This paper concerns an analysis of Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave. Specifically, it considers how McQueen’s cinema can be said to actively rely upon tropes of mastery and domination, pain and trauma, in order to construct what Saidiya Hartman has referred to as a “spectacle of sufferance,” while visually qualifying “an embrace of pain” that engenders pleasure in the viewer. Patsey crystallizes a set of questions about the ontological status of black femininity in the film. Patsey’s constant defiance of Master Epps through the production of a radical surplus labor is paradoxically a performance of disentanglement from the optics of McQueen’s film, which draws heavily from mainstream cinema’s tropes of racial suffering that specifically coalesce around the black body in pain. Patsey points to something latent in the structure of black womanhood, a remainder that initiates a set of oppositions that run through this violent history of subjection. She prefigures a representational aporia, a mode of cinematic blackness, that challenges the prescribed limits of personhood, identity, and humanity on the one hand, and labor, resistance, and anti-humanity on the other.


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pp. 162-178
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