Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress weaponizes and criminalizes Black female sexuality. In the first true sex scene we’ve seen in a Film Noir, or a Neo Noir for that matter, Coretta James seduces Easy in a sinister manner. She gazes at him across her compact, refusing to make eye contact as she finally reveals that she does indeed know Daphne, reminding viewers of Medusa and her mirror. The film says that to gaze directly into the eyes of the Black female is to darken oneself, to submit to this world of sinister sexuality.

This first sex scene is then marred in moral corruption as Coretta sleeps with Easy as her partner sleeps in the next room. The director makes this moral uneasiness explicit in a cut where we see the sleeping man and only hear the grunts and groans of intercourse. The sex is sweaty, loud at times—it seems animalistic and almost primal—an intentional word choice with historical connotations to the oppression of Black people. And then, Coretta is dead; sex for a Black woman, especially sex that she is in control of, that she seduced or manipulated, is deadly in Devil in a Blue Dress.

The film then differentiates—or so we think—Daphne from Coretta. Daphne too weaponizes sex in an iconic scene where Easy asks what weapon she prefers and she seductively answers, “search me and find out.” Yet, Daphne’s Whiteness seems to be a barrier, a protection of sorts, from the consequences of female sexual weaponization.

But Daphne is not White—she does not have that layer of protection. Her Blackness—really her power as a Black woman—is instead equated to that of mayoral candidate Terrell’s crimes. He is a pedophile, an abuser of the innocent children that he so kindly adopted, while she is simply a Black woman trying to make her life a little better. Yet these two pieces of information are used against each other, are equated by the film in their deceit.

Devil in a Blue Dress portrays a dark side of American culture and society—one which relegates Black woman to have little power or autonomy. Black women attempting to circumvent their situations—attempting to become anything more than the label “Black woman”—are criminalized, punished, and equated to pedophilic White men by the film.

After Class Analysis

Bastiaans claims that A Devil in a Blue Dress relies on the audience’s desire to perceive racial difference, that the viewers must become detectives in order to solidify racial difference in the film. By establishing the cultural context of the film, problem pictures, a noir revival, and the Black film wave, Bastiaans confirms that much of the film was familiar for viewers of the time. He then uses specific scenes to unearth the audience-as-detective lens, such as the scene when Easy first meets Albright. Albright says to Easy, “See, Daphne has a predilection for the company of Negroes. She likes jazz, pig’s feet, and dark meat, know what I mean?” Here the film both teases viewers with clues we do not understand while also depending on the viewers to detect racialized tropes—that jazz, pig’s feet, and dark meat are coded language for Black culture or sexual difference. Critically Bastiaans explains that “by relying upon the viewer to supply the double meaning, the film asks the viewer to participate in the reification of such differences.”

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