Skip to main content
  all homeabout SHCfocal themefellowscourseseventsfellowshipsresourcescontact  

  TO APPLY:   

Performing and Media Arts
Cornell University

Curriculum Vitae


Muscle Memory: Black Embodiment in Sports Films explores the central role race plays in sports films’ generic representations. In considering both sports films’ documentary impulse and the cinematic Black body’s surplus meaning, Muscle Memory addresses how sports cinema shapes Black sporting bodies into what Stuart Hall calls “canvases of representation,” whereby the Black body is a creative and mutable corpus, a text made of texts, able to “mean and mean again” on screen.In considering what is legible through spectacles of Black sporting bodies in motion and contest, I query race’s functionality within the sports cinema genre, examining how Black athletes are represented on screen and the ways in which race as an epidermal text has been used to signal, codify, and disrupt genre conventions. Muscle Memory takes on issues of representation in sports films by exploring what it means to embody, perform, play out, and contest race and the histories and images associated with Black people in American society. On the one hand, I read how narratives and histories about Black experiences are represented in, by, and through the Black sporting body, a body represented through filmic conventions and generic tropes. Drawing from theories of embodiment in Film, Sports, Performance, and Critical Race Studies, on the other hand, I examine how histories represented in, by, and through cinematic Black sporting bodies include and go beyond what is represented on screen, also indexing broader histories about Black experiences in American society. Throughout this book, I focus on and read the Black sporting body as an expressive, communicative body with “muscle memory,” an embodied history represented on screen that goes beyond the film’s diegesis, engaging social issues, conditions, and changes specific to Black lived and imagined experiences.

Samantha N. Sheppard is an Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University. She earned her PhD in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of California Los Angeles. Her research projects stem from a fundamental curiosity in the relationship between cinema and Black cultural production/production cultures, particularly popular Black cultural expression and African American media and representation. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Muscle Memory: Black Embodiment in Sports Films, which explores the central role race plays in sports films’ generic representations. Her other research interests include media feminisms, women filmmakers, sports media, cultural studies, affect studies, and American television history. Sheppard is the co-editor of From Madea to Media Mogul: Theorizing Tyler Perry (University Press of Mississippi, 2016), which includes her essay “Tyler Perry Presents…The Cultural Projects, Partnerships, and Politics of Perry’s Media Platforms.” She published “Persistently Displaced: Situated Knowledges and Interrelated Histories in The Spook Who Sat by the Door” in Cinema Journal (Winter 2013). Her essay “Bruising Moments: Affect and the L.A. Rebellion” is included in The L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015).

Return to 2016-2017 Fellows