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FILM 3350: African American Cinema


Instructor:   Dr. Virginia Bonner
Messages:   vbonner@clayton.edu :-)
678-466-4713 :-(
Spring 2022
3-0-3 credit hours CRN 24190
ENGL 1102 & FILM 2100 with min grade of C
Lectures:      3:35-4:50 in UC 267
Screenings:    On your own streaming or via library DVD
Office hours:    via AdvisorTrac, by email, & by appt.
in Room 105, Music Building
or via Teams or phone
Web Address:  http://www.virginiabonner.com

Course Objectives

This course studies how selected African American films reflect and shape American identities. Although we will consider some Hollywood representations of African Americans, our task is not to simply list the stereotypes that abound in mainstream films. Instead, our primary texts will be Independent films written and/or directed by African American filmmakers, and we will analyze how ideologies of race, gender, class, sexuality, capitalism, and nation intersect in all of our films.

Our studies will move relatively chronologically, beginning with early films like D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915) and Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates (1920), as well as Blaxploitation films like Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) and LA Rebellion films like Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977), Haile Gerima's Sankofa (1993), and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991). We will spend the remainder of the semester studying more contemporary African American films like Spike Lee’s She's Gotta Have It (1986), F. Gary Gray's Set It Off (1992), John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood  (1991), Marlon Riggs's Tongues Untied (1989), Dee Rees's Pariah (2011), Tanya Hamilton's Night Catches Us (2010) and a very recent film or two selected by the class.

Course Format

Our analysis of these amazing films will not be writing intensive, but it will be viewing intensive—meaning that we will watch at least one film each week outside of class (on your own). Often we will watch two films per week, so that we can see and discuss as many of these great films as possible. To allow us the most time to watch and talk about these films, course readings will be fairly light and exams may be take-home or online instead of in-class. Undergraduates do not have a formal term paper assigned, but graduate students must complete a formal term paper in addition to all other assignments.

It is very important to complete all film viewings and reading assignments before our class meeting each week. To help you keep pace with our course material, we will have a daily quiz on our films and readings; this will help us have the most lively class discussions on our assigned material. If you do not plan to watch the films and read our assignments, you should drop the course now and take it later when you can devote the time needed to succeed in the course.

Always arrive five minutes early to class lectures, not only because we will start promptly and you'll miss our daily quiz, but also because late arrivals are disruptive. If you must arrive late, please enter the room quietly and then sit quietly on the aisle; do not step over people to get to a favorite seat, since this blocks the view of the screen for others. Be sure not to text, eat loud foods, sleep, answer cell phones, operate computers or phones, check email, work on other projects, or leave the room for food or other non-emergencies during class lectures; these are a time for serious study of our film texts so you should be taking copious notes during each film to prepare for your quizzes, class discussions, and exams. You may wish to bring a penlight to classes to help you take notes in the dark. Anyone behaving disruptively during a screening or class will be asked to leave.

Film Viewing

Please note that our films will be the primary subject matter of our exams, so high quality viewings each week are important; do not rely on having seen these films when they were first released or even last month, since we will be approaching them from very different perspectives now than we did then. Do NOT watch our films via YouTube segments, and watch on as large a screen as you can; a phone is too small to see the details we'll be studying. Plus, the poor video and audio quality make this is a terrible way to study movies! If you do not plan to watch the films, you should drop the course and take it later when you can view the films. We will view additional excerpts from selected films during class lectures, and this material will be on exams as well.

When available, you will be able to view assigned films easily on your own before class via streaming hyperlinks, secured from contracted distribution companies.

Unfortunately, some African American films can be difficult to access streaming or even via rental. This is a problem with distribution, and it is too often the case with artwork created by oppressed groups and voices—e.g., Black filmmakers, female filmmakers, LGBTQ filmmakers, and other marginalized groups. The majority of our selected films do enjoy wide distribution and are therefore easily available streaming. But a handful of our titles do not benefit from such privileged distribution and accessibility, so they must be watched on DVD reserve in the library or we can arrange a private class screening. Precisely because of the rarity and suppression of their voices, it is all the more important to witness what these African American filmmakers have created and hear their artworks speak!

A Caution About Our Film Content

Many of the films in this course contain adult content including violence, profanity, drug usage, and/or frank sex and sexualities. These films are intended for mature audiences and may not be suitable for children under 17 who are unaccompanied by an adult. If you are disturbed by R-rated or unrated film content, you should consult the instructor.

Required Textbook

African American Cinema collected essays, edited by Virginia Bonner. Available in the campus bookstore (if using finacial aid) or directly from Cognella University Readers (purchase directly to avoid bookstore markup) at https://students.universityreaders.com/store/

You should make notes on each reading as you read, and bring it to class with you each week. We will use this textbook in its entirety.

Disability Services

Disability Services Statement:  Individuals with disabilities who need to request accommodations should contact the Disability Resource Center, Edgewater Hall, Suite 255; 678-466-5445; DisabilityResourceCenter@clayton.edu


Note: If you have added this course during the schedule change period and/or were not present for the syllabus review the first day of class, you ashould meet with me the following class period to review course requirements and policies.