Kathleen Collins and the Redemptive Softness of Black Women


Still from the film “Losing Ground” directed by Kathleen Collins.

This post has been a long time coming.

I Love Black women filmmakers, because I believe that Black women filmmakers see us. Not just the uplifting “We shall overcome” versions of us, but they see us in all of our beauty, contradictions, nuanced, strength and fragility.

Last fall, while reading Jacqueline Bobo’s Black Women Film and Video Directors, I kept coming across the name Kathleen Collins.

Come to find out the reels for Collins’ film “Losing Ground” were at the library so I took an afternoon and I watched it. The film blew my mind.

The main protagonist in the film is a Black woman philosophy professor who is searching for the ecstatic experience. Yes, honey, she is searching for ecstasy.

In an interview in Black Film Review Collins stated that,

Actually, the only hope for any sort of feminine salvation in this country– and the sad thing is that Black women are giving it up  in favor of a quietly growing, kind of strident white feminism. But the only residual softness that is possible in this culture as far as I am concerned is in the hands of Black women.

When I read this I thought. Wait a minute, the people who have been historically represented as lewd, lascivious, unrapeable, gold diggers, rich and lonely,  hoochie mammas, are the ones who have the redemptive softness?????

Film scholar L.H. Stalling takes this idea of the residual softness of Black women and runs with it. She writes,

Kathleen Collins’s solution to the violence done to black women and their image insists that such redemption come from those who have been positioned as the most abnormal and dysfunctional in society, black women.

This idea of Black women being the site of redemption because they are some of the most maligned is interesting, and I believe that I have heard it before in Audre Lorde’s work.

For me it takes on a greater significance when I watch reality television shows featuring the narratives of Black women. Love and Hip Hop Atlanta in particular is what comes to mind.

Stallings goes on to underscore why I enjoy movies directed by Black women filmmakers when she states,

Collins produces a film that imagines a viewer or audience who can get turned on by seeing a black woman think, be conscious, and create consciousness on screen. Black independent filmmaking (be it documentary, cinematic fiction, or pornography) continues to be the only space in which black filmmakers can explore and represent various sexualities and subjectivities.

So, what do you think of this idea of the redemptive softness of Black women?

Comments

  1. I think it makes total sense. I always felt at the end of the world- a Black girl would save it all. That’s why I was pissed at the casting and white-ing of “The Hunger Games” character Katniss. I think she’s described as “olive” skinned. I read in the “Boston Review” that Junot Diaz is working on a book where a girl of African descent saves us.

  2. I mean…I am always concerned when we say Black women are going to save us all. Saying that comes close to the Strong Black woman narrative.

    I am going to write more about Collins. I am obsessed with her. :)

  3. I’m glad I stumbled onto your blog (was perusing Bonnie Morrison’s seemingly lavish life and photos, ended up here). Anyway, this is a great topic, which I enjoyed reading. I’ve seen an awesome representation of the “redemptive softness of Black women” in the film ‘Children Of Men’. If you haven’t seen this yet I will not spoil it for you. Check it out when you have time. Good job. I’ll keep reading.

  4. Hey Mr. Lacy,

    I am glad you like the post. I am not certain that Collins is talking about Black women as redeemers of the world, as she is talking about Black women as redeemers of one another and of Black men. Collins is really concerned with the interior lives of Black women and Black people as a whole; this is why I am drawn to her.

    I will check out the film over winter break. I feel like I have seen it, as Julliane Moore is one of my favorites.

    ~r

  5. Renina,

    Ok, yeah I get that. Please write more about Collins. I want to know more about her but don’t want to do the work. Ha!
    Yeah you’ve seen it, Moore is in fact in the movie.

  6. @Mr. Lacy…I kid you not, I woke up this morning and that daggumit movie was on the TV….and I watched it before I left…half of it….Do you know Junot Diaz’s work? Like Collins I think Junot is invested in the interior lives of Black people. I see you though in terms of redemption of all of humanity in the Julliane More movie.

  7. Hi Renina,

    I saw this and smiled. Thought you’d get a kick out of it. Ntozake Shange’s daughter had a committment ceremony with her partner. Black love comes in all forms, shapes, & sizes!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/fashion/weddings/kenshata-watkins-savannah-shange-binion-weddings-and-celebrations.html?ref=weddings

  8. Yes. I saw this this morning. I read the Sunday Times…I met them this summer @ a homies going away party…They are magic :)

  9. Hey Renina,

    Wow! That’s funny.
    I’m not familiar with Junot Diaz’s work. I’ll check it out. Renina, when you write your book on Collins (yeah, you are writing it) you can connect her work to a larger narrative of the redemptive softness of Black women on a global level like the movie . . . Black woman as hero.
    Did I go too far?

  10. Rebecca Williams says:

    I was a film student of Kathy’s in the 1980s (my very first credit was a a PA on “Losing Ground”–lol!), and we remained friends until her death–she was a wonderful mentor who influenced me deeply as an artist and writer. I still have a letter that she wrote to me 30 years ago-one of my treasure.

    Rebecca

  11. Thank you so much for leaving a message. I am really grateful for the fact that so many people have reached out
    regarding Ms. Collins. You are the third person. I could only imagine how awesome it would be to have known and worked with her. I shiver thinking about it.
    She has changed my life as well.

    Warmly,
    Renina