The White Gaze of Hollywood
In the 1970s Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey introduced the idea of the ‘gaze’ of Hollywood, the way the viewer identifies with the camera’s perspective when watching a film. However, Mulvey argued that, often through the perspective of the lead male protagonist, the viewer is encouraged to fetishize what they see – the female body. According to Mulvey, ‘the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form’ (Mulvey 711), allowing for a fetishized, objectifying view of the female form on screen. This, voyeuristic behaviour was dissected by Mulvey in Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema, where she used psychoanalysis to explain the psychology and reasoning behind this ‘male gaze’ in film.
While film has come a long way from voyeuristic classics such as Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) and Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958), and the male gaze of Hollywood has often been subverted by women, this gaze still persists in modern. However, this article seeks to discuss a different fetishized gaze in film: that of the white gaze. ‘The white gaze: it traps black people in white imaginations. It is the eyes of a white schoolteacher who sees a black student and lowers expectations. It is the eyes of a white cop who sees a black person and looks twice – or worse, feels for a gun.’ (Morrison. T)
In 2015 the Oscars Ceremony came under scrutiny when controversially, there was a lack of diversity in the nominees, despite a multitude of fantastic films released that year starring incredible black actors, for example Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba. This year, that issue seems to have been addressed, with Viola Davies’ nomination in Fences and Mahersharla Ali in Moonlight. However, it is interesting to note that before 2016 the films starring black actors nominated for awards, always tended to be those centred around slavery, or some other such historical atrocity, during which black people suffered.
While it is increasingly important (especially with America’s current President in office) to remember the atrocities done, and still done, to black people, the more contemporary stories (American Promise) of black people in America were pushed aside, somewhat harder to swallow for the predominantly white audience than the more historical ‘feel good’ films such as Selma. However, it is not the African American gaze watching over these films, instead it is often the white gaze, fetishizing the black male with ‘pornographic, full-frontal, low angle shots’ (Gould).
However, with inspiring, epic, modern stories of black people emerging in film this year such as ‘Moonlight’ and ‘The Fits’, it seems as though the white gaze is being pushed aside. In conclusion, there will always be a white gaze in cinema, however, so long as black screenwriters, directors and actors can find a way to make contemporary, real films in Hollywood, the black person will be truly represented in film.
Gould. G., 2017. Rhapsody in Blue. Sight and Sound Volume 27, Issue no. 3.