Eds. Paula J. Massood, Angel Daniel Matos, and Pamela Robertson Wojcik
Media Crossroads: Intersections of Space and Identity in Screen Cultures
Duke University Press, 2021
Reviewed by Da Ye Kim
Responding to and expanding the spatial turn in film and media studies, Media Crossroads: Intersections of Space and Identity in Screen Cultures invites readers to walk across multiple, intersectional spaces represented in diverse media texts. The eighteen essays selected for the book apply an intersectional lens towards a variety of spaces—public/private, urban/rural, virtual/real, national/transnational, central/periphery—in relation to in/visible characters who occupy and traverse through those spaces. The collection understands both space and identity as a complex matrix of social, economic, cultural, historical, and political factors, and examines the dynamic interplay between them through intersectional analysis. Spaces shape identities as much as identities make up spaces. The spatial practice analyzed in the selected essays often extends beyond the frames as several analyses emphasize production processes, detailing the interactive space between creators and their subjects, commercial spaces of media distribution, and political spaces of state sponsorship and business liaisons behind production. The authors examine systematic oppressions that intersectional identities experience in media and offer new perspectives in viewing spatialized networks of power. The intersectional lens introduced in the book can be expanded beyond the scope of the selected essays and the book truly fulfills its aim of opening up a critical discussion in the study of gender, space, identity, and screen culture studies.
Michel de Certeau’s theory of different perspectives in viewing the city, and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s spatial metaphor of intersectionality are the two metaphorical and theoretical concepts central to the book’s compositional style and analytical approach. The book opens its introduction with de Certeau’s distinction between a walker and a voyeur of a city in The Practice of Everyday Life. In the following chapters, the reader is placed in an intriguing position between a walker and a voyeur of the spaces presented in the essays. As a reader of already analyzed texts, reading from a distance above, each reader performs the role of a voyeur of the coherent and theoretical cartography of five thematic sections. Yet, the book’s diverse lineup also allows the reader to move from one essay to another as if freely walking across multiple spaces to experience the creation of networked stories. For example, the first section on “Digital Intersections” ends with Matthew Thomas Payne and John Vanderhoef’s critical essay on digital flâneuse in walking simulators, seamlessly moving on to the second section on urban intersections because the concept of a flâneur has an urban root. However, the essay could be alternatively read in relation to Desirée J. Garcia’s compelling analysis of the figure of Black maids in dressing rooms in backstage musical films or to Sarah Louise Smyth’s captivating formal and historical analysis of a multiracial protagonist in the space of a country house in a British Heritage film, Belle (2013) because the major spaces analyzed in walking simulator games are mostly domestic indoors experienced by intersectional female characters. The overarching focus on intersectionality and space allows the readers to walk in and out of each chapter as they conceptually imagine their own networked map.
Crenshaw’s spatial metaphor of intersectionality as traffic at an intersection, which critiques the multi-directional nature of discrimination, repeatedly appears in multiple essays that analyze the representation of intersectional identities. It is not a surprise since Crenshaw has been credited as the scholar who coined the term ‘intersectionality.’ While her metaphor described the multilayered forms of oppression Black female subjects experience at the intersection of race and sex, the book’s authors add more axes in their analyses. Age, gender, nationality, class, and language are included in the already complex matrix of power relationships, and even the intersection of the virtual and the real in digital spaces is explored. Urban oppression is not only an economic problem for the urban poor, but a social, cultural, and legal issue for the daily lives and history of transgenders, senior citizens, urban youth, and racial minorities. The essays in the final part of the collection further critique how intersectional aesthetics and style could possibly foreclose and limit the political potentialities of intersectionality. In other words, the book ends on a warning note on how a surface-level re/presentation of intersectional space and identities can become a reification of conservative and assimilationist politics that does not acknowledge different levels of discriminatory factors.
Although the essays explore audiovisual texts, they surpass formal and structural analysis. Articulating their focus on spatial practices of lived identities, several essays include analysis of behind-the-scenes production, distribution, and exhibition processes that collectively affect the representation of intersectional spaces and identities. The border between onscreen and offscreen spaces is continuously crossed, particularly in essays that detail the production history of TV series that promoted a particular image of corresponding urban centers. These analyses intersect economic and political interests from state sponsorship that inevitably influence the lives of individuals made visible and invisible onscreen. The book also makes a meaningful contribution to the emerging haptic and experiential approach in media analysis by including essays on digital virtual games, focusing on both intersectional bodies in digital space and their relationship to spectators.
Diversity of media examples is an outstanding strength of the book, making the volume applicable to multiple fields of studies. As a book on intersectional analysis, it celebrates intersections of multiple academic fields. It is a valuable source for film and media studies and beyond. Courses on anthropology, critical race theories, cultural theories, urban studies, history, gender studies, and more can make use of the selected essays. However, in spite of the expansive set of examples crossing spatial and national borders, from dressing rooms to theme parks and from British country houses to Madrid’s urban peripheries, the identities analyzed in the selected essays are quite limited. As much as it is impossible to cover all the intersectional spaces and identities, there are significant absences. With the majority of media coming from the US and parts of Europe, the global south and Asian identities are almost absent in the book. Asian American identities and Latinos—who make up an indispensable portion of the American population and play a crucial role in American society—are not analyzed in depth. The book explores intersectionality experienced in countries where being White, heterosexual, and capitalist in mind consist of the norm while not considering how racial, gender, and political standards differ among different parts of the world. It also may have been helpful to interrogate how specific intersectional spaces and identities change as they travel from one medium to another, understanding each medium as space and consuming a medium as another way of spatial practice. The transmedial practice is only briefly mentioned in certain essays, as in Paula J. Massood’s analysis of Shirley Clarke’s hybrid filmmaking method revealed in The Connection (1961) and in Peter C. Kunze’s studies on the role and representation of theme parks in diverse Black media. The intersection of various media platforms could have been another vector for the studies. The book leaves room for further creative research.
The intersectional lens developed in the book is original, vigorous, and reflective enough to alter the readers’ perspectives towards media texts that they have seen before and the ones they will experience in the future. Its lasting influence will make the readers rethink, reconfigure, and reimagine the potential of intersectional space and identities on and offscreen.