Black “Masculinity” – Holding a Mirror?

Both Spike Lee’s School Daze and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied deal with the question of what it means to be masculine in the black community. However, while School Daze explores the lives of students at a HBCU, Tongues Untied deals directly with the the relationship between queerness, blackness, and manhood through the use of anecdote and art, critiquing scenes from School Daze in its analysis. In a way, the motives behind Riggs’ work appear clearer than the ideas behind School Daze because in the former, homophobia within the black community is very clearly critiqued. In the latter, homophobia is shown quite explicitly from a variety of characters ranging from Dap the protagonist to Samuel L. Jackson’s minor character. When criticized for his portrayal of homophobia and treatment of sexuality, Lee claimed that he was holding a mirror to society, not endorsing it.

This made me question whether or not simply holding a mirror to an issue through is enough. In some ways, Tongues Untied held a mirror to homophobia rampant in communities of color, and at the same time, was intensely critical of these communities. Spike Lee, on the other hand, is not nearly as precise in his film’s stance on the issue. Dap, who leads the chant of “Gamma, Fag!” during the step performance, is the same man telling us to wake up at the end of the film. He is introduced as our moral compass for the film (a defining part of his character is his constant protest of his school’s investment in South Africa) and yet, he and his friends are problematic in the way that they often base their masculinity in the way they treat those they view as not masculine (e.g. women, and queer men). While these are complicated issues to tackle in a film, I don’t think that we can let Spike Lee of the hook just because its his style to raise more questions than can be answered.

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1 thought on “Black “Masculinity” – Holding a Mirror?”

  1. This is an interesting critique and a valid one. Lee has a strong portrayal of what masculinity looks like on a surface level at an HBSC but does not dive deeper into what it means to be male, and off the sexual binary or any binary to be honest. Lee’s movie plot is based on this binary of fraternity and black nationalist. And does not leave room for any other groups in between. While the moral of the movie might be that you can exist within both these groups it’s not made explicitly clear.

    Liked by 1 person

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