Remix: A Litany for Survival

Philana Payton

Graduate Student, School of Cinematic Arts, USC
 

 

In this video, I situate the inherent precarity of Black women entertainers. The mode of the visual essay functions as a creative way to digitally re-imagine and re-present hegemonic means of translation and academic production. Borrowing from the work of Audre Lorde, this piece uses a black queer feminist lens to analyze performance as a means of survival and a tool always already expected and enforced through Black women’s bodies within the entertainment industry.

I explore the ways in which normalized race and gender categorical expectations and understandings were/are translated through the actual act of onstage/onscreen performance. Consequently, this project is anchored in the work of Saidiya Hartman, E. Patrick Johnson, Daphne Brooks and Judith Butler and their contributions to Black studies, cultural theory, performance theory, and queer theory.

This video addresses questions of (in)visibility, redress, and dispossession as enacted through the presentation and performance of Black womens’ bodies. In this way, I re-imagine these modes as sites of queered resistance that potentially lead to a historically denied futurity. This piece questions how performance offers the prospect of both stagnancy and escape from dispossession and distortion for Black women entertainers. How have Black women attempted to resist their inherent precarity within the entertainment industry? And how do various structures, institutions, and systems perpetuate dispossession/distortion as normalized outcomes for subjugated, occupied, and/or marginalized communities?

 

References

Brooks, Daphne. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1950-1910. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Davis, Angela. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1952.

Hartman, Saidiya. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Johnson, E. Patrick. Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

Lorde, Audre, “A Litany for Survival” in A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde. Directed by Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson. 1996. PBS.

McMillan, Uri. Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance. New York: NYU Press, 2015.

Moten, Fred. In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

 

The Cine-Files, issue 11 (fall 2016)