Zebrahead – Love object vs Sex object

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In the film Zebrahead, Zach a white Jewish teenager in Detroit falls for Nikki, a young Black woman from Brooklyn. Nikki is an average teenager, “the girl next door,” but she is coded differently depending on who is looking at her. Incorporate the readings and our discussion about the film. What verbal and non-verbal messages/codes are used to define Nikki? Is she a love object or a sex object and how or when does it change? And how is hip hop music used in this film?

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20 thoughts on “Zebrahead – Love object vs Sex object

  1. 11/2/2015
    DRA243
    Raifis R.

    The relationship between Nikki and Zach is very interesting even today. There is a good chemistry between the two. I felt good about their relationship but at the same time it was a little uncomfortable not because I care about interracial relationships but because many people in the film were against Nikki and Zach as a couple and created so much drama. I find it very annoying when people talk bad about interracial relationships. What is the big deal now a days?

    Going back to the film, “Zebrahead” is a very interesting film not only because it shows a love story but also because it portrays many of the things that were wrong many decades ago. Nikki is an average teenager; she likes to party, she goes to school, she is always ready to find someone for her, she laughs, and she cries. Nikki is a very pretty woman in the eyes of most people in the film and so she is desirable. When Nikki and Zach begins with their romance, that creates tension between peers and relatives. Nikki’s friends warned her about the implications of being with a white boy. Even the school principal tells Zach to stick to his own race. When Nikki and Zach are a “white people” party nobody rejects Nikki which led Zach to comment on that. There is a scene where Zach says that if it was him that goes to a “black people” party things would turn out different.

    There is a scene where Zach is talking to his friend about Nikki and he said “the blacker the berry the better the juice”. That comments made Nikki felt bad. That comments sounds like an excuse to be with Nikki. It sounds like if Zach does not know how to say that he really likes Nikki. In my opinion Nikki is a love object. She does not seem thirsty about having sex with men. She wants to be loved. She looks like the types of woman who likes to be in a stable relationship. Nikki does not fit into the “sex object” category.

    Throughout the film many hip hop songs are used. Hip hop songs used in the film give it a touch of the black culture and the black neighborhood. Even Zach likes hip hop music and Nikki said in the movie that “he is really into this black thing”. Hip hop music creates tension and excitement in the film. I think the director used hip hop music to better portray the black community in the film.

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    • Raifis your comments regarding Nikki doesnt really explain why she is more of a love object versus a sex object. Its important that you use the readings to build your arguments. For an example Mantu states, “Black women experience sex but not love as seen as the vast majority of US FILMS.” How do you view Niikki in relations to that quote. You did refer to a clip that actually shows that she is viewed more of a sex object by Zach’s friends. Thats the type of analysis I want to see.

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  2. In the movie Zebrahead, Nikki is both a sex object and also a love object. It just depends on who is around her and their verbal and nonverbal interactions with her. For example with Zach, Nikki is first seen as a potential love interest for him, then we briefly get a scene where she then becomes Zach’s sex object but at the same time in a relationship one way to show forms of love/appreciation and intimacy with the other person is via sex. Yet at the movie progresses around Zach and Nikki we see that she is the love object in Zach’s life. His interactions with her can be seen as that of a person who truly values, respects and adores her, but only slips once when he is at his ex’s party where his friends/acquaintances are being rowdy and disrespectful to what newly found relationship he has developed with Nikki, which seems to be the new talk around the youth in the high school; whether inside or outside of school boundaries. At first I thought Zach’s intentions of Nikki were that of someone who just wanted to forget about his ex, move on and probably hook up with some girl, but as the movie progresses his intentions are made clearer.

    While at the same time when Nikki is around Nut/Peanut she a sex object figure to him. From when he keeps asking her to give him a chance, to when he leads her to the kitten/s he has stored in a hidden place to even when they are at the roller rink together. The type of character Nut is made to be portrayed as, personally he does not seem to be a character to want to be with Nikki in a loving way but rather use her for her sex appeal that she gives off. He is disrespectful to the principle, to his fellow classmates, has his own run down apartment/flat and even has a weapon which he later on uses twice. The first to kill Nikki’s cousin and the second time to even grab, scare and threaten Nikki’s well being.

