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Teresa Hagan

Ms

  • AMA

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Biography

Straight Outta Washington - Obama and the Black Filmmaking Renaissance 

[Working title]

My thesis examines an apparent resurgence in mainstream American filmmaking by Black directors during, and arising from, the Obama years. I focus on a selection of films, exploring how they centre their narratives on African American lives, history and experiences - such as 12 Years a Slave (2013), Selma (2014), Straight Outta Compton (2015), Chi-Raq (2015), Birth of a Nation (2016), Moonlight (2016) and Get Out (2017). I also look ahead to Black directors’ responses to the Trump administration which followed Obama’s presidency, considering works such as BlacKkKlansman (2018), Black Panther (2018), and When They See Us (2019). 

I examine themes emerging in these films; in particular I excavate how they reflect tropes of resistance, exploring links between these tropes and African American history and cultural memory more widely.  I argue that, despite assumptions that mainstream film cannot be radical or challenge hegemonic discourses, this view is misguided - and show how these filmmakers demonstrate both boldness and subtlety in weaving strong political messaging into their films.

I also situate and explore this filmmaking renaissance as part of a lineage of Black visual cultures in America.  And I consider the role of filmmaking as an art form of resistance for African Americans since the birth of film, reflecting on how the films of the Obama era relate to the work of Black filmmakers a century ago, particularly the films of Oscar Micheaux.  Throughout the project, I examine the intersections of the filmmaking renaissance with social and political forces at play during the Obama years, and against the wider backdrop of American history.  In particular I consider how these films react to economic injustice, the weakening of voting rights, the inequalities of the criminal justice system, violence against African Americans, and the rejuvenation of Black protest movements. 

I am also an experienced journalist and documentary maker, working primarily for the BBC and Channel 4, as well as some transatlantic projects.