Terri Francis

Associate Professor of Communication and Culture

Indiana University, Bloomington

Terri Francis (U Chicago 2004, English) researches independent, experimental, and nontheatrical forms of African American and Caribbean cinema. She has taught at the University of Pennsylvania (Cinema Studies) and was an Associate Professor at  Yale University in the Film Studies Program and the Department of African American Studies.

Her book project Josephine Baker’s Animated Burlesque: Deconstructing Dialectics introduces Professor Francis’s burlesque theory, a new way of thinking through the anxiety-ridden absurdities and the cultural crises that erupt where race-and-gender inequalities, humor, and the erotic intersect in popular entertainment. Not a rehashing of Baker’s French clichés, this study situates Baker’s tactical creativity against a carefully drawn backdrop of early African American musical revue and vaudeville stagings. Chapters feature close microanalysis of Baker’s films, as reframed by Francis’s historical account of the global celebrity’s reception in the African American press.

In autumn 2014, sx salon, published “Unexpected Archives: More Locations of Caribbean Film.” Her discussion section on Caribbean film archives brought together scholars Cara Caddoo, Sean Metzger, Rachel Moseley-Wood, and Chi-ming Yang. Professor Francis writes, “I wanted to read about Caribbean film in ways I had not seen yet or do not hear about enough. Because film sits between the commercial and the artisanal, exploitative and expressive, we need studies of Caribbean film that take account of such vicissitudes. With this collection we begin the work of not only recovering but also reimagining the parameters of the missing archives of the Caribbean’s transnational history with motion pictures.” Their consideration of Caribbean film history challenges a number of conventions in both film studies and Caribbean studies, such as (1) the division between nonfiction and fiction films, (2) the emphasis on fiction or commercial entertainment in film history, and (3) the assumption that the preindependence era holds little of value in terms of either motion pictures or cultural authenticity.

Professor Francis is guest editor of a special close-up on Afrosurrealism in Film/Video for Black Camera’s  2013 fall issue. Inspired by Amiri Baraka’s term “Afrosurreal Expressionism” and grounded in the histories of surrealism, the American avant-garde and African American cinemas, this issue sheds much needed light on the rarely seen experimental, absurd and whimsical dimensions of filmmaking and thought in African Diaspora cinemas.