Abstract

This article explores the nature of political representation in John Carpenter’s 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13. Previous scholars have taken divergent views of the representation, particularly racial representation, in this film, suggesting it is variously apolitical, conservative, or liberal. This article uses the lens of a “representational equilibrium” to explore the ways in which meaning is constructed in this film and, moreover, the ways in which seemingly contradictory interpretations and meanings can be held at once. A representational equilibrium helps us to understand how representations are distinctly historical and how it is possible, when viewing representation through the lens of its historical context, to understand how a film’s message can be both repressive and liberal, or, in other words, how we can see within the film’s representations evidence of enormous historical change, but no corresponding transformation in the relationships of power that the film conveys. Such a perspective accounts for complex, contradictory, and ambiguous representations and audience identifications, which seek to categorize a film not as either one thing or another but, rather, as capable of being many things at once.

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