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This essay pursues an understanding of the blackness of black cinema that is unhinged from the body of the maker or the content of the image. It does so by reading blackness through the visual paradigm of the shadow that is, as a blackness that cannot, either than ideologically, be attached to skin pigmentation, but indicates instead the body’s extension beyond itself into the social sphere. With a close analysis of a variety of visual texts, ranging from the shadow of a lynched body in a 1930s NAACP photograph, to the silhouettes of installation artist Kara Walker, to Scott McGhee and David Siegel’s 1993 film Suture, and Harlem Renaissance visual artist Bruce Nugent, the essay follows the shadow’s blackness across the visual forms that have historically given substance to an optical approach to race – that is, also the silhouette and the photograph. Through this series of close readings, the essay identifies a continued tendency for “blackness” to attach to something or seek a place to land and a body to identify. Eventually, building on an analysis of Lee Daniels’ 2005 film Shadowboxer, and other “questionable” black films such as David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000) and the Hughes Brothers’ film From Hell (2001), the essay advances a conception of the blackness of black cinema that does not secure an unequivocal racial referent but inhabits instead the state of the image.


This article was originally published in the journal Camera Obscura. Copyright © 2013 Alessandra Raengo. Published by Sfumato Press.

The post-print (post-peer-reviewed) manuscript is posted here with the permission of the author.

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