In “Reflections on the Black Femme’s Role in the (Re)Production of Cinematic Reality,” Kara Keeling hypothesizes the locus of discomfort as it relates to the Black Femme. The Black Femme, she writes, worked to hold together the tenuous social fabric of the enslaved family, and in doing so she was un-gendered. Look no further than the catalyzing event of “Eve’s Bayou,” a film entirely interested in the many iterations of the Black Femme. The film begins with extra-diegetic narration: Žižek’s “voice without a bearer.” An adult Eve recounts, with a certain reverence, the tale of her namesake, the original (well — not that original) Eve.
The White soldier frees the Black woman. Perhaps (perhaps!) in gratitude, she bears him sixteen children. So it is here that we are given our first glimpse of incest in “Eve’s Bayou,” no matter how much it may crop up later. Although the “real” relationship between Eve and John Batiste has the same ambiguous flavor of the many relationships that populate the rest of the film, contemporaneously it would have been regarded as such, in innumerability. There is, of course, the insidious function of slaveowner as Father, with his slaves bearing his own surname (that great signifier). But though the slaveowner might figure himself as Father, Keely sees the Black Femme as excluded from the Oedipal construction. Her domestic labor, not done for the profit of the White man, deviates so entirely from the “normative” mother role so as to become…monstrous?
The Black Femme function is first helmed by Roz Batiste, Eve’s mother. After a vision from her sister-in-law, Mozelle, of one of her children involved in a traffic accident, she locks the house down. This act of overprotection is seen as downright tyrannical by the eldest daughter, Cisely, who sneaks out to get her hair done — in much the same style as her mother, I might add. And this lockdown does nothing to hem in the philandering urges of her husband, Dr. Batiste, who is never, it seems, ever home. In this way the Father is excluded from the engulfing behavior of the Black Femme Mother.
And then there is Eve herself. We see in her aunt Mozelle what Sight does to a woman, what the Sight could do to Eve. After losing three husbands, Mozelle has deemed herself cursed; a Black Widow. But while in one figuration, the Black Widow is monstrous, nefarious, poisonous, in another, it is simply an animal — evolved to exist within a competitive food chain. The Sight is a curse, perhaps, but then Keely characterizes it as a gift:
Gifted with “sight,” Eve frames the disintegration of the form of sociality set in motion by her ancestors Eve and Jean Paul and creates the sensory-motor pathways that support a form of sociality in which she, her sister, her Aunt Mozelle, and mother Roz might survive. Orchestrating her father’s death and rejecting the written Law of the Father in favor of the wisdom of sensuous visions, Eve at the end of the film seems to have made possible a new community, one in which seers, though still fettered to the mechanisms whereby cinematic reality and its hellish cycles are reproduced, are capable nonetheless of acting and surviving (Keely, 155).
This gift of sight marks Eve and Mozelle as different, as unnatural — but with it Eve sees a way to protect her mother, aunt, and sister. In the final shot, Eve has drowned her father’s letter (“rejecting the written Law of the Father”), trusting instead her “sight” — that which we cannot see, or truly know. This is another feature of the Black Femme function, this complete, out-of-field unknowability which protects the interests not of the Father, but the affective family. The final shot of the film is of the two sisters, close as ever. A crane buoys the camera up and away, a blissful nature scene coming into frame. Within the bayou, at least, Eve has created a new mode of sociality, one that is existent beyond the realm of the Father. She has purged all phallic authority — quite literally — in favor of an unseen (unseeable) jouissance. Living this way, contained and out of frame, Eve as seer can exercise the Black Femme function, encircling the women in her family in her own marshy Eden.