Carceral Violence and Aporetic Narrative in Contemporary African American Cinema
In fiction as in real life, instances of police violence can incite an engagement with the nature of the embeddedness of structural racism in policing and incarceration. The critique and opposition to carceral violence has seen an increase in its following and maintained a steady presence in the press, politics, culture and academia throughout recent years. Talking about mass incarceration and police brutality is not merely political, but increasingly popular. This dissertation project aims to discuss the ramifications of carceral violence by engaging with its depictions in contemporary African American film. Structural racism, as presented by the looming threat of police brutality and mass incarceration, manifests as a particular bind of subjection which has shaped and is still shap-ing certain (im)possibilities of Black living in the United States. By assessing these as structurally and historically ingrained issues the impact of carceral violence in narrative can be engaged with beyond their appearance as the “exemplary spectacle” of a broken, but fixable system. This allows for the examination of its wider consequences and its simultaneous contextualization in the current discourse on the endurance and continuing prevalence of racial discrimination in American society- and some of the core questions of this debate. How does modern Black cinema deal with, depict and deconstruct the realities of being Black or Black being in an antiblack system, especially against the humanist and idealistic notions of a post-race utopia? How can narratives of carceral violence give insight not only into individual stories, but into the complex systems that define Black existence in the United States?
The concept of “aporetic narrative” aims to navigate these (im)possibilites, where the commitment to futurity, uplift, and humanity as expressed in a given story can be squashed by its imminent, al-most expected denial at the hand of a discriminatory carceral society. The work therefore aims to discuss this abjected space for its (im)possibilities, situated between current positions of Af-ropessimism or Black Optimism. The dissertation hopes to provide a contribution to the ongoing debate on racist structures and their potential deconstruction, attempting to investigate what can perhaps be imagined and successfully narrated - and how such a narration might falter and for what reason. Similar to current attempts to explain, expose or solve antiblack racism in popular culture, films that are hailed as the very thing that “we need right now” by the press or their crea-tors are presented and marketed as solutions to or at least illuminations of current problems. An engagement with structural ills and antiblack racism through the lens of popular media is thus able to also incorporate society's own understanding of these problems into the analysis by engaging with its popular representations.