    Although this movie is about the youth in Detroit, Nikki fits more into the connection that is being more shown with Zach than what has been shown with Nut, we are even reinforced with idea by the end of the film when Nikki and Zach embrace in the hallway while everyone else is either in a fight or arguing.

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    • Larry, you did a good job of comparing and contrasting the role of Nikki as a sex object versus love object especially using scenes from the film which helped to clarify your points but you didn’t incorporate the readings as well. As an example to clarify your point, Manatu says “Cinematic heroine like romance heroine represents female respectability.” Therefore where does Nikki fall into female respectability? How is she defined as a love object or sex object based on the readings in relations to the movie. Also how does hip hop and black culture play in this film. What role does Detroit play at a time where race, gentrification and poverty in the film. All these issues are intentionally placed in the film as it relates to Nikki and Zach’s relationship.

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  3. The movie “Zebraheads” is a great example of interracial relationships. Is great to see how two different race leaves the whole racism apart and become one. Zach is your typical white boy; popular and a player. Nikki in the other hand was was this new black girl in town that came from the city; your average quiet and smart mouth black girl. Nikki and Zach’s relationship match perfectly because is two different personality and two different race. It kind of reminded me of the article, “African American Women and Sexuality in the Cinema,” by Norma Manatu, where she states her personal statement, asserting how now black females are desirable by white males. Also how black females have something that derive black males. I agree with her statement because i saw in the movie how Zach went from dating a white girl to dating and falling in love with a black girl.

    Focusing more on Nikki, she caught Zachs attention the second he saw her, there was something of her that made him fall for her. At the biguinning she was playing hard to get, joking about the “white boy that smelled like onions” but that just gave me an impression like she was flirting with him. She was also a bit “clingy” for example in the part where she wanted Zachs attention but he was so in to the chess game he pushed her aside. There Nikki plays the role of a typical girl that wants the attention for her only. I was also able to identify that Nikki was a love object rather than a sex object. The reason why i say that is because she wasn’t the type to sleep around or flirt with other guys. Her main focus was Zach. Even tho she tried to push him away and talk to the other kid doesn’t make her a sex object. I identify her as a love object because from the start you could see how she cared and liked Zach.

    Hip hop was used in the film more to show how white males like Zach was in to black culture. Its like showing the viewers how the white and the black community were becoming more unite. Also it demonstrated the era the movie was from.

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    • Maria, I would have to disagree with you about Zebrahead being a good example of interracial relationships. Actually, the fact that race played some an important role in the film is a major part of the film and the relationship between the two main characters. It’s not the only attraction but there it was something that drew them together. You mentioned Manatu in your response but didn’t refer to a specific quote which doesn’t make a direct connection to your argument. I do agree with that Nikki is more of a love object than a sex object based her the affection she receives and feels from Zach. But that doesn’t change that others, such as Nut and Zachs friends, see her only as a sex object. You made some good points but I think you can dig a little deeper especially in relationship to the film and its connection to hip hop music and black culture.

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  4. When thinking of the film “Zebrahead” the question of whether the character Nikki is a “love object” or a “sex object” came up. Well when watching the film it was clear what Nikki was the more the story took off. She’s clearly a love object. When incorporating the reading the idea of a “respectability factor” being an indicator of a cinematic heroine is clearly seen. Nikki herself looks Zach- her love interest- in the face and says “I want my respect”. She demands respect from the beginning and gets it (for the most part). The only real time she isn’t given the respect she demands is at the party when the comments made to Zach about “The darker the berry the sweeter the juice”.
    Manatu talks about how black females often get sex rather than love when romance is on the horizon in film. Well in this film Nikki get’s love, even in the end. The relationship between her and Zach isn’t solely sex. Though it does have sexual aspects to it it’s clearly stated by multiple characters in the film that either Zach is really into her and has something real with her. This is a relationship that is also flaunted out in public which shows that it is definitely more than sex (especially when looking at it from today’s point of view). But Nikkis’s role as a sex or love object are not the only things seen in the film. Black culture is something that constantly comes into question in this film, whether subtle or blatant.
    This is where we take a look at the character Zach, a white jewish male that loves hip hop. His best friend is black, he’s dating a black girl and claims that he’s never fit in with the white kids around him. In this film hip hop is used as a sort of metaphor for black culture in general. Zach has a love and a subscription to hip hop but only a few accept him into the fold. If we see this on a level of meta-film this is a call out to the white people who think they understand black culture by solely liking the things that “blacks are supposed to like” and expecting automatic acceptance through it. This leaks over to Zach’s best friend when people begin to call into question his loyalty to his blackness.

