Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Melinda Barlow

Second Advisor

Reiland Rabaka

Third Advisor

Suranjan Ganguly


While there is a substantial amount of scholarship on the depiction of African American women in film and television, this thesis exposes the new formations of African American femininity on screen. African American women have consistently resisted, challenged, submitted to, and remixed racial myths and sexual stereotypes existing in American cinema and television programming. Mainstream film and television practices significantly contribute to the reinforcement of old stereotypes in contemporary black women characters. However, based on the efforts of African American producers like Shonda Rhimes, who has attempted to insert more realistic renderings of African American women in her recent television shows, black women’s representation is undergoing yet another shift in contemporary media. Moreover, the career choices of African American actresses are an indication of a push for positive representation. Through identifying historical tropes of African American femininity, and through utilizing the insights of black feminist thought, this thesis will explicate the portrayals of black womanhood in contemporary film and television. The recent film and television roles Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, two prominent African American figures in film and television today, will be case studies for this analysis. The films and television shows of Kerry Washington and Viola Davis contain moments of resurgence and moments that refute stereotypes of black femininity. Black actresses must constantly negotiate their stake in the representation of African American women and the problematic standards of mainstream studios.