Isthe Scarof Shame aBlackman film perpetuating White race supremacy?
Filmmaking has been dominated by race and class representation for years.Most films propagate white cultural identity, class and abilityleaving out the representation of marginalized groups. The resultshave been different opposition gaze from the non-representedmarginalized groups. Any media, narration or text places thespectator in a particular position race, class, gender and sexualrelation. An oppositional response arises of from differing cultural,attitudinal or perspective propagated by the media that may not be intandem with the spectator’s cultural values. The Scarof Shame filmperpetuates the dominant idea of black film based on the theme ofrace, ethnicity and gender. However, watching the film with anopposition gaze reveals that the dominant ideas are fallacy the filmdoes not capture the element of blackness and extols more on socialclass than race. In this essay, I will present an analysis of theScarof Shame throughopposition gaze by showing the flaws in its dominant ideas.
ThefilmScar of Shame
Thedominant ideas interpreted from watching the film
TheScarof shameis a black melodrama that was composed by two white authors and usedblack actors as a black film for black spectators(Hooks 115).The film was made during the Harlem Renaissance that strove toperpetuate the rising black consciousness. Scarof shameproduction was inspired by the bravery of black soldiers during theFirst World War. However, the film was not entirely made from a casteof black actors but a mixture of black, colored actors, andinterracial production team.
Theprimary intent of the film was mirror the strongly divided Americansociety after the invention of motion pictures where all social,economic and political aspects were portrayed through the eyes of themajority white (Hooks115).This is evident in the film crew caste, theme and plot. In the film,Louise is seen struggling to escape her low class of black society.The setting of the film, choice of music by the different charactershelps in delineating the main themes in the film which are race andgender. For instance, Louise is seen tilting her relationship withAlvin who is white and belongs to higher social class. Race is alsoevident when Alvin (white) knocks Spike (black) unconsciously foroffending Louise.
Thefilm was a response to the growing negative stereotype passed on theAmerican African community as lazy, coward and irresponsible. Thewhites acted in all films representing each race, class and genderaccording to assigned stereotypes (Hooks115).In this light, the need for emancipation led to the rise of new classof black films aimed to water down the increasing white supremacyculture(Mulvey15)
Whythis dominant interpretation is flawed
Thedominant interpretation of the film is that of race, ethnicity andgender. In addition, the producers Pereginin and David argued thatthe film was made to represent the black. In this part, I present myargument against the dominant interpretation of the film as arepresentation of black people (black film) and that the film maintheme is race, ethnicity and gender. First, when one assess the filmon an opposition gaze one does not hesitate to note that the maindominant idea is social class conflict and social mobility. Race,ethnicity and gender are lesser ideas presented in the film. Thedominant interpretation made for the film that it presents the ideasof black race, ethnicity and gender is a fallacy. In particular, themain characters in the film are not all black but colored and white(Hooks116).
Theessence of making ‘black film’ was to reduce stereotypes directedto African Americans as, indolent and jungle men. However, the filmsetting, caste and authors do not adequately reflect the ‘face of ablack man.’ In particular, the film authors were white and this isnot different from early films where the whites played as ‘black’by putting black make up. By having white authors as producersreduces the credibility of the film as a ‘representation of blackman face.’ Although the actors were black, the white producerscould have used them as mere puppets to depict the black race in anegative way. In the film, the authors show the life and strugglebetween two social classes of the black race. In the same way, thereis social segregation between the white and the black race, the Scarof shame filmpropagates the same idea. The film propagates the same whitesupremacy stereotypes directed to the black community. For instance,one female character-Loise is inclined more to Alvin who belongs to ahigher social class than Spike who hails from lower class.
Byshowing the struggle between the two social classes among blackpeople, the film portrays the black race negatively (Hooks116).For instance, in one scene the film shows Alvin living as ‘a whiteman’ through his love for ‘white music’ and alcohol. In anotherincident, Alvin who is interested in Louise regards her as a ‘Scar’in reference to her low social class. In fact, the relationshipbetween the higher and lower social class is determined by the‘whiteness’ of one’s skin tone. Although Alice and Alvin areblack (colored), they consider themselves as ‘white’ and evenAlvin’s mother warns him against associating with Louise who is‘darker’ and poor. In this respect, the film does not representthe ideals of ‘black film’ which were to represent a united blackvoice (Hooks117).The Scarof shame film onlyperpetuates the ideology of white supremacy and black stereotypes.
