Multiculturalism and Morphing in “I’m Not There” (Haynes, 2007)

Multiculturalism and Morphing in “I’m Not There” (Haynes, 2007)

Wide Screen
Volume 2, Number 1, June 2010
15 pages
ISSN: 1757-3920
Published by Subaltern Media

Zélie Asava

Passing’ narratives question fixed social categorisations and prove the possibility of self-determination, which is why they are such a popular literary and cinematic trope. This article explores ‘passing’ as a performance of identity, following Judith Butler’s (1993) idea of all identity as a performance language. The performance of multiple roles in I’m Not There (Haynes, 2007) draws our attention not only to ‘passing’, ‘morphing’ and cultural hybridity, but also to the nature of acting as inhabiting multiple identities.

I’m Not There is a biopic of the musician Bob Dylan.  It is a fictional account of a real man who, through his ability to plausibly ‘pass’ for a range of personae, has achieved legendary status.  It uses four actors, an actress and a black child actor to perform this enigma.

The performance of multiple identities in this film explores the ‘moral heteroglossia’, that is, the variety and ‘many-languagedness’ (as Mikhael Bakhtin put it) of identity, through its use of multiply raced and gendered actors.  But the film’s use of representational strategies is problematic. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (1994) note that mixed-race and black representations are often distorted by a Eurocentric perspective. And, as Aisha D. Bastiaans notes, representation is a process which operates ‘in the absence or displaced presence, of racial and gendered subjects’ (2008: 232). This article argues that I’m Not There, like Michael Jackson’s Black or White (1991) video, exploits racial and gendered difference through ‘passing’ and ‘morphing’ narratives, to reinforce the white-centrism of American visual culture.

Read the entire article here.

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