reel to real : race, sex, and class at the movies.
(Routledge, 1996)

By bell hooks

For individual traditional black film critics and many of us "new kids on the block" it was difficult to face that in some rare moments there were more progressive representations of blackness in the work of exceptional visionary white filmmakers (cultural workeers like John Sayles and Jim Jarmusch) than in the work of individual conservative black filmmakers. Their representations of blackness, along with others, were the positive interventions providing concrete interrogative evidence that it was not so much the color of the person who made the images that was crucial but the perspective, the standpoint, the politics. (p.7)


There are so few images of blackness that attempt in any way to be subversive that when I see one like this one [Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo], I imagine all the myriad ways conventional representations of black people could be disrupted by experimentation. I am equally moved by that moment in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train when the young Japanese couple arrive in the train station in Memphis only to encounter what appears to be a homeless black man, a drifter, but who turns to them and speaks in Japanese. The interaction takes only a moment, but it deconstructs and expresses so much. It reminds us that appearances are deceiving. It made me think about black men as travelers, about black men who fight in armies around the world. This filmic moment challenges our perceptions of blackness by engaging in a process of defamiliarization (the taking of a familar image and depicting it in such a way that we look at it and see it differently). Way before Tarantiono was drabbling in "cool" images of blackness, Jarmusch had shown in Down by Law and other work that it was possible for a whiteguy filmmaker to do progressive work around race and representation. (p. 99)