Media Studies Intro to Cinema

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Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis of Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, Senegal, 1963)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Francesca Scaturro at 9:01 am on Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Male Gaze.

The Male Gaze is so normalized in our culture, that some people aren’t even aware of it unless it is pointed out to them. The movie Black Girl has a very discreet male gaze and that’s why I chose this movie, because it doesn’t obviously stand out like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.  The movie is about a woman fromDakar,Africawho takes care of a French family’s children. When the family decides to move toFrancethey invite her to go, and she agrees.  Soon after she arrives she finds that her life will not be what she had imagined it to be, and the French family who treated her so nicely in Dakar are treating her more like a slave of the house in France. The movie is filmed and directed by Ousmane Sembene, a male Senegalese director. Although it is less apparent in this film than other films such as Psycho, we are able to see instances where the male gaze is prominently present.

In a sense, I very much respect the way Ousmane Sembene treated this film because he put a lot of care and thought into how Diouana would be portrayed as a woman as well as an intellectual character . For the most part, Sembene did a good job on not depicting Diouana as a sexual object. I will argue that this film has a male gaze, but Sembene gazes in a very respectful way. He doesn’t treat Diouana as a sexual object. He doesn’t portray her as an object to be threatened by, although the woman of the children she is caring for does feel threatened by her. But, of course there are instances where we see his male gaze through the lens. There are a few scenes in the movie in which the audience watches Diouana get dressed in her bedroom. In one of those scenes she gets undressed taking off her shirt, and we are able to see the side of her breasts. This, of course, is very obviously portraying Laura Mulvey’s concept of “To-be-looked-at-ness” because we are seeing her body, her physical figure which to heterosexual men is an aphrodisiac in itself. On the other hand, the reason why I argue that Sembene allowed us to watch Diouana getting undressed, but in a respectful way is because she has her back towards the camera. We are not getting a full frontal view of her body, which is in a way is hiding her sexual nature yet letting us get a glimpse of it at the same time. One purpose of this scene is show the ritualistic nature of getting undressed every night, and the same repeated thoughts that go on in her head as she is doing so. Yet again, the audience cannot deny that this view of Diouana is coming from a male gaze, but the audience definitely doesn’t get the peeping tom feel that we do in Pyscho. The positioning of the camera which is straight on, and the long shot also makes the audience feel like we are equal to her, we are not looking down at her or looking up. We are in a sense observing and not peeping; just hearing her thoughts are just having a conversation with her, and she is telling us her thoughts while getting ready to go to bed. Also the brief amount of time she is naked which is about 30 seconds, also gives us a sense of the lack of privacy she has.

Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OZJucKuk5w&feature=related   at (11:05)^

 As the movie progresses we see a flashback of Douiana with her boyfriend back inDakar, and there is a moment of direct sexual contact with her boyfriend in the movie. It is very quick short take at a direct angle. They are standing outside about to take a picture, when her boyfriend puts his arm around her and grabs her breast.  Diouana goes on to explain that she didn’t approve of his gesture. In this scene she refutes the fact that she is a sexual object by walking away from him after he grabs her breast. Why does he feel that he can go ahead and touch her sexually in public? Is it a sense of ownership? Is it because he couldn’t help himself? Why does Semebene even choose to put this scene in the film? Perhaps because he wants to show that Diouana is considered a very attractive woman in Dakar Africa. Or perhaps he wants to portray the sexual nature man. Although Mulvey talks about the male’s gaze and having a fascination with looking at women, this scene reinforces the male gaze because her boyfriend is actually acting upon the fact that he sees her as a sexual object.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpy5B25ei7s&feature=related (9:40)^

In the same flashback Ousmane shows Diouana in his bedroom. We see a shot of Diouana laying in bed with her boyfriend looking at ELLE magazine. Then the boyfriend gets upset with her because she wants to go toFrance, and he gets up. It cuts to a shot (long take) of him  taking a drink and smoking a cigarette, and then it cuts back to a shot of Diouana taking off her hair and her shirt. Again we get a mere glimpse of her breasts in a bra. Her boyfriend quickly puts down the cigarette and begins walking towards her, then the shot blurs out and that is the end of the scene. Here Diouana is directly portrayed as a sexual object. In fact, she is portraying herself as a sexual object, because willingly wants to sleep with her boyfriend. Although in this scene she is not directly exposing her body, she is very suggestive by taking off her clothes and to a certain extent, the smile that she has on her face although that shot is a very short take. Again Sembene was respectful in the sense that he didn’t show the couple in act of intercourse.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpy5B25ei7s&feature=related (13:11)^

After that scene, it cuts to a shot of Diouana laying in bed in France. The positioning of the camera at the high angle looking down at her makes the audience analyze and really look at her body laying in bed. The camera starts by filming her feet, and goes up along the length of her body. This scene seems to be a continuation of what happened in the scene before where she was going to have intercourse with her boyfriend and is now laying in bed after it is all over, except she is laying in a bed in France.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpy5B25ei7s&feature=related (14:06)^

In Laura Mulvey’s article she also mentions that women are something that men feel threatened by, but instead in this film we are seeing that Diouana’s female patron is the one who is threatened by her because of her sexual nature. She is always bothering Diouana about the way she dresses, and telling her to change her clothes because she doesn’t need to be so dressed up to be cleaning. This in a sense reinforces a Male Gaze although it is coming from a woman, because she is objectifying Diouana to being a sexual and being a threat to her marriage. The patrons jealousy in a way empowers Diouana because it suggests that she has some kind of power in the way she dresses that in turn may make her husband interested in Diouana.

As we see, although this movie may not be so obvious as others, there are a good few instances where the male gaze reinforces this patriarchal view of women through the way Ousmane Semebene chose to shoot some of his scenes. Sembene treated the film with care, he did not overtly sexually exploit Diouana, but we can see were the male gaze just comes right through the lens and is clearly visible to the audience.

 

Works Cited

Mulvey Laura. Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings .Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

 http://medst144f11.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2010/10/mulveyVisualPleasure.pdf

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5 Comments

6

   Amy Herzog

2011/12/19 @ 10:38 pm

What an incredibly thoughtful, and unexpected take on this assignment, Francesca! It’s especially interesting, I think (and after reflecting on your analysis) because Sembene is so careful and respectful with his camera throughout. The moments of nudity or sexuality do serve an important purpose, as you note– telling us something about her character, her routines, and about how she is objectified and exploited by those around her. In fact, I think the power of this film is that it refuses to shoot through the lens of the male gaze– but it forces us to confront evidence of that gaze directed at Diouana. It’s also an interesting example because the gender exploitation coincides with the racial and ethnic exploitation, too. Wonderful work!!!

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