This piece on Manthia Diawara is a brief biographical sketch.
I make no claims for the completeness or exhuastiveness of this
sketch. This brief essay is simply designed as a point of entry
into Diawara's rich body of work.
Manthia Diawara is presently chair of the Africana Studies Department at New York University.
Prof. Diawara received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1985. His dissertation, on the politics and aesthetics of African cinema, formed the basis for African Cinema, published in 1985 by Indiana University Press. Since then, Dr. Diawara has edited the volume Black American Cinema, published by Routledge in 1993 in addition to publishing widely in journals.
Manthia Diawara is one of a growing number of black intellectuals engaging with strands of the discourse of Black cultural studies,a project begun in Britain in the early '80s by figures such as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy. However, Diawara is interested in fashioning a brand of Black Cultural Studies which takes into account the material conditions of Black people in the Americas in order not to replicate the British formulations. His position on these matters can be found in the piece "Black Studies / Cultural Studies: Performative Acts" in AfterImage. This and other pieces are detailed in the accompanying bibliography. Diawara is interested in the "unfinished business of black modernity" and the ways in which African diasporic cultural production confuses the simple periodization of modernity and post-modernity. Diawara looks at the ways in which Black cultural forms produced in "modernity" pre-figured much of what now gets called "post-modern".
Diawara is interested in the revival of the study of "Blackness", the re-thinking of the paradigms around the project of Black Studies, and its centrality in the discourse of cultural studies. However, Diawara's formulations regarding Blackness put him squarely in the field of the "strategic essentialists" (to borrow a phrase from Gayatri Spivak). Thinkers from this school (who include Arthur Jafa, Greg Tate, Tricia Rose and others) are concerned with privileging Blackness in all its forms and doing away with reductive, monlithic conceptions of Black culture. Diawara's thinking in this area relates strongly to the work of Paul Gilroy and Houston A. Baker, Jr. who are concerned with Black modernities. The "strategic essentialist" position retains a strong interest in the hidden histories and continuities in Black cultural production without recourse to narrower, pathological and biological notions of cultural purity.
The growing discourse of Black film has been broadened by Diawara's work, particularly in his thinking around questions of Black spectatorship in relation to traditional Hollywood spatial paradigms. His pathbreaking essays on contemporary Black film, including pieces of Bill Gunn's Ganja and Hess have contributed much to the expanding body of work on Black film. Diawara has done pathbreaking work on contemporary Black American Cinema, particularly in his essay Noirs by Noirs: Towards A New Realism in Black Cinema, published in African American Review in 1993.
Diawara's intellectual work represents a significant intervention into the discourse of both cultural studies, Black Studies and their complex relationship.
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