Red, White & Black

Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms

Red, White & Black

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 22 b&w photographs Published: March 2010

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

Red, White & Black is a provocative critique of socially engaged films and related critical discourse. Offering an unflinching account of race and representation, Frank B. Wilderson III asks whether such films accurately represent the structure of U.S. racial antagonisms. That structure, he argues, is based on three essential subject positions: that of the White (the “settler,” “master,” and “human”), the Red (the “savage” and “half-human”), and the Black (the “slave” and “non-human”). Wilderson contends that for Blacks, slavery is ontological, an inseparable element of their being. From the beginning of the European slave trade until now, Blacks have had symbolic value as fungible flesh, as the non-human (or anti-human) against which Whites have defined themselves as human. Just as slavery is the existential basis of the Black subject position, genocide is essential to the ontology of the Indian. Both positions are foundational to the existence of (White) humanity.

Wilderson provides detailed readings of two films by Black directors, Antwone Fisher (Denzel Washington) and Bush Mama (Haile Gerima); one by an Indian director, Skins (Chris Eyre); and one by a White director, Monster’s Ball (Marc Foster). These films present Red and Black people beleaguered by problems such as homelessness and the repercussions of incarceration. They portray social turmoil in terms of conflict, as problems that can be solved (at least theoretically, if not in the given narratives). Wilderson maintains that at the narrative level, they fail to recognize that the turmoil is based not in conflict, but in fundamentally irreconcilable racial antagonisms. Yet, as he explains, those antagonisms are unintentionally disclosed in the films’ non-narrative strategies, in decisions regarding matters such as lighting, camera angles, and sound.


Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms is a provocative and challenging book. Wilderson exposes the darker side of cinematic narrative and the unspoken messages sent through film which reinforce the identities and cultures on all three groups mentioned, despite these identities and cultures being imposed rather than inherent. . . . A truly unique analyses of cinema, race, politics, power, society and identity." — Danielle Mulholland, M/C Reviews

“[An] exceptional and provocative book. . . . [T]he volume is clearly written, persuasively argued and – reflecting a particular strength of the book – immensely detailed.” — Adam Brown, Media International Australia

“The work exceeds the typical trajectory of film writing, and Wilderson writes with a conviction that can incite further thought, discussion, and even action. In a panel on literary activism at the National Black Writers Conference in 2010, Wilderson clarified his intentions: ‘The relationship of literature to struggle is not one of causality, but one of accompaniment.’ As such, Red, White and Black is valuable reading for any filmmaker or theorist interested in socially engaged cinema.” — Malia Bruker, Journal of Film and Video

“Wilderson’s style of writing is persuasive while his passionate , uncompromising commitment to every word, passage, idea, in his book is undeniable.” — Säer Maty Bâ, Cultural Studies Review

Red, White & Black challenges scholars of film, race, ethnicity, American studies, and cultural studies to rethink many of the assumptions that animate our work. Pairing analyses of film representations of U.S. racial antagonisms animated by images of Blacks with those that work through images of Indians provides a new and exciting critical framework. Red, White & Black provokes scholars to reckon with the political implications of Frank B. Wilderson’s call to think structures of Blackness, Whiteness, and Redness in the United States both in conjunction with and in contradistinction to each other.” — Kara Keeling, author of The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense

Red, White & Black is unique, incisive, and thought-provoking. The analytic frameworks that Frank B. Wilderson III develops surpass the conventional paradigms for exploring theory, race, power, and film in U.S. culture.” — Joy James, editor of Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy

“I have not read anything as striking as Red, White & Black in some time. In this unsettling work, Frank B. Wilderson III theorizes the singularity of anti-Blackness as he refines our understanding of how political economy, popular culture, and law are shot through with identification and desire, pleasure and pain, sexuality and aggression. Anti-Blackness, which is carefully distinguished here from White supremacy, is not only an ideology and an institutional practice; it is also a structure of feeling with pervasive effects. This last, crucial point is glossed over by too many authors in their haste to provide rational analyses of and challenges to racism.” — Jared Sexton, author of Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Frank B. Wilderson III is Associate Professor of African American Studies and Drama at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the American Book Award. He is also the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Unspeakable Ethics 1

I. The Structure of Antagonisms

1. The Ruse of Analogy 35

2. The Narcissistic Slave 54

II. Antwone Fisher and Bush Mama

3. Fishing for Antwone 95

4. Cinematic Unrest: Bush Mama and the Black Liberation Army 117

III. Skins

5. Absurd Mobility 149

6. The Ethics of Sovereignty 162

7. Excess Slack 189

8. The Pleasures of Parity 200

9. "Savage" Negrophobia 221

IV. Monster's Ball

10. A Crisis in the Commons 247

11. Half-White Healing 285

12. Make Me Feel Good 317

Epilogue 237

Notes 343

References 365

Index 375
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4701-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4692-0
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