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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12 thoughts on “Zebrahead – Love object vs Sex object

  1. Zach looks at Nikki and see this girl who he thinks is beautiful and different. He wants to impress her with his knowledge of hiphop and the black community and show her how much he really cares for her. I think that Zach feels that he doesn’t really fit in with his white community and more relates to the black community because of his love of hiphop and their culture.
    Nikki isn’t seen as a sex object at first, she comes of as this smart independent woman who carries herself well and can get along and fit in with almost everyone. She is able to go to a party with all white kids and be comfortable in her own skin and she can hang around with all the black kids and be good too. Nikki starts to be seen as a sex object when she goes to this white party with Zach and she overhears him talking to his friends about their sex life. Zach made a comment that offended her so she left him and sort of broke things off. Then later Nut makes turns her into a sex object by taking her aside and trying to get with her. At the skating rink Nut tries to claim Nikki by getting close to her and holding her hand, then he sees Zach and kind of stares him down, trying to let him know that Nikki “belongs” to him now in a way.

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    • Liv, you are so close to describing Nikki as the Superwoman stereotype which would be somewhat accurate. She is pretty much taking care of her mother, family, school and two love interests. What also makes her the Superwoman and also more of a sex object is that she fails to maintain her love. Even though she is pursued as a love object she is eventually becomes a sex object by not only how Nut trues to own her as you noted but also by how Zach’s friends see her. Nikki loses respectability, love and femininity through the actions of other. As Manatu states in Ch. 3, “If they want to be valued and reap the rewards of “feminine,” women must work doubly hard to be “good girls.” In addition, she has sex with Zach, flirts with Nut and is viewed as sexually wild by Zach’s friends. As Haste notes, “Nice girls (don’t) express sexual interest or were provocative clothes. Later in that paragraph, “Haste’s description of the “nice girl’ model mirros definition of the “feminine” construct, one associated with qualities black women are believed not to possess.” As always, use the readings to build your argument/point.

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  2. In Zebrahead Nikki is portrayed different ways with two different males. When with Zach she is a young lady.Even though it is a scene with Zach we see Nikki semi-naked and it is assumed Zach and Nikki had sex. Even after Zach’s father catches them in bed, he didn’t do the typical parent move and interrupt the two. He waits until they stagger out the bedroom then offers them dinner. Although the conversation is awkward it shows Nikki has kept her woman like virtue.
    Compared to Nut who sees her purely as a sexual object. Nut and Nikki do not have a conversation that doesn’t lead Nut to flirting or suggesting something sexual between the two. He uses kittens and a life story in order to try and be closer to Nikki. He despises the fact she is dating someone out side of her race.
    In my opinion hip hop was used as a reference to the culture and economic status of their environment. at one point in the film Dee’s father ask Zach about a historically black church and the reverand. He ask Zach questions about whether he was aware of the economic hard time african americans were going through. Even though they are in similar economical hardships, it shows Zach and Dee still face different things. Zach’s hip hop mixtapes brought different races, religions (one boy saying they had there bar mitzvah together) and genders to his locker. Hip Hop was originally created to speak about one’s struggle they were in. The music of hip hop brought the different groups together but it didn’t keep them together. After Dee died different groups pointed various fingers on why Nut shot him. citing Zach and Nikki’s interracial relationship brought forth the problem. The same thing which unite lovers of hip hop are the very same things that can divide them.

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    • Keanda, great observation of “how hip hop was used to bring all the students from different backgrounds together but wasnt enough to keep the students from clashing” as evidence of Dee’s murder and the fight at the end of the film. Not only does hip hop not bring the races together, it doesnt spare Nikki for being fetishized despite her acceptance by Zach and even his ex-girlfriend. Even though all the students are enjoying Zach’s tape at the party with the white students, also an example of the separation of the races, the boys still see her as a sexual object. The boys at the party assume Zach is only with her because of the sex. Nut, also views Nikki as a sex object despite his attempt to be tender with her, he can only express sexual desire and anger towards her. Nikki is viewed as a love object, despite what is perceived about her and her economic situation. Zach appears to have deep feelings towards heri and attempts to know Nikki as a person. He even goes as far as to asks her cousin for permission to date her. But, society, their friends and community fails to support their relationship as a result someone must be punished for this prohibited love. So, to some extent Nikki fails to be a “true” love object because at the end she fails to have typical love relationship that is awarded white women as Manatu notes. She fails to achieve respectability. As Manatu states in Ch.3, “black women debased sexuality on screen they are not love objects but oversexed, they cannot be perceived as objects of love.” Good points but always use quotes from the readings or other sources in your observations.

