The medi(atis)ation of the slave experience: a journey from page to screen

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Schroeter, Caroline V.
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University College Cork
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Considering the increase in slave films in recent years, this interdisciplinary project explores the cross-generic development of nineteenth-century slave narratives into their contemporary cinematic iterations. Continuities and changes in the (self-) representation of African Americans are interrogated in two specific cinematic slave narratives: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation (2016). My argument draws on theories of race, film analysis and intertextuality, specifically adaptation and the black tradition of Signifyin(g), to examine the network of intertexts that influences these films. Key areas considered include the representation of slavery, gender, race, the black body and sexual violence on and off screen. I also trace the conventions of the slave narrative across mediums and discuss the complex nature of authorship and authenticity. Assessing the close connection between the different narrative forms across three centuries, my research shows filmmakers of cinematic slave narratives to be modern-day mediators of the slave experience, similar to the amanuenses of their literary predecessors. This thesis therefore explores how motivations behind the production of these films reflect a recurring social phenomenon reminiscent of those underpinning nineteenth-century abolitionism and the twentieth-century Civil Rights movement. Thus, this thesis examines the effects of mediatisation on the representation of blackness and identity, as instantiated by the experiences of slavery and mediatised Othering, and the tools used to convey these to a twenty-first-century audience. This thesis demonstrates that, despite increasing historical distance, slave narratives continue to be relevant as a commemoration of the African-American experience and a commentary on slavery and its present-day legacy.
American literature , American film , Signifyin(g) , Othering , African American , American studies , Slavery , Representation , Mediatisation , Slave narratives , Race , Independent film , Race and gender , Adaptation , Intertextuality , Intertextual theory , Black film , Intersectionality , Film studies
Schroeter, C. V. 2019. The medi(atis)ation of the slave experience: a journey from page to screen. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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