RFG Talk: Racialized Sound in Mainstream Cinema: Spike Jonze’s Her

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Golden M. Owens

May 14, 2024 @ 9:00 am - 10:30 am


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RFG Event: Racialized Sound

This talk examines Samantha, the operating system from Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), analyzing how the film’s portrayal of Samantha both differs from and uncannily evokes both fictional and real-world Black women domestic servants. Exploring how the film deliberately and repeatedly marks Samantha as female, how her vocal pitch, tone, and timbre code her as white, and how the film uses this ascribed white femaleness to grant her a form of subjecthood, Owens contends that the film uses Samantha to reinforce hegemonic notions of race, gender, labor, class, and beauty—and does so primarily through the sound of her voice.

Golden M. Owens is Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at University of Washington. She explores and teaches about representations of race and gender, artificial intelligence, haunting, popular culture, and racialized sounds and voices. Her current book project examines intelligent virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana, contending that these aides evoke and are haunted by Black women slaves, servants, and houseworkers in the United States. The project demonstrates this haunting through analyzing popular 20th and 21st-century media depictions of Black female domestic workers, robotic and/or artificially intelligent servants/helpers, labor-saving products and devices, and contemporary virtual aides.

Dr. Owens’ work appears in Sounding Out! and has been accepted by the Journal for Cinema and Media Studies. Her research has been funded by the Ford Foundation (via the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine), the Institute for Citizens and Scholars (f.k.a. the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation), the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, Northwestern University’s Office of Fellowships, and Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

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Sponsored by the IHC’s Environmental and Postcolonial Media Theories Research Focus Group


May 14, 2024
9:00 am - 10:30 am
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