Representation for Whom?

JH Howard enlightened me on the important role music played during the film by it being a catalyst for transformation for characters and audiences alike. Howard illustrates through this article that music has the power to connect by allowing the viewer to be invested in the pains, triumphs, excitement and sorrows of the characters. This enables the film to put more emphasis on the transitions in the plot because the objective is to feel something. Chanting, repetition, and dancing evokes empathy out of the audience and allows them to feel in the moment what the characters do, to get engaged in the fight between morality and immorality, to feel the tug between worlds. However, after reading the article and realizing that this movie was viewed and largely enjoyed by a white audience, I question to whom did this sensual connection benefitted.

Franz Fanons Black Skin White Masks

Howard states that in Hallelujah the black characters were largely based on stereotypes about the black community. The gateway created by music in the film, allowing viewers to feel the emotional struggle of the characters, could have been an unprecedented way to present the reality of black life and be a catalyst for change in race relations. However, instead it facilitated not a change in schema but a continuity in the racial stigma around black culture by highlighting the idea of “them” that white people had in mind about black people and building entire characters on such preconceived notions. The belittlement of the character Zeke into a man fighting between sexual desires and God, the boys happily tap dancing on tables in raggedy clothing, or the laughing and joy of the family the cotton fields, illuminate the disconnect between the white mental label of black life versus the actuality of it. Franz Fanon’s White Skin Black Masks speaks on the inner turmoil that stems from living under a label that was not created by you but is mandated for you, describing the black man as living in an environment “which has shaped him (but he has not shaped)” and stating that it “has torn him apart” (Fanon 190). I now question to what extent did this film further damage the black subconscious self image through its catering to white audiences by portraying black individuals as people happily living in oppression with rampant sexual desires so strong they polarize Christianity and sex as if they cannot coexist.

2 thoughts on “Representation for Whom?

  1. Hi Ty,
    You bring up a lot of great points, and I think, to answer your question, the film further damaged the black subconscious self image by attempting to show that the social movements of the 1920s would be ones that Black individuals and institutions “could not handle.” I think the director frames this movie to act as if Black life in the American life was “perfect as it was,” and that social movements of the 1920s, such as the Jazz age and the Flapper movement were damaging to this society. This further damages the Black self image as it is trying to say that these social movements are forces that religion “cannot handle.”

  2. This was an excellent analysis, Ty. I think you’re certainly right in that the musical elements of the film serve to draw the audience into the struggles, but I myself noticed the circular nature of the protagonist’s struggles, speaking to a highly stereotypical view of the Black story in this period. Who do you think the powerful musical elements were supposed to benefit, or what purpose were they intended to serve? Are they supposed to distract us from the film’s jaded view of these communities, or are they a kind of parody?

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