One that Deserves a Copy Made: Prince, Batman, & “NewBlack” Masculinity in 1989

As Prince rose to mainstream superstardom in the 1980s, his personal style was defined by his ability to explore, subvert, and transgress societal norms not only musically but in myriad aspects of his art and life. One of those aspects was his representation of black masculinity. In 2005, scholar and culture critic Mark Anthony Neal coined the term “NewBlackMan” to define his concept of a progressive black masculinity that embodies the complexities, contradictions, and multiplicities of black male identity. However, decades prior to the publication of Neal’s seminal work, Prince had already been steadfastly engaged in presenting a progressive black masculinity that was not confined to the binary extremes of saint or sinner. Yet, as the 1980s drew to a close, Prince’s alternative presentation of black masculinity expanded from one of individual agency to one he more overtly situated within the plight of the black community. From the lyrics of the song “The Future” to his visual aesthetic, this presentation will explore the ways that Prince’s Batman-era style represented a “NewBlack” masculinity that both continued his personal subversion of conventional norms and resisted problematic depictions of black masculinity that accompanied the growing popularity of “Gangsta Rap” at the time.

Kamilah Cummings

Kamilah Cummings is a writer, editor, and educator. She is an assistant professor of English at National Louis University in Chicago and a visiting lecturer at DePaul University School for New Learning in Chicago. She is also a lifelong follower of Prince who has presented at Purple Reign, the first academic conference on Prince, which was held at the University of Salford Manchester, and the EYE NO Prince Lovesexy Symposium at New York University. She has also developed the interdisciplinary course Prince: A New Breed Leader.  Additionally, her essay “Sisters in the Shadows: an Examination of Prince’s “Strange Relationship” with Black Women” is featured in the Howard University Journal of Communications special issue Prince in/as Blackness: Explorations of a music icon and racial politics. A lover of House music as well, she presented on the origins of House music at the Black Portraitures IV conference at Harvard University. She also teaches her original course The House Chicago Built, which explores House music and culture. She has presented and published on supporting nontraditional adult student writers in higher education as well. Additional research interests include exploring the intersections of media, pop culture, and identity with a particular focus on representations and constructions of black identity.