Double Negative

The Black Image and Popular Culture

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 52 illustrations Published: August 2018

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

From the antics of Flavor Flav on Flavor of Love to the brazen behavior of the women on Love & Hip Hop, so-called negative images of African Americans are a recurrent mainstay of contemporary American media representations. In Double Negative Racquel J. Gates examines the generative potential of such images, showing how some of the most disreputable representations of black people in popular media can strategically pose questions about blackness, black culture, and American society in ways that more respectable ones cannot. Rather than falling back on claims that negative portrayals hinder black progress, Gates demonstrates how reality shows such as Basketball Wives, comedians like Katt Williams, and movies like Coming to America play on "negative" images to take up questions of assimilation and upward mobility, provide a respite from the demands of respectability, and explore subversive ideas. By using negativity as a framework to illustrate these texts' social and political work as they reverberate across black culture, Gates opens up new lines of inquiry for black cultural studies.


"Gates considers not only formal producers of media but also black audiences who engage with these works, successfully arguing for a more nuanced understanding of what makes for black cultural production." — Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Library Journal

"Racquel J. Gates’ unpacking of black racial media figures postulates that negative images derived from cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding practice can be reconfigured to provide agency and hybridity to black figures. . .  . Recommended. All readers." — S. Lenig, Choice

"Its potential for broader application across identity studies and the culture/media industries makes Double Negative essential reading." — Leah Aldridge, Film Quarterly

"Double Negative is unique for recovering and giving value to texts that are assumed to be without value. Gates’ sharp analysis of how negative images interrogate American society in ways that the more positive ones do not is an important contribution to the fields of media studies, popular culture, and cultural studies." — Linnete Manrique, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Double Negative skillfully investigates these and many other negative images portrayed in the modern context, making it a significant critique on contemporary black representation. This book challenges pre-existing views that consume the public discourse regarding the magnitude of negative images, and provides an alternative perspective. Gates’ book is therefore a critical intervention on the proliferation of negative images, and the ways that such images can be used to make a lasting, and even positive, impact." — André E. Tyson, Global Africana Review

"Double Negative offers evocative academic insight into past and present representations of black identity." — Audrey Liow, Continuum

"An exciting entry into the academic study of African American media representations. . . . Gates reclaims negative images and foregrounds their importance for understanding hierarchies of media taste and the complexities of minoritarian identity and experience. The result is an evocative and provocative foray into what she calls the 'metaphorical gutter' of representation. . . . Highly accessible and engaging, Double Negative should be required reading for academics, students, and even pop-culture journalists who are interested in the complexities of race, identity, and contemporary media." — Brandy Monk-Payton, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies

“Building on media studies, cultural studies, genre studies, media industry studies, reception studies, film and television formalism, critical race theory, gender theory and queer theory, Gates masterfully shifts the conversation about black image production from one mired in a reductive positive/negative binary to one that demonstrates how ‘disreputable’ images are productive as a conduit to nuanced discussions about black images.” — Alfred L. Martin, Film Criticism

“In Double Negative Racquel J. Gates places us in front of image after black image that folks concerned with the 'positive' representation of the race have tried, unsuccessfully, to repress. In the process, this willfully disobedient book challenges us to look at ourselves, as readers—the aesthetic judgments, political assumptions, old anxieties, and surprising pleasures that animate our encounters with blackness onscreen.” — Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, author of Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity

“An amazing and much needed critical intervention, Double Negative interrogates the ways in which respectability politics are imbricated in discussions of black representation. By questioning how media representations are deemed negative, Racquel J. Gates explodes the idea of privileging ‘good’ texts over less desirable ones. She contests the notion that negative texts are bad objects and guilty pleasures on every front, allowing for negotiated readings that offer spaces for identification, pleasure, and even empowerment.” — Bambi Haggins, author of Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-soul America


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Racquel J. Gates is Assistant Professor of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Negativity and the Black Popular Image  1
1. Eddie Murphy, Coming to America, and Formal Negativity  35
2. Relational Negativity: The Sellout Films of the 1990s  81
3. The Circumstantial Negativity of Halle Berry  114
4. Embracing the Ratchet: Reality Television and Strategic Negativity  142
Conclusion. Empire: A False Negative?  182
Notes  191
Bibliography  211
Index  219
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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