The Gazes of an African Soul: The “Gaze” as seen in Black Girl

The “Gaze” exists in several forms. The most popular kind is the gender based gaze, such as how men in film look upon women as though they are material. However, this particular example does not involve gender. What these two gazes represent are debatable in interpretation.

This is the last scene in the film “Black Girl.” The protagonist, a black girl from Africa, comes to France with a seemingly tender family to live a life of liberty. However, having been oppressed and abused by the family, the girl commits suicide. The father, though just as responsible for her pain, was humble enough to take her belongings back to her family. A small boy, whom happens to be the younger brother of the late black girl, takes the mask that was returned to him. The father uncomfortably leaves with increasing pace as the masked figure follows him all the way back to the airport entrance.

Two gazes exist, each bearing a different meaning.

1) The Mask

This African mask followed the father everywhere he went, never letting go of his sight. The mask seems to represent some sort of spirit. One kind of spirit it could be is one of judgement. Whether it is metaphoric for “our” God or another, this mask has a very omnipotent presence. The fear projected by the father could be his indirect fear of judgement itself, and how he is developing a guilt for his role in the protagonist’s suicide.

However, it can also be debated that the mask represents the spirit of Africa. A more literal take of the gaze, the father feared the mask as any stranger to a culture would. Selfish and materialistic, he doesn’t understand the life of a developing country. Neither does he want to. Its vast difference in lifestyle alienates him from absorbing the culture.

2) The Boy

The mask is slowly lowered, revealing a boy. Anyone can see his gaze reflects the pain of his late sister. The boy is looking at two particular people. In the film, it is made apparent that he is constantly watching the father. However, the cinematography of the shot implies a sort of indirect fourth wall break, as the boy appears to be looking at the audience. Rather than a spirit, the boy presents a colonial gaze. The pain seen in his gaze is one that implies that the father will never fully understand the burden he brought to the protagonist. The father, being of the outside world, is actually the developed world. The boy’s gaze upon the audience says how we, a developed society, don’t take into consideration the sufferings of other less fortunate countries. History has shown that major powers have abused the 3rd worlds without second thoughts, such as whether or not the people would be hurt in the process. The colonial gaze reminds the audience literally of the pain we don’t understand, just as the father, self-absorbed as he is, doesn’t understand the plight of the protagonist’s family.

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#1   Daniel Min on 12.08.11 at 2:35 pm

Fantastic Job Tom. I totally agree with you that colonialism has inflicted pain upon other countries throughout history and heavily reflects world cinema particularly of France (Indochina, Algeria, Cameroon, Niger, Senegal etc). This scene reminded me of White Material dir. Claire Denis, not only because it is set in Francophone Africa but the underlying devastated effect of post colonialism.

#2   Steven Rengifo on 12.08.11 at 5:14 pm

This was a great post Tom. I like how you said that the boy breaks the “fourth wall”. His action of slowly taking off the mask and revealing his face is epic in my opinion. I believe that scene was crafted in a superb way. I actually got little goosebumps when the boy was slowly removing his mask, revealing his face and staring right to the audience. The mask is very symbolic and leaves me confused with what its trying to tell us. Why does the mask scare the father? Why would the boy where the mask and follow the father? Watching this scene over and over again can hopefully make me realize what it means.

#3   Roberto Rodriguez on 12.08.11 at 11:06 pm

I liked the way you analyzed a different aspect of “gaze”and focused on the symbolic meanings of certain gazes in the scene. I agree that the mask had multiple meanings and it is left up to the audience to interpret that meaning the best way they see fit. The boy’s gaze in the end was very powerful indeed and I think that the gaze was meant for us to reflect on the film and think how those third world countries struggle everyday.

#4   Kaitlin Stevens on 12.08.11 at 11:48 pm

Excellent post. This was a great choice of scene to do for the gaze. I really like your perception on why the mask intimidated the white man. I can definitely see why you would say that the mask represents the spirit of judgement and the spirit of Africa, but I also thought that the mask represented the spirit of the black girl herself considering the mask did belong to her and was originally a gift to the white man’s family.

#5   Raaj Mangroo on 12.09.11 at 10:30 am

I like that there is a gaze through the mask, It was interesting to see that the mask was not actually a person. It was an object.

#6   Jihae Park on 12.15.11 at 7:21 pm

I like how you found this kind of different gaze. Your post reminded me of the whole last scene, how the boy followed the father and the father just rushed to get out of the boy’s gaze. And as the father represents the developed countries, I thought of the father/developed countries, trying to avoid the responsibility of what they’ve done to the victims.

#7   Amy Herzog on 12.20.11 at 12:27 am

Tom, this is an absolute home run of an assignment!! Incredibly provocative, creative, forcing us to think differently about the question of the gaze. And based on the wonderful and equally thoughtful comments you received, you triggered lots of new ideas amongst your readers. I couldn’t have hoped for more!

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