Troubling Representations of Black Masculinity in the Documentary Film Raising Bertie

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Pini, Barbara
Keys, Wendy
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2018
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http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Abstract

In this paper we undertake a critical reading of the documentary Raising Bertie (2016). Directed by Margaret Byrne, the film tells the story of three poor, young Black American males living in Bertie County. In the paratextual material associated with the film, Byrne demonstrates reflexivity about stereotyping, revealing she engaged authentically with participants over a period of six years. Further, she begins the film by signalling the critical importance of situating the boys’ lives in a long history of discrimination and disadvantage. However, this focus on context soon disappears, and an observational mode of filmmaking is engaged. As a result, the type of negative images of Black masculinity that have had considerable currency in popular culture are reproduced and overstated in the film. Raising Bertie’s images of Black males as violent and criminal, and as absent and passive, are not effectively embedded in any broader narratives of disadvantage. Despite the director’s intentions, the film risks positioning rural Black males as responsible for their own plight. Poverty is racialised and individualised. The problem the film presents becomes one of troublesome Black masculinity, rather than one of a racialised, economically and geographically unjust world.

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Cultural Studies Review
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24
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2
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© 2018 by the author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
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Creative and professional writing
Cultural studies
Screen and media culture
Literary studies
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