Black Soundtracks, White Subjects: The Decontextualization of Black Music in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema

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Dueck, Matthew Christopher




Arguing that soundtracks of pre-existing music in cinema are not examples of music consumption, but of resignification, this thesis investigates the use of black music in popular films to define white protagonists. Referring to films such as The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrman, 2013), La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016), Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014), and Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017), the thesis draws from the field of black musical scholarship to reveal how the complex history of modern black music informs the construction of filmic characters. The critical literature on film music grounds the thesis' analysis of how music functions within particular films. In dialogue also with works that discuss the cultural production of whiteness, my project hopes to disclose the ways in which otherwise "neutral" white protagonists are granted access to the "culture" of black musical traditions in order to render their subjectivity more attractive, authoritative, or authentic.


Black Studies




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Master of Arts: 

Thesis Degree Level: 


Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Film Studies

Parent Collection: 

Theses and Dissertations

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