In her essay “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators,” bell hooks discusses the relationship of black women to mass media that renders them invisible.
Whereas previous scholarship by Laura Mulvey put forward a binary of possible viewing positions centered on identification with either the male/dominant or the female/submissive viewpoint put forward in media, hooks discusses a third potential viewing position. This is the oppositional gaze, a position centered on disidentification with and “the pleasure of interrogation” of mass media.
hooks says she began thinking critically about black female spectatorship after viewing Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. Although Spike Lee is not a part of the dominant class of white male filmmakers, he makes use of patriarchal filmic practices that emphasize the male gaze with one point of differentiation: the object of Lee’s gaze is black, and not white, womanhood. Similarly, many rap and hip hop music videos are made with the involvement of black male artists and/or producers and represent the black female body only as a sexual object.
In “African American Women In Music Videos,” the filmmakers critically examine the portrayal of black women in music videos over the past few decades, utilizing the oppositional gaze to deconstruct the ways in which black women are represented even in mass media focused around black culture.