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Identification of Self: The Oppositional Gaze and Black Female Spectatorship in 12 Years a Slave


This essay applies bell hooks’ theory of the oppositional gaze to the 2013 film, 12 Year’s a Slave. I argue that the film subverts traditional power dynamics linked to the experience of visual pleasure through film by shifting responsibilities between black and white audiences. Whereas previously black audiences had to confront degrading depictions of self as a “way in” to film, white audiences instead had the privilege of critiquing film if whiteness was negated, or else not depicted at all. After a brief overview of hooks’ theory of film, it examines the character of Patsey for the ways in which violence imposed on her body necessitate a confrontation with self and identity for audiences of all races, and for the ways it supports the films subversion of traditional ways of looking.

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