Sporting Blackness


Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen  examines issues of race and representation in sports films, exploring what it means to embody, perform, play out, and contest blackness by representations of Black athletes on screen. By presenting new critical terms, Samantha N. Sheppard analyzes not only “skin in the game,” or how racial representation shapes the genre’s imagery, but also “skin in the genre,” or the formal consequences of blackness on the sport film genre’s modes, codes, and conventions. Through a rich interdisciplinary approach, Sheppard argues that representations of Black sporting bodies contain “critical muscle memories,” embodied, kinesthetic, and cinematic histories that go beyond a film’s plot to index, circulate, and reproduce broader narratives about Black sporting and non-sporting experiences in American society. 


"Samantha N. Sheppard addresses the spectacle of blackness in sports as a sustained effort to challenge our amnesiac public discourse by creating a cinematic archive of black movement. . . Sporting Blackness offers a version of endurance — a capacity for sustaining movement together — that can help us remember, or even affect, how it all plays out."—Lauren McLeod Cramer for Los Angeles Review of Books

"Sporting Blackness, which with its incisive close readings and its exciting weave of film-phenomenology, critical race theory and more, is an exemplary work of film studies that must surely influence much work to come."-William Brown for Visual Studies


"A thoughtful, vibrant and absorbing contribution to our understanding of race, sport and media… an outstanding book." - Daniel Burdsey for Ethnic and Racial Studies


"Sheppard’s exploration of documentary sports films connects to how audiences view and understand contemporary Black athletes’ public articulations of dissent. " James Cantres for Public Books 


"In her fusion of theories of race and blackness with her concept of critical muscle memory, Sheppard offers a new analytical paradigm applicable beyond the genre at the center of her study. . . . Sporting Blackness is packed with joy, resistance, and hope—much-needed attributes in this time."—Bruno Guaraná for Film Quarterly


“Exceptional and urgent. Sheppard’s analysis of ‘critical muscle memory’ should be a grounding template for scholarship in film and media studies, sports studies, and critical race theory.”—Victoria E. Johnson, author of Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity


“Sure to be a touchstone in the rising tide of scholarship on the nexus of media, sport, culture, and power.” It invents and introduces several concepts—particularly ‘critical muscle memory’—that will productively reverberate across the fields that this excellent interdisciplinary book puts into conversation.”—Travis Vogan, author of ABC Sports: The Rise and Fall of Network Sports Television


“Exquisite and groundbreaking. Sheppard’s rich conceptions of black performativity​​​​ will be of great import across the field of black visual culture.”—Michael Boyce Gillespie, author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film


"Sheppard’s book analyzes how Black athletes are represented in Hollywood movies, experimental films, documentaries, and on television. Her focus on the convergence of sports media illustrates the influence of these representations on how we see the Black sporting body, but also the potential for reading such portrayals in progressive ways"—Aaron Baker, author of Contesting Identities: Sports in American Film

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