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Bad Feminist: Book Discussion Series

Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist - March 2018 Library Book Discussion, sponsored by ISU Library's Committee on Diversity & Inclusion

Week 3

Topic: Race & Entertainment

Topic Leader: Susan Vega García

Meeting:  March 22, 3:30-4:30, Rm 304

Selected readings, from Race & Entertainment section:

  • "The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help" - pages 245-257

  • "Beyond the Struggle Narrative" -- pages 269-274

  • "The Last Day of a Young Black Man" -- pages 287-294

  • "When Less is More" -- pages 295-299

You can always read more from the Race & Entertainment section, but these are the essays we will focus on in our discussions.

Discussion Questions

1.  Gay writes that "[r]ace is regularly handled ineffectually in movies and fiction." Knowing that, why is she so particularly outraged by The Help?  Let's unpack several specific examples given in the essay.

2. ACRL Diversity Standards emphasize the importance of cultural awareness - one's own and that of others - as well as cross-cultural knowledge and skills. If you have seen The Help, 12 Years a Slave, or Fruitvale Station, did reading Gay's essays in this section change your own understanding or interpretation of these films? In what ways?

3.  Throughout the essays in this section, Gay identifies and deconstructs stereotyped film characters and media tropes such as what she calls "the magic negro," the sassy Black woman, the demonization of young Black men, the "struggle narrative," and more.  Gay writes that "audiences are ready for more from black film... ready for more of everything but the same, singular stories we've seen for so long."  Do you think things have changed since she wrote this essay in 2013? 

4. Gay delivers a stinging critique of the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.  What are the main problems with this show, according to Gay?  If you have seen the show, do you agree? Why or why not? Why do you think Gay is so interested in pop culture, such as young adult fiction and TV shows?


Extra: Watch the short "Every Mom deserves a Fairy Godmother" commercial video embedded below.  Do you recognize what Roxane Gay calls the "magical negro" trope in this local Iowa commercial? What is the purpose of that narrative here? What type of business is Greenland Homes (an Ankeny, Iowa company), and what exactly are they selling in this commercial?

“Hollywood has long been enamored with the magical negro—the insertion of a black character into a narrative who bestows upon the protagonist the wisdom they need to move forward in some way … ‘The [magical negro] has become a stock character that often appears as a lower class, uneducated black person who possesses supernatural or magical powers. These powers are used to save and transform disheveled, uncultured, lost, or broken whites (almost exclusively white men) into competent, successful, and content people within the context of the American myth of redemption and salvation.'”

--Roxane Gay