“What’s up world, Telecom here, and it’s time for an essay review. Today we’re doing “Oppositional Gaze: The Black Female Spectator” by bell hooks. This essay is part of her essay collection “Black Looks,” I think it requires a second reading due to three key things. One, you have to read it twice to understand clearly what bell hooks mean by the oppositional gaze. Two, she doesn’t clearly explain what she means by the phallocentric center when talking about black male filmmakers. And three, she assumes the reader understands what she means by the cinematic construction of white womanhood.
Hooks starts off the essay talking about the power of the gaze, or just looking at somebody, and how it can be interpreted in different ways depending on your intentions. She explains how black people and enslaved people were often punished just for looking at somebody, and she uses Emmett Till’s story as the centerpiece of this idea. Hooks also references Michel Foucault and his ideas of power, encouraging resistance through the oppositional gaze. She believes these pockets of opportunity to oppose or resist exist in all life forms.
The next part of the essay discusses black men and women in cinema. Hooks argues that black men could escape the white supremacist structure within cinema, but black women were not. She explains that black women were often presented as objects of the male gaze and wishes she had provided more examples to support this claim. Although she acknowledges that things have evolved, she still wants to express her thoughts which can span many decades.
Hooks uses “phallocentric power,” another term for male dominance. She argues that there are plenty of movies from the golden age of black cinema that don’t do much for women, such as “Menace II Society,” “Boyz n the Hood,” and others that focus solely on men in urban settings.”
“But there are plenty of movies that don’t objectify women at all, such as “Soul Food,” “Poetic Justice,” or even “Love Jones.” However, I’m not sure what period Bell Hooks refers to since she mentions movies from the 60s, 50s, 70s, and 90s, which can be confusing since those periods are very different for black cinema.
The last third of the essay discusses the usefulness of the oppositional gaze, why it exists, and whether it’s necessary. The optics from the gaze is black women watching films in general and looking past race, forgetting race so that the film does not hurt them. There is little of an argument in the essay that the oppositional gaze makes things better for anybody. However, there’s an argument that the oppositional gaze for black women is necessary to avoid being hurt and still be able to enjoy the film as an art form.
In summary, this essay says that watching movies can be more challenging for black women, which is true, but it’s probably true for everybody. What would have helped me in this essay is if Bell Hooks had been more specific with the examples of movies and periods she was discussing. I would have also liked her to address the idea that some people choose to be hurt by certain things and where willpower comes into play. There are all types of movies out there that can hurt anybody.
Bell Hooks is concerned about the development of theory in film, especially in black film theory about women and feminist film theory, in a time when the oppositional gaze is still necessary. She doesn’t want foundational principles to gain too much legitimacy when an oppositional gaze is still necessary for certain groups to appreciate and judge films intellectually.
This was a great review of Bell Hooks’ essay “Oppositional Gaze.” Thank you for watching, and I’ll see you next time!”