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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Sonnet H. Retman
AFRAM 220
Seattle Campus

African American Film Studies

Examines the history and theory of African American filmmaking, introducing central political and aesthetic debates by way of different cinematic eras, genres, and filmmakers. Focuses primarily on black directors and producers independent and commercial contexts as they confront popular representations of U.S. blackness in their own cinematic practice.

Class description

This course will examine the history and theory of African American filmmaking. We will explore the political and aesthetic debates central to African American film by focusing on different cinematic eras, genres and filmmakers, spanning the 1920s to our contemporary moment. Attending to independent and commercial contexts of production, we will focus primarily on black directors and producers as they confront and often confound popular representations of U.S. blackness in their own cinematic practice. We will consider the ways particular films and genres construct race, identity, and community through an engagement of class, gender, and sexuality. We will consider the implications of African American film beyond the nation, taking into account the African Diaspora and the global import of U.S. images of blackness through the medium of film. On occasion, we will view films that were not directed by African Americans if they have been important to the public discourse about U.S. blackness. Possible screenings include: Within Our Gates (1920), The Emperor Jones (1933), Carmen Jones (1954), Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967), Watermelon Man (1970), Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Daughters of the Dust (1991), Boyz in the Hood (1991), Black Is, Black Ain’t (1994), The Watermelon Woman (1996), Eve’s Bayou (1997), The Wood (1999), Bamboozled (2000) and Passing Strange (2010). The final screening list will be announced on the first day of class and the final schedule will reflect these choices along with readings from the course pack.

Student learning goals

Improve your ability to read, analyze, and discuss cinematic, literary and cultural texts

Understand the broader social, historical and cultural contexts in which African American filmmaking and expressive culture has evolved

Further develop your writing skills, especially your ability to state your ideas in a succinct, coherent manner and support them with close textual readings

Assess the impact of African American cultural production on artistic and intellectual movements of the past and the present

Enhance your sense of the multiple ways in which art can work as a tool for social change

General method of instruction

This class requires active engagement with the texts and with each other: come to class prepared to talk about the day's film and readings. Our interpretations of the films will emerge through a pooling of responses and ideas.

Recommended preparation

Strongly recommended: AFRAM 101, AFRAM 150 and AFRAM 214/ ENG 258.

Class assignments and grading

Requirements: Participation (discussion/ attendance) 15% Group Presentation 15% GoPost (200 word entries, 5 throughout the quarter) 20% Mid-term paper 20% Final paper 30%

This class requires active engagement with the texts and with each other: come to class prepared to talk about the day's film and readings. Our interpretations of the films will emerge through a pooling of responses and ideas. You will be held accountable for being prepared and ready to participate. Over the quarter, you will write two papers. You will also work with a group of students on a 5-10 minute presentation. You will post your responses to the films and leading course questions five times throughout the quarter. You will receive handouts outlining the expectations for the papers, the presentation and your GoPost entries.

A note about the screenings: I recommend that you take notes during our film screenings and that you also mark interesting passages as you read in the course pack. This will help you participate in class and ease into your writing. Over the quarter, you may be asked to complete occasional in-class writing assignments, which you should be ready to share with others in class. I encourage you to meet with me during office hours to discuss the readings and assignments.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Sonnet H. Retman
Date: 10/04/2011