Is Art Necessary for Social Change?

Thursday evening, my partner and I watched Spike Lee’s, BlacKkKlansman. This was my first Spike Lee experience. I admire his satirical delivery and his iconic use of an African American being the protagonist.  Even to this very second in time, I am speechless. As I searched for a trailer link to include with this post, a comment read, “This film needs to be shown in every high school in America.” I solemnly agree.

In Dance Research this week, we began our mini-lesson in Film by viewing the Maya Deren’s, A Study in Choreography for CameraThe topic on a macro level surfaced my past work with film in undergrad and intersected with my work with digital photography: What is the perspective? What is the focal point? What architecture of the space or frame am I trying to achieve? However, on the micro level, I deeper realized the weightedness of my own privilege, colonized worldview and that of the overall American system.

Through our analysis of Deren’s film, the Gaze Theory was introduced to me for the first time, as we discussed the role it plays in the interpretation or affects in Cinema and Dance Film. While half of the class agreed that Talley Beatty (a Katherine Dunham dancer), for a 1945 film, was iconically the protagonist of the film, my peer Alex brought up a huge point that perspectively she viewed Beatty as being controlled by the camera. She discussed the elements that presented this colonial gaze: him being in the woods, as a notion of running, or the edit when his foot enters the colonial home. Instead of this cut being led by him, she perceived this as him being put there without choice: slavery. I was unable to see this perspective until she brought it up, which started me on this rabbit hole of interpersonal excavation after watching The Klansman.

Spike Lee’s thick story is still with me and has been a leading conversation starter among many of my peers. I wish to discuss a specific conversation, as it has stayed with me as I  continue to grabble with where my place is for advocating for social change through art and how I am contributing or creating inclusive environments.
In conversation with a mid 30’s African American male, I brought up my take away from The Klansman. In a shrug, I was made apparently aware of my privilege and difference of perspective as he stated, “When are we going to be done making art about re-living these awful histories?” While I understand his point of view, there is a large percentage of American’s that unconsciously live within the parameters of this Imperial and Colonial Gaze, or lack depth of both sides of the big picture. A cherished quote from Johanna Hoffman reads, “History is a spiral,” but I can’t help but wonder with what generation that will end.

If I look at this question from a point of accessibility, I argue that this type of art is necessary. The sum of illiterate humans in this country is larger than we would like and past the grounds of literacy, comprehension, if not taught, is an institutional privilege. Emotion, however, has an innate understanding. If not art, how are people learning that these issues are still circulating on American soil?  How are we sharing the subjectivity of our lived experiences and how are we reacting and navigating them into the future. I regret to admit that when I watched BlacKkKlansman and it referenced the Charlottesville, VA riots of 2017, I was overcome to learn that David Duke’s presence and teachings still hold space on this Earth. I am both literate and educated, sitting with guilt to say it took this movie to get a deeper visceral perspective of what present present day politics and culture actually looks like.

So this is where I am.
What is my part in the work that needs to be done?
As an educator, what am I doing to deconstruct the egalitarian system to promote an inclusive classroom?
Where am I blindly submitting to the many factors of this Gaze Theory or not even considering it?
Where is my place as a white woman?

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