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Samantha N. Sheppard, “Changing the Subject: Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and the Making of Black Women’s Film History”

Thursday, February 3 @ 5:00 pm 6:30 pm EST

This event is virtual and will be streamed live on Zoom (mit.zoom.us/j/96579656038) and recorded.


Lynn Nottage’s 2011 satirical play By the Way, Meet Vera Stark stages the life and legacy of the fictional Vera Stark, a Black maid and struggling actress during Hollywood’s golden age. Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and screenwriter, was inspired in part by the career of African American actress, singer, and dancer Theresa Harris. A play about Black women’s cinematic representation and social erasure, Nottage’s fabrication of film history extends beyond the staged plot to also include a digital archive documenting Vera’s celebrity and career. In this talk, Samantha N. Sheppard examines how Nottage’s play and paratexts produce a speculative fiction and archive about Black women’s media histories, staging what she calls a phantom cinema—an amalgam of real and imagined film histories that haunt, trouble, and work with and against cinema histories to creatively illuminate archival gaps in visual culture and the public imagination.

Samantha N. Sheppard is an associate professor of cinema and media studies in the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University. She is the author of Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen (University of California Press, 2020) and co-editor of From Madea to Media Mogul: Theorizing Tyler Perry (University Press of Mississippi, 2016) and Sporting Realities: Critical Readings on the Sports Documentary (University of Nebraska Press, 2020). She has published on film and media in academic and popular venues such as Film Quarterly, The Atlantic, Flash Art International, and Los Angeles Review of Books. She was named a 2021 Academy Film Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.