Thefilm dominant theme is social class and social mobility rather thanthe interpreted themes of race, ethnicity and gender. Melodrama is alogical system of explaining the dominant ideology in race, ethnicityand gender by exposing the special aspects. Although most black filmswere aimed to represent the black spectator and image, some films arecomplicit and perpetuate the dominant cinematic practices (Hooks119).In the same way early white films presented women as objects of malegaze, black films such as the Scarof shame perpetuatesthis cinematic aspect. For instance, in the film Louise is presentedas object of gaze and admiration by Alvin and Spike(Hollinger 194).
Ona closer assessment of the film one realizes the flaw in culturalhegemonies that tyrannize certain group. Although, the dominantmeaning in the film Scarof shame wasrepresentation of black community, the film shows Louise strugglingto fit in the higher race of Alvin. The film was directed by FrankPeregini and David Starkman, both white and this undermines thenotion that the film was meant to represent the blacks. In thisaspect, it is doubtful that white authors would genuinely representthe interests of black people(Mulvey 7).As such, the assertion that the film, Scarof shame promotesnew sense of black consciousness is flawed.
Inaddition, the by illustrating the conflicts between the two classesof the black race, the film authors appear to have cultivated thesame aspect of racial domination. In all aspects, even the cinematicscenes are produced to capture the aspect of ‘white supremacy.’For instance, Alice one of the actors is portrayed in a more alluringcamera shots than Louise and Spike. The scene shots for Alice andAlvin are made to appear more ‘white’ than those of Spike andLouise (Hooks115).In another scene Alvin who more ‘white’ engages in gun fight withSpike over Louise. This aspect is similar to the violence meted onblack males by white males over women.
Howmy oppositional gaze was employed to challenge the film
Myassessment of the film was informed by two main aspects. One is that,the film authors and most interpreters of theScar of Shameview the film as a representation of the black community. Secondly,the widely accepted dominant ideas projected in the film are those ofrace and gender. However, a closer analysis reveals problematicissues with the dominant ideas and the film production. In analyzingthis film, I refute the claim that, theScar of Shame wasmade to represent the black spectators (Hooks115).This is wrong because the film authors are both white and this leavesgreat doubts of their capacity to produce a ‘black spectator’sfilm.’ The film appears to perpetuate the white supremacy ideologyand black stereotypes associated with early films (Hooks120).My assessment of the film is that, by showing the caste conflictamong the blacks, the film was propagating black negativism. Forinstance, some classes of black characters such as Alvin and Aliceare portrayed as ‘white’ based on their lighter skin tone andwealth. Members of the lower class such as Louise, Eddie and Spikeare portrayed as hopeless yearning for social mobility.
Thefilm Scarof Shame reflectsmore on the aspect of ‘white supremacy’ and black stereotypingthan the aspect of feminism, race and ethnicity. The only positiveaspect of the film is exploring the aspect of gender discriminationamong the two social classes (Hooks125).Women oppression and feminine ideas are well illustrated in the film.The film is effective in illustrating the how social class and colorperpetuate women sufferings. Louise who is colored is oppressed moreby men than Alice who is more ‘white’ and belongs to highersocial class(Hollinger 193).My conclusion is that, the film dominant ideas and meaning iscultural hegemony ‘whites’ are superior to ‘black.’
HollingerKaren, Feministfilm studies.Library of Congress in Publication. New York: Taylor and Francis.2012. Pp 191-201. Print.
HooksBell, BlackLooks: Race and Representation.Boston: South End Press, 1992, pg 115-31
MulveyLaura, VisualPleasure and narrative Cinema.1975 pp. 6-18. Print. Available onlinehttp://www.jahsonic.com/VPNC.html.
TheScar of Shameavailable at the InternetMovie Database