture and circulation of affect through evocation of associative relations between images of space, place, and time. Non-representational, associative strategies in Hale County This Morning, This Evening and A Love Song for Latasha produce an aesthetic of affect that works on and around the edges of racial and gender traumas — traumas that are attached to histories and memories held in the landscapes of South Central, Los Angeles and Hale County, Alabama. The films’ distinctive imagery and soundscapes depart from dominant media representations of these Black spaces, I conclude, disclosing geographies marked and demarcated by anti-Black structural conditions while also refusing to reduce Black life to them.

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Making Kin, Making Children, and Making Coyote Under Lockdown

by William Brown

This essay engages self-reflectively and critically with the making of Coyote, a short film that the essay's author directed along with Mila Zuo in June 2020. Coyote forms part of Cinema-19, a portmanteau film combining work by 16 directors that was put together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Usama Alshaibi and Adam Sekuler. The essay suggest that Coyote constitutes a lo-fi attempt to reflect life under lockdown, while also framing the film’s “action” within a wider political reality, thereby lending to Coyote what its directors hope is some political urgency. Coyote is not only part of a community media project in the age of Coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, but it also posits a hopeful model of what Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2016) would term “queer motherhood” during otherwise “strange and dark days."

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Memetic Minstrelsy:  What Viral Amateur Dance Reveals about Twenty-First Century Racism

by Dan Cullen

This essay investigates the proliferation of amateur dance videos on social media websites. It explores the factors that contribute to the creation of internet dance videos, as well as those that cause them to “go viral.” Using the “Harlem Shake” meme, which appeared on YouTube in the spring of 2013, as a case-study, it shows that these sites allow white performers to appropriate Black cultural products for profit without acknowledging or compensating the original creators. It also compares these tactics to those employed in 2020 on the emergent social media app, Tik Tok. Engaging with Naomi Bragin’s scholarship on hegemonic culture’s use of the internet to demean and devalue “hood dance,” and Joshua Green’s concept of “digital blackface,” It uses the term “memetic minstrelsy” to connect pastiche performances of Black culture in internet meme videos to nineteenth century minstrel shows. It likewise demonstrates that memetic minstrelsy emulates traditional minstrelsy by allowing white performers to adopt Black personae, generating and reproducing racial stereotypes.