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“I’ve Been Looking for You”: Re-configuring Race, Gender, and the Family through the Female Agency of The Keeping Room

Carter, M (2018) “I’ve Been Looking for You”: Re-configuring Race, Gender, and the Family through the Female Agency of The Keeping Room. Papers on Language and Literature, 54 (1). pp. 25-45. ISSN 0031-1294

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Abstract

This paper places director Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room (2015) in the context of the so-called “post-Western”. It considers how the film deploys an intriguing mélange of genre elements and tropes to develop a counter-narrative to the traditional Western’s engagement with the cultural politics of Hollywood’s classical narrative paradigm. It argues that the film, scripted by first-time screenwriter Julia Hart, should be regarded as a woman’s Western that rethinks US national commitments to a frontier mythos celebrating Anglo-male power, racial violence, and misogyny. Furthermore, in its taking on the ideologies of the patriarchal, heteronormative family as a social ideal, the film challenges the dominant fictions of the US and the West, addressing issues of gender, race, and male sexual violence from an avowedly female perspective and using the interracial composition of its trio of female characters to engage with intersectional feminist concerns. Ultimately, it is argued here that The Keeping Room’s deconstruction of the cultural narratives of the family and of the socio-symbolic role of gender and race hierarchies within this most sacred of American institutions offers a tentative glimpse of a world beyond racial and patriarchal hierarchies, beyond the family.

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