Black Experiences in Literature,
Movies, & Television
Course Description: From the antebellum era to the Harlem Renaissance, Black people have turned to art, writing, and spirituals to make a statement about race relations, construct their racial identity, and (re)claim a sense of humanity under conditions of oppression. These artistic expressions are all the more significant and worthy of analysis in this era of mass media and in light of contemporary racial conflicts neatly summarized by the hashtag “BlackLivesMatter.” This course will explore the pluralities and contradictions of black experiences as depicted in literature, movies, and television. A guiding theme will be how artistic representations of blackness illustrate and grapple with what WEB DuBois famously called “the double consciousness”: a consistent awareness of their racial categorization and concern with others’ perception of them as blacks rather than as an individual or a holder of other statuses. It will take special interest in the work of Spike Lee, Toni Morrison, Tyler Perry, and Shonda Rhimes, all of whom delve into issues concerning race and captivate black audiences while doing so. We will use each artist to decipher what it means to be black; how this definition varies according to gender, class, age, and sexuality; and how depictions of blackness have changed over time. While many of the readings and media in this class are fiction, we will approach them from a sociological and humanistic perspective—that is, mining them for clues on how historical and social conditions (e.g., Jim Crow, mass incarceration, gentrification) shape the possibilities and limits of black experiences. And we will probe how different media permit artists to convey the lived experience and struggles of blacks in different, often more visceral, ways—and to different audiences—than conventional social science and nonfiction reporting.