'Where One Time I Served, Now I Got Others Serving Me': Women as Post-neo-slave Owners (Poster Presentations)

Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Dana Horton (Mercy College)

My poster examines the ways that women in twenty-first century representations of slavery are constructed as post-neo-slave owners in addition to articulating the concept of a post-neo-slave narrative. I argue that Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave are post-neo-slave narratives due to their postmodern treatment of slavery – both films utilize fantastical and supernatural elements in their representations of slavery, specifically as a method for reimagining slavery’s monstrosities. My analysis focuses on the moments where Django Unchained, which scholars typically read as playful and exaggerated, engage in realistic portrayals of slavery and 12 Years a Slave, which scholars praise for its historical realism, uses elements of fantasy when deviating from the original narrative. These moments involve women – in Django Unchained, Lara is characterized as a skilled slave-owner and madam while Broomhilda is treated as the damsel in distress, which is striking because black women are usually not portrayed as damsels; in 12 Years a Slave, Mistress Shaw and Patsey are more prominent characters in the film than they were in the original narrative, which I attribute to the increase of activism by black feminists who demand that filmmakers provide more complex representations of black women. Both films feature post-neo-slave owners by considering the ways in which postmodern conceptions of identity allow for black women to be characterized as slave-owners, which is an identity character that they are not typically associated with. I argue that both films utilize a slavery framework to provide commentary about the current American cultural climate by providing subtle connections between contemporary America and antebellum slavery. My poster will contain an overview of my argument, a section that focuses on each character I analyze, and a conclusion that briefly discusses the larger societal significance of this project.

Dana Horton is an Assistant Professor of English at Mercy College. She received her Ph.D. in English at Northeastern University and her B.A. in English and African-American Studies at Temple University. Her teaching and research interests include Black Feminist Theory, African American Literature, Slave Narratives, Postcolonial Studies, Multi-ethnic Literature, and American Popular Culture. She is currently working on a book project titled "12 Years a Slave-Master: Gender, Genre, and Race in Post-Neo-Slave Narratives," which examines representations of black and white female slave-owners in twenty-first century American literature, film, and music.