- A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography by Mireille Miller-Young, and: The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography by Jennifer Nash
Mireille Miller-Young’s A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography and Jennifer Nash’s The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography should now surpass feminist scholars’ use of short essays about black women and pornography written by Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Tracey A. Gardner, and Luisah Teish for the edited collection Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography (1984), which is often characterized as anti-porn. Even with pro-sex feminists’ arguments situating porn as useful to women, the birth of academic porn studies, theories of intersectionality, and queer-of-color theories about race and sexuality, it has taken thirty years for an extended and complex analysis of black women and pornography to be published. The rigorous scholarship carried out by Miller-Young and Nash in their books exemplify why difficult subjects require patience and perseverance. A Taste for Brown Sugar and The Black Body in Ecstasy are two very different books on similar subject matter, but they beautifully fill a great void within film and media studies, replacing dated arguments about the male gaze, oppositional gazes, and pornographic racism with innovative black feminist pornographics.
A Taste for Brown Sugar and The Black Body in Ecstasy are as groundbreaking as the earlier work of film and media scholars Linda Williams and Celine Parrenas Shimizu. I reference these scholars because it is important to contextualize exactly where A Taste for Brown Sugar and The Black Body in Ecstasy fit in the trajectory of porn studies, gender and feminist studies, and African American studies, strategically situated at the intersection of each field. Both books are decidedly feminist, pro-porn, and deliberately focused on black men and women. Both books engage some of the same films, including Laileh, Sex World, Black Taboo, and Let Me Tell Ya Bout Black Chicks. As a result of their subject matter, the methodology and theories within each book demand a more diverse approach to the study of visual pornography than what we have seen in numerous white pornography studies. [End Page 239]
Since pornography for black America has not been solely moving image-based, both texts ask us to go beyond the era of pornography studies in which the frenzy of the visible or the screening of sex dominate and is privileged over other cinematic aesthetics, sensory experiences, and thematic concerns. Miller-Young and Nash exemplify why cinema, video archives, theory, and criticism would never be sufficient methods to analyze race and porn. Each author is committed to delving into the significance of racial fantasy as expressed in diverse pornographic genres. They correctly assess the relationship between black feminism and early anti-pornography as a quieting of broader and more sundry expressions of black women’s sexualities, and then read black women’s participation in the pornography industries as a critique of such silencing. Each invents strategies to discuss and theorize pleasure and sexuality outside of injury and trauma. Yet, the differences in approaches illuminate why both are sorely needed in film studies, African Americans studies, and gender and sexuality studies.
“I knew I wanted to get behind the camera … and I wanted to control the scene so that either I could get to fuck the way I wanted to fuck or produce the scenes that I knew the industry was missing,” says Vanessa Blue, one of the porn stars interviewed for A Taste for Brown Sugar (270). In a field so dominated by the visual, it is Miller-Young’s insistence that we hear, as well as see, black women in porn that makes her book so textured, colorful, brash, and critically engrossing. Divided into six well-written and informative chapters, this ambitious scholarly tour de force offers an ethnographic account of black women’s labor in the porn...