(In)valuable (in)visibility : black leading ladies and the performance of dissenting discourse




Martin, Nicole L.

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(In)Valuable (In)Visibility investigates the emerging persona of the black leading lady as a visible and celebrated image of contemporary black womanhood. This dissertation draws from performance studies, black studies, and black feminist studies, and argues that black women have experienced heightened acclaim in mainstream public spaces since 2008. Throughout this dissertation, the black leading lady is positioned as an embodied convergence between black women’s historical degradation and their current increased popularity. The chapters of this dissertation offer focused case studies on three contemporary black leading ladies: a public figure, Michelle Obama; a fictional television character, Olivia Pope; and, a theatrical character machination, Vera Stark. The varied subjects of each chapter are explored to determine the performative consistencies of the black leading lady across setting. Each chapter works to index to the sociopolitical and sociocultural climate that makes space for her emergence. This dissertation is thematically driven to expound on the issues that are considered most pressing to contemporary black womanhood. Chapter One explores issues of black women’s citizenship through First Lady Michelle Obama. In this chapter, I argue Michelle Obama enacts a performance of archetypal black female citizenship to demonstrate how the black leading lady achieves State recognition while simultaneously exposing and critiquing the boundaries of normative citizenship that have long excluded marginalized others. Chapter Two shifts focus to the character Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal. This chapter introduces the concept of the sexual script, held in tandem with the sexual scenario, to demonstrate how the black leading lady’s sexual subjectivity is made legible in mainstream television. Chapter Three explores the archival manipulation of the character Vera Stark in Lynn Nottage’s play, By The Way, Meet Vera Stark. In this chapter, I reveal how the black leading lady is made to manifest in an archive that would otherwise seek her erasure. In summary, my dissertation argues the black leading lady is a critical site for asserting the vitality and vibrancy of contemporary black women.


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