She Started A Critical Discussion About Black Women In Film

black woman staring ahead
Zain Murdock
October 23, 2023

In a 1992 essay, bell hooks began with the obvious: We see the anti-Blackness in mass media. 

But that awareness is a critical element of a phenomenon she coined “the oppositional gaze.”

hooks described how Black women in film often existed to serve white women or be an object to Black men. Still, many Black woman viewers identify with them and give them agency. 

For example, instead of laughing at characters like Sapphire, or the “angry Black woman,” they empathize with her in a way other viewers don’t.

Black women also call out when empathy is absent - as hooks did concerning Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” which Lee himself regretted decades later. 

But even though Black women resist media dehumanization by insisting on humanizing characters anyway, they still crave something different.

So, when watching media made by Black women for Black women, the tension between combating stereotypes and empathizing with characters can fade. 

“I do not need to ‘resist’ the images,” said hooks of filmmakers like Kathleen Collins, Julie Dash, and Ayoka Chenzira. “[E]ven as I still choose to watch their work with a critical eye.”

Today, hooks’ theory is circulated in film schools and critical dialogues worldwide. 

Have representations of Black women changed over the decades? And when you watch Black women on screen, and in real life, what do you see?

We have a quick favor to ask:

PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:

  • We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK NEWS & HISTORY STORIES every year.
  • We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
  • We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.

And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.

With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please ?

Share This Article: