Black men in the media

Dr. Jonathan Gayles (at right) speaking with a group of students after his lecture “Fascination and Fear: American Popular Culture and the Black Masculine Fetish.”
Dr. Jonathan Gayles (at right) speaking with a group of students after his lecture “Fascination and Fear: American Popular Culture and the Black Masculine Fetish.”

“My job is to critique the most problematic images because those are the ones with the broadest impact.”

With that, American professor and filmmaker, Dr. Jonathan Gayles, took his audience at the University of the West Indies on a fascinating journey through American pop culture via comic books, action movies and TV shows.

Gayles’ lecture, Fascination and Fear: American Popular Culture and the Black Masculine Fetish, was hosted by the US Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, in partnership with UWI’s Faculty of Humanities, as part of the embassy’s Black History Month activities taking place throughout the month of February.

The lecture drew a lively and engaged crowd for Gayles’ critical look at the depictions of black men in various media, from the popular hypermasculine, threatening black superheroes of the 1970s to the rarer dignified academic as portrayed by Sidney Poitier.

Gayles, a professor in African American Studies at Georgia State University and the director of the film White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in American Comic Book, noted that “images of black men as threatening abound in the United States”. He illustrated that point with clips of films ranging from the controversial 1915 polemic Birth of a Nation to the Rocky movies of the 1970s and 80s.

Calling these stereotyped images “problematic”, Gayles said he was a great supporter of independent artists working on positive images and heroes that could be considered role models in comic books now. “We have a right to a broader range of representation,” he said.

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