A Dr. Lane Lesson Plan | Teaching Black Women in Film
“Hidden Fences”: The Lesson Plan
If you’re trying to teach someone the difference between Lynn Whitfield and Angela Bassett, the importance of Black women’s contributions to film, or some of the complexities of Black women’s lives in America through film, this lesson plan is for you. This lesson plan was tailored just for you so you’d have no excuse to teach a lesson (or two, or three) about Black women in film. Use it. When you’re done, check out my “Beyoncé Lemonade Lesson Plan.” Get in touch. Tell me how it goes.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
The following list of films is by no means exhaustive, however, these films, in my expert opinion, have excellent potential to be used as subjects for teaching in the Anthropology, American Studies, African American Studies, or Women’s Studies classroom. My “highly-recommended” picks are emboldened.
If you’re teaching high school kids, I’d choose a PG or PG-13 film.
If you’re teaching undergrads, I’d choose 1 Applied Reading (application of an important theory or concept) and 1 Theory Reading. Assume they’ll only skim the Theory Reading and be prepared to walk them through any intricacies therein.
If you’re teaching high school kids, talk to them! Forgo the reading and let one of the Applied Readings serve as a guide for how you’ll present the information to them.
Giddings, Paula. 1996. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York: W. Morrow.
Hall, Stuart. “What Is This “Black” in Black Popular Culture?” Social Justice 20.1/2 (51-52) (1993): 104-14.
Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. 2007. “The Bind of Representation: Performing and Consuming Hypersexuality in Miss Saigon.” The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene . Durham: Duke University Press.
hooks, bell. 1992. Black looks: Race and representation. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Collins, Patricia Hill. 2004. “Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images.” In Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York & London: Routledge.
Holland, Sharon Patricia. 2012. The erotic life of racism. Durham: Duke University Press.
Stockton, Kathryn Bond. 2006. “Embracing Shame: “Black” and “Queer” in Debasement.” Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful shame: where “Black” meets “queer”. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Davis, Angela Y. 1998. Blues legacies and Black feminism : Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Pantheon Books.
Bobo, Jacqueline. 1995. Black Women as Cultural Readers. New York: Columbia University Press.
Banks, Ingrid. 2000. Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women’s Consciousness. New York: New York University Press.
Thompson, Lisa B. 2009. Beyond the black lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Ferguson, Roderick A. 2004. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique.. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Johnson, E. Patrick. Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.
Mask, Mia. 2009. Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Sullivan, L.L., 2000. “Chasing Fae: The Watermelon Woman and Black Lesbian Possibility.” Callaloo, 23(1): 448-460.
Harris, Angelique, and Omar Mushtaq. 2013. “Creating Racial Identities through Film: A Queer and Gendered Analysis of Blaxploitation Films.” Western Journal of Black Studies 37 (1):28-38.
Pickens, Therí A. 2014. “Shoving aside the politics of respectability: black women, reality TV, and the ratchet performance.” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory:1-18. doi: 10.1080/0740770X.2014.923172.
DeClue, Jennifer. 2011. “Lesbian Cop, Queer Killer: Leveraging Black Queer Women’s Sexuality on HBO’s The Wire.” The Spectator 31 (2):53.
Keeling, Kara. 2003. “Ghetto Heaven”: Set It Off and the Valorization of Black Lesbian Butch-Femme Sociality.” The Black Scholar:33-46.
Abdur-Rahman, Aliyyah I. 2012. Against the closet: identity, political longing, and black figuration. Durham: Duke University Press. Book.
McBride, Dwight A. 1998. “Can the Queen Speak? Racial Essentialism, Sexuality and the Problem of Authority.” Callaloo 21 (2):363-379.
Pellegrini, Ann. 1997. “Women on Top, Boys on the Side, but Some of Us Are Brave: Blackness, Lesbianism, and the Visible.” College Literature 24 (1):83-97.
Snorton, C. Riley. 2014. Nobody is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Jeffrey, Karima K. 2014. Mother of a new world? stereotypical representations of black women in three postapocalyptic films. Journal of Feminist Scholarship(6): 1-12.
Dunn, Stephane. 2008. “baad bitches” and sassy supermamas: Black power action films. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Missouri, Montré Aza. 2015. Black magic woman and narrative film: Race, sex and afro-religiosity. New York;Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Manigault, LeRhonda S., Tamura A. Lomax, and Duncan, Carol B. 2014. Womanist and Black Feminist Responses to Tyler Perry’s Productions. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Below are three examples of activities I might use (and have used in different lessons) to engage students in a discussion about films. Bear in mind that these activities are general, so you’ll have to tailor them to suit the film and your students.
After your short lecture (10-15 minute lecture), ask students to pull up (digitally) or to pull out (hard copy) one of the monologues you had them review. Allow students some time to re-read and write down their reflections (10 minutes or so). Then open up the floor for discussion.
Screen or read each monologue (or have brave students deliver/read the monologues out loud for the class) in turn before you open up a discussion to talk about them. Try to ask the questions, and let the students do the majority of the talking. Long pauses are okay, because if you do this right, they’ll be chewing hard on the monologues and your questions.
Special Note: This activity would work well in the context of an online, hybrid, or “flipped” course.
There are two different ways that you could organize a panel discussion. First, you could invite 3 or 4 experts or non-experts to come and discuss their reaction to the film. Have students prepare questions for the panelist, and really just turn the discussion over to panel while you facilitate. This works well for a new film, or a film that has deep local roots.
The alternative to this is my personal favorite (works best in a small class of about 15-18 with at least 2 hours of instruction time): Expert Panel of Students.
Expert Panel of Students
This exercise is all about getting students to feel confident about talking about complex issues, and thinking on their feet. There are a few steps that you’ll need to do prior to the class to make this activity work:
a) Freeform: Students’ remarks will address how the scene engages in discussions of race, gender, sexuality, and/or class.
b) Guided: Students’ answer an instructor-developed question in relation to the scene, to be given to students when you assign them their scene.
On the day that your class meets to discuss the film, you’ll set up a row of chairs at the front of the class corresponding to the number of students you assigned to each scene. After showing the scene, ask the students who were assigned that scene to come up to the front. Use 20-25 minutes to have the panel of students talk about their reaction to the scene (in conversation with one another) and to respond to questions from the audience.
I regularly use this assignment in my classes. The main purpose is to hone student’s “rapid” research and synthesis skills. They should also learn to distinguish between credible and non-credible sources. I like this activity for films where there is a clear and important historical component, because this gives students an opportunity to “check the receipts” on the story: is that how it really happened?
I encourage you to implement in a way that works for your situation and the film you choose, but here are the major components you need to have:
I really hope you’ll experiment and use this lesson in your classroom. For maximum efficacy, choose readings and structure the in-class activity in a way that will allow you to achieve at least two of the lesson objectives. If you use this plan, drop me a line and tell me how it went. If it was a disaster or students loved it, I want to hear about it.
About the title of this lesson plan: Hidden Figures (2016) and Fences (2016) are two films featuring black women which consistently got consistently mixed up and/or blended together during the 2016-17 entertainment award season:
— Miss Badiane (@MissBadiane) January 9, 2017
Of course these kinds of things are hilarious, but they also offer moments for us to teach some critical thinking and basic media literacy.