Mueller Report Books

African American Studies

African Tales

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For Burns, to see yourself as others see you is a humbling experience, made all the more so by the divine “Power” that affords this impossible perspective. When applied to moving pictures, however, this “small gift” takes on a broader significance: it allows us to see some of the issues involved in local film practices. In Burns’s poem, class is a central element of the need for self-­recognition: the upper-­class woman is not able to see herself as others see her (as a host for a louse). Although local film retains an interest in class, it moves in an opposite direction, affording working- and middle-­class spectators the opportunity to see an image of themselves projected on a screen in a collective viewing experience—to see themselves as participatory members of a community and as subjects of a film.

25 This harnessing of the narrative of the past to serve particular goals of the present not only necessitated a revision of the slave narrative; it also required a circumscribed presentation of goals. A major component of Washington’s accommodationist strategy was, in effect, to reposition the relation of African Americans to whites. ”27 As an uplift narrative, Up from Slavery models a trajectory of progress while carefully negotiating the presentation of its aims and expertly navigating the potential concerns, prejudices, and sensibilities of its intended audience.

Considered as a kind of useful cinema, uplift cinema can be understood in relation to its social purpose and varying degrees of pragmatism. The uplift project forms a constellation of discursive practices, the filmic components of which are theatrical and nontheatrical, industrial and entrepreneurial, and overlapping iterations of these modes. Uplift cinema is part of this practice of using film as a useful medium, but it extends the stakes of that usefulness to its subject: African Americans as useful citizens.

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