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    • Josh, you made some good points as to whether Nikki was a love object but you didnt use the readings to prove your point. If so, then you would have realized that she is also a sex object based on how others view her. Manatu says, “Failure to address the demoralization of blk women characterization thru the manipulation of sexuality leaves open the danger of recycling the same dysfunction.” Both Nut and Zach’s friends see her as a sex object despite her feelings for Zach and his for her. I do agree with you comment about hip hop and black culture. That was a great observtion in regards to the film and how it uses black music.

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  5. In the film Zebrahead, Nikki is best described as a love object and sex object. Throughout the film she is interpreted in both ways depending on the people she is around. The first time we see Nikki as a love object was when Zach showed interest in her around their second encounter. In the film, Zach was helping Nikki’s cousin deliver a mattress to her house. From there, Zach and Nikki made an instant connection. The first sign (of nonverbal display) that showed Nikki as a love object, was when Zach asked Nikki’s cousin for permission to date her. I believe this is important because it sets the tone of what kind of guy Zach is and his intentions. If the connection he felt for Nikki wasn’t strong, he wouldn’t have jeopardized his long time friendship with her cousin. This act of asking to be in a relationship with Nikki, was in my opinion, a step towards viewing Nikki as a love object rather than a sex object. That scene reminded me of a father allowing a guy to date his daughter. I found this interesting because as the film continued we saw that Nikki didn’t have a father figure. So the act of Zach asking for approval of a male figure in her life (despite that male figure being his best friend), shows how Zach views her, at least in that moment in time: a love object. I can also argue that Zach asking Nikki’s cousin to ask her out, shows the level of respect he at least has for her and her family. According to Manatu “Cinematic heroine like romance heroine represents female respectability.” A love object, in my opinion, like the romantic heroine is a character that is respected. I believe that Zach holds Nikki to a high regard and respects her throughout most parts of the film. This would not apply to a girl being viewed as a sex object because there is no respect for her; just sexual desire. In this particular scene, there was a connection between Nikki and Zach and Zach took it upon himself to ask Nikki’s cousin of his approval in the matter. This act shows not only how much he values his friendship but how he views Nikki as a potential romantic interest in his life (a love object).
    However, there are parts in the film where Nikki is viewed as a sex object; however, not done so much by Zach but the people looking on from the outside of their relationship. For instance, in the film Zach took Nikki to a party hosted by Zach’s ex girlfriend. In the kitchen scene, Zach’s friends were asking (teasing) him about his relationship with Nikki. This is an example of verbal display; Zach’s friends were using highly sexualized language, asking Zach if he had slept with Nikki. Some words that were exchanged were: “Is the grass greener on the other side?” and “The darker the berry the sweeter the juice.” In this act of “girl watching” or “boys being boys,” they were objectifying Nikki as merely a sex object (reducing her entire existence to solely something used for sex/ male pleasure). This is an example of how outsiders simply viewed their relationship. In this example (the kitchen scene), the guys didn’t or couldn’t view Nikki as a romantic fit for Zach; they saw it as the only possible answer to why Zach must be dating her is for the sex, not any sex but black sex. When Nikki overheard the conversation going on in the kitchen she ran out, Zach following. After their heated discussion, Nikki said “I want my respect” and walked off. I can argue here, that Nikki was not given respect in this scene (she was being talked about in a very sexual yet negative way). Love objects aren’t talked about in this way, thus (in this scene) she is a sex object. This objectification of Nikki as a sex object wasn’t only initiated by her peers but her own mother. In the scene, where Nikki’s was going on a date with Zach, Nikki’s mom opened the door to and saw Zach ( a white boy). You can tell by her reaction that she was surprised and also not happy. Throughout the film Nikki’s mom viewed Nikki as an object for Zach’s sexual desire. Nothing more and nothing less, despite Nikki’s romantic feelings towards Zach.
    Moving on to the hip hop aspect of the film, hip hop was used as a cultural indicator. Throughout the film, Zach used hip hop as a tool to connect with the black people around him. He himself claimed that he didn’t see color, and therefore it didn’t matter to him. However, we constantly saw him doing more than just associating with Black people. He was trying to connect with the culture. He did this through hip hop. Hip hip was a tool to help him fit in and be accepted by Black people. It was a tool that aided him in understanding the culture (to some degree) which allowed him to have a close Black friend and a Black girlfriend. He uses hip hop to help him fit into Black culture and apply to his life. As we know, despite his efforts, some Black people in the school did not appreciate nor except his interest in Black culture. Like despite how many times Zach listens to hip hop, he will never be considered one of them, he will always be that white guy that has a black friend, that white guy who is dating that black girl or that white guy who likes Black music. So hip hop was a tool that aided him in some instances but hindered him in others.
    The aspect of Hip hop also brings to the light the level of blackness. Not so much the actual music, but in the film we saw this constant questioning of Blackness. For instance, there was this Black guy in the film who always questioned Nikki’s cousin’s blackness due to his association with Zach. This brings to light a real issue in the Black community where this question of “who is truly black?” or “who is more Black?” is constantly being played. Which is funny because there wasn’t any mention of Zach’s whiteness. Like no one was questioning Zach’s whiteness (maybe the principle, but not too often compared Nikki’s cousin’s Blackness).

