Celebrating Black Women


One of the more frustrating things about Lee’s filmography this semester has been his treatment of black women. Going from film to film, he often reifies and reinforces the kinds of negative stereotypes about black women that plague the media and the popular American social imagination: hypersexual black women, angry black women, deviant black women. Rarely do the women in his films get to be at the center of attention for anything other than their bodies, and when they do, rarely do they get to push back against the limited and limiting spaces Lee puts them in. Chi-Raq promised so much, putting Lysistrata front and center on posters, on-screen, and in the plot, and then fell so far: Strata’s body and sexuality were featured as her most important attributes for a long time, the site of her power only her vagina and the denial of access to it.

Crooklyn was, in this respect, a breath of fresh air – focusing on Troy and her childhood, her subjectivity, her girlhood – and I can’t help but wonder how much of that was influenced by Joie Lee being one of the co-writers of the script, and Spike Lee a producer. I would say more, but Dani over on Blog 4 has written a beautiful post on why Troy and Crooklyn matter, and I encourage everyone to read it.

I also encourage everyone – and here I come to my main goal in this post – go to watch Lemonade. If, like me, you have grown frustrated about Lee’s portrayal of black women, or if you’re curious about what a raw, powerful, redemptive, honest, urgent, reclaiming, and human look at black women would be like, please go look at Lemonade. I could go on and on, but frankly I am not the person to speak about Lemonade – please click on any of the articles I linked to in the previous sentence, where amazing black women have written highly important pieces about it (thoughtful, potent engagements and critiques) – and please, if you can, go watch it (on Tidal’s free trial, because I know we’re all broke college students) for yourselves.

Chi-Raq| Women (Dis)Empowerment

The portrayal of women in Chi-Raq for me was pretty disconcerting. Though Lee tries to portray women as strong and independent, he reduces them to sexual objects. While he affords them the main role as the catalyst for change, he simultaneously suggests the women have nothing to offer besides sex. Sex is also often repeatedly talked about as only fulfilling for the men and the strike suggests they are entitled to having women please them. Much of Lysistrata’s motivation for the sex strike is also to keep the men safe, “… you wanna lose your man to a drive by?”(29:00)Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 2.36.53 PM.png

Even as both Lysistrata and Indigo’s men demean them and verbalize how easy it would be to replace them, they stand firm in their relationships with them. They are steadfast in these relationships with fairly verbally abusive men. The women are continually portrayed as nothing more than sexual objects for the man in their life and that seems to be reflected in not only how the men speak about them, but how the women talk to each other and about each other, referring to other women as “thots”, “whores”, etc. They are objectified and reducing themselves to having a single function, “No Peace, No Pussy.” They stay locked away with chastity belts for about 3 months leaving us to wonder if they have any other responsibilities in life. Do they have jobs? Does anyone go to school? What about the mothers? Is their only role as girlfriends or wives? Aren’t they bored??

Did anyone else share these concerns or feel that the portrayal of women in Chi-Raq was outrageous and demeaning?



Chiraq: No Peace, No Pussy

When the black and brown women take the armory, they set themselves up in formation. It is as if they are preparing for warfare, but their goal is peace. The alternating wide angle and close-up shots of the unified ritual gives the perception that there are more women in the room than there are, giving them a sense of grandiosity in the viewers’ eyes. The women stand in a large room where every sound (slapping their butts, snapping) is heard loudly. This amplifies each move that they do, creating a loud booming sound. Form informs content in this instance because their bodies become the mechanism for sound and communication, and their bodies physically are what gives them power over the men and society at large, hence why their sexualization can be read as empowerment and reclamation. The women make themselves the subject, not the object.


-rebeccah18, graceanjela, ssy, mattbuon

Mo’ Better Blues| Role of Women

I wanted to continue the discussion behind the role of women in Mo’ Better Blues by looking at the character development of both Clark and Indigo. Julia mentioned in an earlier post she was uncertain as to whether or not Lee’s poor depiction of women was intentionally trying to make a point or whether there was a misguided clumsiness involved- I would like to argue regardless of Lee’s intention, he’s reiterating a stereotype which offers women are incapable of independence and exist for the sake of men.

With the introduction of two love interests, Clarke and Indigo, women are immediately introduced as interchangeable, sexual objects. Bleek’s relationship with each woman is shallow. He chastises them, tells them they come second to his own interests (his career), and they remain complacent in this treatment.

Bleeck chastising Clarke, Pt. 1

Bleek chastising Clarke

This first screenshot captures a moment where Clarke surprises Bleek with a visit to his apartment. He lectures her for interrupting his practice and reminds her that he has allotted a time slot for her which she needs to respect. Clarke apologizes with sex.

Indigo vying for Bleek's attention

Indigo vying for Bleek’s attention

The next screenshot takes place moments after Bleek and Indigo have sex. He has just scoffed at her request to accompany his band and advises her she needs a lot more practice until she’s on his level as an artist. As he leaves her in bed to work on his music Lee deliberately mutes her speech and overrides her dialogue with music, explicitly demonstrating her irrelevance after she’s fulfilled her sexual obligations.

Indigo accompanies Shadow's band

Indigo accompanies Shadow’s band

By the end of the film, Clarke and Indigo continue to be dominated by the men in their lives. After her break up with Bleek, Indigo immediately begins a relationship with Shadow who promises her an opportunity to perform in exchange for her companionship. By focusing on her sexual engagements and reliance on yet another male figure, Lee seems to suggest that that she is only able to advance as an artist through objectifying her body.

Bleek and Indigo start a family

Bleek and Indigo start a family

Clarke also continues to subject herself to Bleek’s desires throughout the end of the film. Lee doesn’t give us insight into whether a family and life of domesticity is what Clarke wants- he only reveals to us those are Bleek’s ambitions. Time and time again Bleek’s desires as a male dominate the narrative and places Clarke in a position without agency.

I agree this critique fails to acknowledge that the inclusion of these plot lines may have been utilized for purposes of drama and entertainment, but I’m interested to hear what others think about this.Do you agree in my assessment that women are portrayed singularly and overdependent? Does it matter what Lee’s intentions were if it’s lost upon the viewers?

Mo Better Blues | Space for Women


Let’s think about the spaces that Bleek occupies in the film versus Indigo, whom we barely see outside of the home or simply, outside: she only really gets to spend time outdoors in her wedding scene, after she has been chosen by Bleek. Women’s spaces are circumscribed, limited, interior: compare this to Bleek, who has so much sprawl. He bikes around Prospect Park, he wanders the city streets, he shows up all over New York. Even Clarke, distinctly un-domestic compared to Indigo, rarely shows up outdoors: she is inside the club, inside apartments, inside the record store. Indigo is almost always within the home: her excursion to the club is unexpected and upsetting to Bleek because it is not where she belongs, in his mind.

I want to look specifically at the spatial dynamics of Bleek and Indigo’s final seduction/coercion scene that we looked at in class. There’s the fact that Bleek walks across the city to get there, through the rain: he is in the outdoors and of the outdoors, thoroughly drenched in it. Indigo is the picture of interiority and domesticity: she is nestled in her home, and rather than leaving to meet Bleek, she lets him come inside. The inside of her house is a contrast between shadows and stark, yellow light: this lends a sense of containment, further enhanced by the way Bleek tries to contain her in his arms, again and again. At first she resists and beats him, but in the end she (willingly, or coercedly) allows herself to be enveloped by him. When they are together Bleek continually dominates the frame: he is wider, taller; she often disappears within him. This inverts the beginning of the scene, where it is Indigo who allows him into her space.