Through a semiotic approach partly drawing on the work on multimodality by Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) and strongly influenced by the theoretical tradition of the Caribbean diaspora (especially Édouard Glissant and Edward Kamau Brathwaite) and particularly by the queer Caribbean diasporic experience (Rinaldo Walcott), this chapter proposes a new reading of the iconic film 'Looking for Langston' (1989) produced by the Anglo-Caribbean visual artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien. Complemented by references to film theory and essentially moving along the path paved by the studies on masculinity, it will explore Julien’s re-articulation of the socio-culturally constructed and historically contingent concept of “black masculinity”. In the film, Julien undertakes a metaphorical journey with the aim of rediscovering black queer desire and rearticulating it by bypassing society’s stereotypes on black bodies and homosexuality. Along the way Julien considers issues linked to the hyper-sexualisation and objectification of black male bodies in Western tradition, and their exclusion from Western canon of beauty, while prompting a counter-aesthetic that may represent the first instance for “many people to look at black maleness with visual pleasure, not with a sense of threat or danger” (hooks 1990: 199). The reading of the film intends to demonstrate how Julien’s images move in the context of Western culturally produced regularities (or ‘grammar’ in Kress and van Leeuwen’s terms) while at the same time disrupting them in order to propose alternative ways of seeing. Julien partly displaces the prominence of the visual, so important in Western epistemological tradition, by hybridising it with other senses such as hearing and the evocation of the sense of touch. Drawing on a fluid conception of identity and sexuality (enhanced in the film by multiple references to water and by the disruption of the linearity of time), Julien lingers over the details of black male bodies in order to define a new conception of black masculinity. Deprived of the mask of apparent strength and aggressiveness, black masculinity appears, therefore, more ambiguous, almost vulnerable, embracing the full complexity inherent in an otherwise silenced part of the Black experience.

Undoing Black Masculinity: Isaac Julien’s Alternative Grammar of Visual Representation

Emilio Amideo
2018-01-01

Abstract

Through a semiotic approach partly drawing on the work on multimodality by Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) and strongly influenced by the theoretical tradition of the Caribbean diaspora (especially Édouard Glissant and Edward Kamau Brathwaite) and particularly by the queer Caribbean diasporic experience (Rinaldo Walcott), this chapter proposes a new reading of the iconic film 'Looking for Langston' (1989) produced by the Anglo-Caribbean visual artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien. Complemented by references to film theory and essentially moving along the path paved by the studies on masculinity, it will explore Julien’s re-articulation of the socio-culturally constructed and historically contingent concept of “black masculinity”. In the film, Julien undertakes a metaphorical journey with the aim of rediscovering black queer desire and rearticulating it by bypassing society’s stereotypes on black bodies and homosexuality. Along the way Julien considers issues linked to the hyper-sexualisation and objectification of black male bodies in Western tradition, and their exclusion from Western canon of beauty, while prompting a counter-aesthetic that may represent the first instance for “many people to look at black maleness with visual pleasure, not with a sense of threat or danger” (hooks 1990: 199). The reading of the film intends to demonstrate how Julien’s images move in the context of Western culturally produced regularities (or ‘grammar’ in Kress and van Leeuwen’s terms) while at the same time disrupting them in order to propose alternative ways of seeing. Julien partly displaces the prominence of the visual, so important in Western epistemological tradition, by hybridising it with other senses such as hearing and the evocation of the sense of touch. Drawing on a fluid conception of identity and sexuality (enhanced in the film by multiple references to water and by the disruption of the linearity of time), Julien lingers over the details of black male bodies in order to define a new conception of black masculinity. Deprived of the mask of apparent strength and aggressiveness, black masculinity appears, therefore, more ambiguous, almost vulnerable, embracing the full complexity inherent in an otherwise silenced part of the Black experience.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11367/112151
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