Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


John Vanderheide

2nd Supervisor

Janelle Blankenship


This thesis project re-evaluates Laura Mulvey’s film theories regarding psychoanalysis and the “male gaze,” first found in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975). By re-evaluating the limitations of Mulvey’s use of the Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic model this project seeks to understand the desires and processes of identification of cinematic spectators who reject the ideological imperative of the “male gaze”. As many critics have noted, Mulvey’s initial examination of cinema does not account for LGBTQ+ spectators and/or black spectators who occupy looking relations that reject cis-normative and heteronormative white Hollywood cinematic conventions. From this standpoint, we begin the first chapter by critiquing Mulvey’s gendering of cinematic conventions found in her theory of the “male gaze,” which does not address male masochistic desire, female desire or queer desire. In the second chapter, we continue to critique the rigid heterosexual binary of Mulvey’s work by articulating a new other-critical form of looking relations that derives from bell hooks’ term “the oppositional gaze”. Finally, in the third chapter we investigate the importance of fluidity in the cinematic gaze that can be found in LGBTQ+ spectatorship. In this final chapter, we address the “lesbian look” as a form of oppositional gaze that works against Mulvey’s “masculinized” female spectator. The overall objective of this project is to prioritize theoretical models that investigate cinematic spectatorship and desire as fluid rather than returning to rigid classifications of the gaze theory that limit sexuality, gender and/or race.

Summary for Lay Audience

When watching film, most people become engulfed in the cinematic narrative and forget to consider the diverse experiences of other spectators. Why is it important to understand different spectatorial positions in the cinematic experience and how can a person’s sexuality, gender and/or race influence the way they engage with filmic images? By re-evaluating the Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic framework of Laura Mulvey’s “male gaze” theory in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975), I seek to develop a more inclusive fluid/free model for understanding cinematic gazing which includes Black spectators and LGBTQ+ spectators. Briefly put, Mulvey’s theory of the “male gaze” argues that classical Hollywood cinema controls and entraps our desire: there is an imperative for the active male spectator to desire and objectify the passive female screen image. However, this project points to more fluid spectatorial positions that reject the ideological function of narrative cinema.