The Witch′s Flight

The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense

The Witch′s Flight

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

More about this series

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 1 b&w photo Published: November 2007

Author: Kara Keeling

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Media Studies > Film

Kara Keeling contends that cinema and cinematic processes had a profound significance for twentieth-century anticapitalist Black Liberation movements based in the United States. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze’s notion of “the cinematic”—not just as a phenomenon confined to moving-image media such as film and television but as a set of processes involved in the production and reproduction of social reality itself —Keeling describes how the cinematic structures racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and, in the process, denies viewers access to certain images and ways of knowing. She theorizes the black femme as a figure who, even when not explicitly represented within hegemonic cinematic formulations of raced and gendered subjectivities, nonetheless haunts those representations, threatening to disrupt them by making alternative social arrangements visible.

Keeling draws on the thought of Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, and others in addition to Deleuze. She pursues the elusive figure of the black femme through Haile Gerima’s film Sankofa, images of women in the Black Panther Party, Pam Grier’s roles in the blaxploitation films of the early 1970s, F. Gary Gray’s film Set It Off, and Kasi Lemmons’s Eve’s Bayou.


The Witch’s Flight gives interesting insight to how images of Black women have affected racism, homophobia, and misogyny in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. . . . While a picture is worth a thousand words, Keeling’s descriptions and explanations clearly depict the connection between the images we see every day and their influences on Black Nationalism and what we except as truth. Even when describing films that I have never seen, the writing in The Witch’s Flight brought the pictures to life and allowed me to grasp the visual impact of each example.” — Arielle Altman, Feminist Review Blog

“For anyone interested in cultural analysis, Keeling’s approach is ultimately satisfying. Ironically, she digs below visual “reality” in a way which is scrupulous, logical and far from glib.” — Jean Roberta, TCM Reviews

“Keeling’s argument is sweeping but persuasive: that the politics and culture of African-Americans since the beginning of the 20th century are inseparable from the development of the movie industry and then television.” — Lizardlez, Rainbow Reviews

“Methodologically, The Witch’s Flight fits squarely on the shelf with other film, visual, and media studies scholarship while also straddling critical U.S. historiography, queer theory, women’s studies, and critical race studies. And yet, its methodology represents more than an example of interdisciplinarity precisely because it uniquely embodies a field of thought working to understand its own implication in reproducing global capitalism, neoliberalism, and the ruse of representation.” — Stacy I. Macías, GLQ

"[A] rich, provocative, deeply personal book. . . . Keeling's work is revelatory and refreshing; this is a book that continually engages the reader. Highly recommended.” — G. A. Foster, Choice

"Keeling successfully digs below surface realities in a way that is scrupulous and methodical." — Jean Roberta, Gay & Lesbian Review

"Keeling’s book is an astonishing example of how to do things with film and feminism.... Evidence that feminist film theory not only changes how you see the world, but changes the world itself." — Sophie Mayer, British Film Institute

“Kara Keeling offers a tour de force extension of Deleuze’s writings: she understands cinema as a form of thought, as well as a motor of a shared sensorium, capable of numbing repetition as well as provocative alternative visions. No ‘Deleuzeobabble’ here, though, just sweet grooves and careful readings. With lucid and piercing argument, Keeling is a serious critic of black visual culture, following a line of powerful litanies for survival from Frantz Fanon to Angela Davis to Fred Moten.” — Amy Villarejo, author of Lesbian Rule: Cultural Criticism and the Value of Desire

“There is a special alchemy at work in this wonderful project that transforms painstaking research and original theoretical insight into a superb understanding of the cinematic’s deeply cathected relation to blackness, gender, and sexuality. Kara Keeling watches, reads, and stitches together a tapestry that teaches us how to re-read and re-think what we thought we knew already of visual culture, of the peculiarities of our social order’s self-imagination, and of the survival of black femme desire.” — Wahneema Lubiano, editor of The House that Race Built


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kara Keeling is Assistant Professor of Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts and of African American Studies in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is a coeditor of James A. Snead’s Racist Traces and Other Writings: European Pedigrees/African Contagions.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Another Litany for Survival 1

1. The Image of Common Sense 11

2. In the Interval 27

3. “In Order to Move Forward”: Common-Sense Black Nationalism and Haile Gerima’s Sankofa 45

4. “We’ll Just Have to Get Guns and Be Men”: The Cinematic Appearance of Black Revolutionary Women 68

5. “A Black Belt in Bar Stool”: Blaxploitation, Surplus, and The L Word 95

6. “What’s Up With That? She Don’t Talk?”: Set It Off’s Black Lesbian Butch-Femme 118

7. Reflections on the Black Femme’s Role in the [Re]production of Cinematic Reality: The Case of Eve’s Bayou 138

Notes 159

Bibliography 195

Index 203
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4025-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4013-3
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