This essay considers several short films produced by Zora Neale Hurston between 1927 and 1930 as productive entry points for reassessing the cultural history of early black cinema. Filmed in the rural South and depicting scenes of everyday black life, these films are most often interpreted in relation to conventions of ethnographic film and to Hurston’s own tense relationship with anthropology and the “folk.” Extending and revising these positions, this essay will explore how the films both stage and resolve a range of practices I term overexposure. As technique and metaphor, overexposure troubles the fraught relationship between blackness, objectivity, and veracity that underpins cinematic representations of African Americans by registering the impossibility of ever capturing a complete document of black life. From manipulating formal composition to overexposing parts of the film itself, Hurston’s aesthetic practice enacts a particular kind of viewing wherein the gaze is lured, but not rewarded, with the promise of unmitigated racial knowledge, complete narrative, or quantitative documentation. Instead, black life is figured as a contingent network of relations that exceed the parameters of the film, the camera, or the viewer’s gaze.


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pp. 115-133
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