Berkeley Film & Media Seminar

A still from the film, Belly (1998).

Unmoved: Anxiety and Black Cinema

Thu, Feb 15, 2024, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Nestrick Room, 142 Dwinelle

Lauren Cramer, University of Toronto

The reviews of prolific music video director Harold “Hype” Williams’s one and only feature film, Belly (1998), are withering. Regarding the “brutally stylish” film, reviews describe Belly as a “gratuitous” but “dimly lit” collection of “crotch shots, topless dancers, wall-sized television screens, ganja galore and, wherever possible, crime without punishment, all to the accompaniment of a high-octane soundtrack.” These complaints have little bearing on the film’s status as a cult-classic; not just because the opinions of major newspapers are rarely in line with the sensibilities of hip-hop culture, but because a review that says Belly “sits thick and nasty in the pit of the stomach like a bad meal” but does not mention the writing on black cinematic spectatorship and the “nausea” of “self-devoration” has yet to experience the actual depth of black film’s anxiety. Like much of Williams’s video work, Belly documents hip-hop’s spectacular entry into mainstream popular culture and a brief period when Black artists like Williams enjoyed a period of unprecedented creative control at the same time they anticipated the moment it would all “come to a crashing end.” Inspired by Frantz Fanon who famously wrote, “I cannot go to a film without seeing myself. I wait for me;” this talk explores the complex spatiotemporality of black cinema that is anxiously awaiting itself and the aesthetic possibilities of rendering this affective impasse on screen.
Lauren McLeod Cramer is an Assistant Professor in the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. She is writing a book on hip-hop visual culture and black spatial practice. Lauren is the co-Editor of liquid blackness: journal of aesthetics and black studies. Her writing has appeared in The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Black One Shot, The Black Scholar, Black Camera, Film Criticism, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and Docalogue.