- The New NormalBlack Psychic Subjectivity in Antwone Fisher
In the “Postscript ” of Freud Upside Down (2010), I used the 1949 film Home of the Brave as an example of what had historically been the problematic intersections between race and psychoanalysis. Specifically, I interpreted the film’s final message as one that suggested that the racist attacks endured by Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards) throughout the course of his life had led him to become overly sensitive to encounters with all whites, whether they are racist or not, and thus that the racism he suffers is essentially his problem. The film’s resolution to blame the victim is not only indicative of its problematic glossing of the vicious and ubiquitous racial violence that black soldiers encountered during World War II, but also of the way in which it submits to a rhetoric of universalism that the model of psychoanalysis (and Hollywood) readily provides. In that same “Postscript,” I went on to note that the HBO series In Treatment, which ran for three seasons between 2008 and 2010, featured an interracial therapeutic relationship between Alex, a black [End Page 139] Navy pilot, and Paul, his white therapist. Notable about this relationship is the way in which Alex and Paul are constructed as peers; the combination of Paul’s therapeutic authority and Alex’s keen intellect, professionalism, and arrogance produces an equalizing effect in which both men are able to transcend the specter of race and delve into more universal issues, like the loss of a parent and divorce. While the analyst/analysand dynamic in In Treatment is firmly located at the opposite end of the spectrum from a film like Home of the Brave, it also participates in the negation/glossing of race as a potentially formative aspect of Alex’s subjectivity. Granted, Alex’s representation as simply “human” is the stuff of which postracialists dream, but there is also something eerily familiar about the way Alex is made a universal subject vis-à-vis the show’s elision of race. Ultimately, the problem I’m setting up here is that in following these paradigms, there is no way that psychoanalysis can account for the presence of a raced subject without being either “racist” or “color-blind.” It is the insistent universalizing of the subject that has made scholars of African American literature and culture notoriously wary of psychoanalysis as a meaningful lens through which to interpret black subjectivity.
What is particularly notable about the 2002 film Antwone Fisher, then, particularly within historical cinematic interactions between therapists and black patients, is the way that the film acknowledges, rather than obscures or obliterates, race and racism as constitutive aspects of identity even within its rather traditional approach to psychoanalytic treatment. Antwone Fisher, based upon the real life story of Antwone Fisher, portrays Fisher’s ascent from a childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and abandonment to manhood. Fisher, born in a correctional facility and never having known his mother nor father, is placed in a foster home where he becomes the recurrent casualty of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. After a series of displacements that eventually lead to his homelessness, Antwone turns to the navy, ostensibly because there is nowhere else for him to go. After being involved in an altercation with a white naval officer, Antwone is “punished” by having to undergo three sessions of psychiatric treatment with a naval doctor, Dr. Jerome Davenport. This interaction leads him on a journey to “find his family,” confront the root of his traumatic experiences, and begin the healing process. [End Page 140]
Significantly, during the course of Antwone’s treatment, he and Dr. Davenport engage in an exchange of written texts—Dr. Davenport gives Antwone copies of John W. Blassingame’s The Slave Community and The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey and Antwone recites for Dr. Davenport his own poem “Who Will Cry for the Little Boy?” I want to argue that by interspersing Antwone’s psychoanalytic treatment with textual narratives of racial oppression, racial resistance, and racial pride, the film presents a case for both the universal elements of Antwone Fisher’s trauma (and...