WE INSIST The Idea of Black Film
I am giving a reading at a bookstore in Spokane, Washington. There is a
large crowd. I read a story about an Indian father who leaves his family for
good. He moves to a city a thousand miles away. Then he dies. It is a sad
story. When I finish, a woman in the front row breaks into tears. “What’s
wrong?” I ask her. “I’m so sorry about your father,” she says. “Thank you,”
I say, “But that’s my father sitting right next to you.”
In the epigraph, Sherman Alexie dryly arrests an audience member’s expecta-
tion and perception that his story be unscripted, a direct reflection of reality
in the barest of autobiographical terms. His narrative of this encounter with
this white woman exemplifies the collapsing of the distance between two fic-
tions, one writerly and the other a sociocultural marker of being. Indian and
“Indian” are conflated, and the performative becomes reduced to unmediated,
existential accounting. In the absence of a consideration of verisimilitude, or
just literary form and style more generally, the woman’s empathetic response
to Alexie’s reading illustrates an inability to distinguish the author function
from embodied being. This epigraph evinces my concern for and investment
in the idea of black film. In a comparable sense, the woman’s query and ex-
pectation correspond to the way that black film, and black art more broadly,
navigates the idea of race as constitutive, cultural fiction, yet this art is never-
theless often determined exclusively by the social category of race or veracity
claims about black existential life in very debilitating ways. But this book does
not merely equivocate about the debilitating ways of social reflectionist ap-
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