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  6. Great job Fatoumata! You made some good connections through the reading and how you were able to define Nikki as both a love and sex object. I would have liked to see another quote in relations to Nikki being a sex object or sexual deviant. Despite how Zach felt for Nikki, his friends and even Nut saw her as a sexula object. As stated in the reading, “Mulvey contends that film projects the fantasy of the male gaze onto male viewers so the “gaze” of the male viewer and male character are combined and control the film fantasy.” We see Nikki as nothing more than the fantasy of the men that desire her, even Zach! Your thoughts on hip hop as a tool for Zach is accurate. He vehicle to achieve accceptness. Good job!

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  7. After watching the film Zebrahead, I’ve come to the conclusion that Nikki is both a love object and sex object when she is placed in a awkward situation between the two love interests Zack and Nut. I believe that Nikki was a love object for Zack because even though they were both from two different races, Zack was interested in Nikki and proved how much he wanted to be with her beyond just having a sexual attraction. However, Nut was only interested in getting with Nikki because she was obviously attracted to a white guy which was looked as uncommon in the neighborhood and in their school which made him want to pursue her more. Zack’s friends thinks he is pursuing her because of the sexual stereotypes that represent black women when a white guy decides to be involved with them. According to Manutu, U.S films must arrive at the same conclusion: black women experience sex, but not love. Viewers in fact must conclude that black women don’t experience or value intimacy, tenderness, and gentleness in their male-female relationships, qualities widely accepted as key components in fueling romantic love (Chap.3). This is portrayed in the way Nikki’s mom and her schoolmates when they responded to Nikki dating Zack, to them it wasn’t possible for a white boy that acts “black” to want to be in a intimate relationship with a black girl, but he just wants to experience sex with a black girl.

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    • Excellent job Shaquarius. Great analysis of the film and good references of Nikki as both the love and sex object. Also, great connection to the reading, good quote!!!

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  8. Zebrahead is a film based on the relationship between blacks and whites specifically a love quarrel between the characters Nikki who is African American and Zach who is a white man. The character Nikki was a smart and beautiful young lady stuck into two worlds based on the race aspect. The question is whether she is a love object vs sex object and I don’t believe she was a sex object at all. Nikki wanted Zach and was in love with him she was the prize girl in the film. Peanut was a character who was just simple out of control but wanted Nikki and wanted Nikki not with Zach even more than his attraction for her. Everyone was so engaged on a black and white couple not being able to match that they didn’t care about the feelings the two had for each other. She was Zach’s girlfriend and he respected her as his girlfriend they didn’t want Nikki just for sex which is the main factor that makes you a sex object. They seen Nikki as the trophy girl that both guys wanted to compete for that’s a love object.
    Hip Hop was often used in the film to foreshadow or express the mood of a character through music. Hip Hop can make the clumsiest person look cool or gangster per say and ghat was an important usage of the Hip Hop. Zach just driving in his car blasting hip hop showed aggression and toughest persona that he doesn’t even have but the music brings that assumption out. Also when Peanut is around he was the “thug” of the film and the hip hop music makes him look tough and cool with the beats and lyrics in the background.

