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Racquel Gates
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Panels, Caucuses, and the "Drake After Dark."

Posted By Racquel Gates, Sunday, March 10, 2013

I am not typically a morning person, but there was no way that I was going to miss the "Mediating Black Embodiment" panel, even if it was at 9:00 in the morning. Samantha Sheppard gave a fantastic paper about bodily performances of triumph and defeat in Oliver Stone's film Any Given Sunday. Building on Harvey Young's work on black embodiment, Sheppard used the term "muscle memory" to think about black experience and the social and cultural legacies that are made evident via black bodily performances in sports and on film. Next, Brandeise Monk-Payton explored issues of race, desire, pleasure, and black female embodiment in the television show Scandal. Bravely tackling a show that is still on air, Monk-Payton placed Scandal's (literal and figurative) projection of desire onto Olivia Pope's body within the context of other black female bodies circulating discursively such as Janet Jackson and Michelle Obama. Finally, Miriam Petty discussed the little known maternal melodrama One Mile from Heaven, which stars African American actress Fredi Washington (of Imitation of Life fame) as a black woman who is forced to give up the white child that has been in her care since birth. Reading the film against the more well known Stella Dallas, Petty traced the ways that Washington's race (and fair skin) functioned within the film to construct her as simultaneously more maternal and less mature than her white counterpart.

After lunch and a 2nd coffee, I attended the "Black Cinema Aesthetics Revisited" panel. Giving papers that will ultimately form parts of an anthology, presenters addressed a wide array of topics. In his opening statement, chair Michael Gillespie talked about the timeliness of the collection and its necessity. Allyson Field discussed the filmic language of the film Sankofa. Among other things, Field discussed the ways that the film complicates notions of viewer identification, racial subjectivity, and time. Lokeilani Kaimana discussion of Daughters of the Dust as a queer film was both innovative and instructive. Akil Houston's discussion of Hip-Hop culture's invocation of 1970s Black Cinema themes and icons formed a necessary bridge between older forms of black popular culture and contemporary expressions. Finally, Keith Harris proposed that we shift our framework for defining and analyzing "black film." Invoking Gladstone Yearwood's Black Film as Signifying Practice, Harris advocated a move away from thinking about films solely from the perspective of raced bodies and instead, through the lens of cultural blackness.

I finished the evening with a soul-affirming meeting of the African/African American caucus. If you are not already a member of a caucus or a SIG, I highly suggest joining one and attending their meeting at next year's SCMS in Seattle. In addition to offering functional assistance with things like panel suggestions and publishing opportunities, these groups provide an additional sense of community within the field. After an enthusiastic and productive meeting where we brainstormed ideas for future panels and workshops and handled additional caucus business, we adjourned to the Palm Court for drinks, food, and fellowship. By the way, did you know that the Drake gets kind of crunk after hours? I heard a rumor that a few scholars celebrated the close of a successful SCMS 2013 by doing the Cupid Shuffle and the Wobble out on the dance floor, but I can neither confirm nor deny.

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