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  9. Michael, again please incorporate the reading into your response. The relationship between Nikki and Zach was much more than a lovers quarrel. Race played a major part in some of the issues between the two of them, not to mention class and income. Not that Zach was rich but he was a little better off than Nikki. You stated that you felt Nikki was a Love Object, but based on your comments about how she was viewed and treated by Nut as well as Zach’s friends, she was also a viewed as a Sex Object. Your point about hip hop being used to create street cred as well as create a mood in the film with the character is also correct.

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  10. In the movie Zebra Head, we see that Zach and Peanut find Nikki as a interest. Zach views her as a love object while Peanut views her as a sex object. Verbal signs that Zach embraces, is that he takes his time to take her out on dates, and introduces Nikki to his father, and takes his time before tying to make a move sexually. Peanut shows her some kittens and tries to make a move sexually. I feel like Nikki is somewhat attracted to the “bad boy” Peanut, because she continues to give him attention. On the other hand, we can see that Zach took pride in the opportunity to date Nikki, even going as far as asking her cousin for permission to date, as well as meeting her mother which is another form of verbal message. According to the readings, Matsu stated that Hankell (1987) “argues that the first principle of film aesthetics is the conception of women as “idol, art object, icon and visual entity…” and this is something that Zach believed as well. He put Nikki on such a high pedestal, he even brought her around his white friends. He also went to the skating rink, where he wasn’t invited, to make things right with Nikki. Peanut can relate to when Matsu states Freud (1962) “separates sexual objects from sexual aims, explaining that the former are the ones with whom we have sex; the latter are the multiple thing we do to achieve sexual pleasure. Viewed from this perception, multiplicity appears to heighten men’s sexual fantasies, allowing for endless expressions of women-as-sex-object.” No matter how intelligent and beautiful Nikki is, he will only look at her as a sex object, and probably looks at all women like that.

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    • Great observations in terms of how Nikki’s two love interests view her and the different behaviors towards her. Also great quote from Manatu. Excellent job!

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  11. In the movie Zebrahead, we see a girl, Nikki, being considered both a love object and a sex object. The movie shows a great comparison and contrast between Zach, who has feelings for Nikki and therefore acts affectionate towards her, and everyone else around him who sees her as a sexual creature because of her skin color, and thinks he is with her because of that. Following the stereotype of the sex object, they are not able to connect her with a romantic experience, because, as Norma Manatu says in “Love & Romance—Link between romance and the feminine”, “romantic love primarily accentuates sentiment and emotion, attributes clearly not associate with, nor expected of, black women.” (pg. 2). Finally, hip-hop symbolizes their link, it is music what draws them together, it also symbolizes how they are able to coexist in the same culture that constantly separates them, adding a romantic tone to their story even though the movie ends with on a sad note, as if society and its stereotypes end up prevailing.

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    • Short but sweet. Good job tying everything together! Yes, Nikki is both love and sex object depending on the male gaze. Also, good link to the reading. I also think you made some good observations about the role that hip hop plays but think you could have gone a little deeper. But, overall a good job!

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  12. I think in the movie Zebra head, the Jewish boy was curious about Nikki, I think he a mix of both. He was attracted sexually with her and was love as well. But I felt that he was dating her for the wrong reasons more because he found her exotic and almost like a type of experiment for him to test on. Nikki wasn’t dressing slurry it anything but more she spoke with her body language when she had sex with him. She is definitely not a jezebel but just someone who was also willing to experiment something new and different.

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  13. Jenyll,
    This is one of the shortest blog responses ever. You made some good points but didn’t take the time to expand on your points to create a real anaylsis and didnt incorporate the readings as requested. So, its hard to respond on your comments!

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