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  3. In Zebrehead I feel Nikki is portrayed as a love object as well as a sex object. She is seen as the beautiful girl next door that you either want to bring home to meet your parents or the girl you want to take home for the night. Her character is complex enough to actually be a binary of both. Her attitude and performance of how she reacts to both Zack and Nut are two different but common attitudes that most girls would react with. She is a black female who grew up in New York City, she understands the hardships of her community as well as the cultural boundaries that she faces while dating Zach who is in my opinion a very white boy. But she also understands that he is accepting of both cultures and fluent enough to not care that she is black. He just wants to date her because she is a good person and that they get along. Nut on the other hand is the opposite seeing Nikki as a sex object rather than a girl to date. Nut is a black male who demonstrates a strong sense of masculinity and constantly throughout the movie will perform a “tough guy” act to reassure this. He constantly squares off against Dee, Nikki’s cousin, because he views him as a black male who is beneath him because he has a white friend. Throughout this movie these dynamics play a huge role in just how society sees interracial couples and the stigmas we face if you are in a mixed relationship.
    Hip hop on the other hand plays a huge part in this movie, both because of the time period and the community that this movie focuses on. As with most films the musical score is important and will help to set either mood or enhance feeling for a certain scene. In this film it plays no different tune but the underline score is how universal hip hop can really be. In this case it is the factor that ties both these groups together. Zach for example uses hip hop to reach out to both sides of the community as well as use it to convey his sincerity in wanting to date Nikki. He uses this by taking his mix tapes and mixing them with a combination of hip hop, opera, and jazz music I believe to win Nikki over. In Nut’s case hip hop is used to emphasize his aggressive feelings when he sees Nikki interacting with people who are not him essentially. The best depiction of this is the scene where he sees Zach apologizing to Nikki and her agreeing to meet at the skate rink later. He is later seen with an empty gun shooting at the air. later this gun is filled and used to shoot and kill (either on purpose or by accident, I think it was because he was reaching his tipping point and snapped) Dee.

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  4. Excellent observations Liz!!! Your analysis of Nikki hits the mark, she is caught in the middle and torn by these two worlds she lives in. You also made good points in not only how hip hop is used but Jazz and R & B as the musical backdrop for the film. My only criticism is that I would have liked you to use the readings to talk about the duality of love and sex objects that represents Nikki’s character. As I mentioned in Keanda’s post reply, to some degree Nikki fails to be a love object at the end of the film because of how she is viewed as a sex object by Nut. Not being able to have her, forces him to be violent and destroy any possible chance for her to be with Zach. As Manatu states in ch. 4, “Lurid images of black women go beyond what is normal. These images work to undermine a cultural solidarity of black women.” Nikki eventually fails to maintain love, fails to become feminine and fails to find respectability once her relationship with Zach ends.

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  5. The film zebra head shows the relationship of an interracial couple going to school in Detroit. The main character is a Jewish boy named Zach who’s attracted to a black female named Nikki. Throughout the film Nikki is viewed in different ways some bad some girl. She’s just your average girl next door but Zach views her as this prize. The reason I say this because he goes out his way to get her. He knows that he being white might give him a disadvantage because the population is mostly African Americans. He uses hip hop as a way to get a connection with her and then it just went off from there. Even though he treated her as this prize other people didn’t see Nikki as but instead as a sex object. When Zach’s father meet Nikki for the first time he didn’t really care who she was as long as his son had sex with her. Even with Nut was harassing her throughout the whole film and even showed some signs of jealously because she gave a white boy the chance instead of him. When she does give him a chance he used the kittens as bait so he can go in for a kiss which shows he just viewed her as a sex object. Even though Nikki doesn’t show any ways of being a “ whore “ you have to remember that these boys are in high school so it’s hard to view her as anything else but a sex object. Zach went hard for Nikki and even got consent for her cousin to date despite the fact it could possibly ruin their relationship. Even nut got mad because Zach was into hip-hop and it was getting Nikki’s attention so he calling her nasty names to mean was out of true emotions he really had for her.

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    • Good observations but I think you could have created a stronger argument with quotes from the readings and a little additional research/work. I agree with you that many in the film did view her as a sex object, your reference to Nut and Zach’s friends are a good example. But she is also view as a love object by Zach as well. Unfortunately, loved seems to escape her. By the end of the film, there is no conclusion that there love can stand the strains of an interracial relationship or the violence in the community. And hip hop music doesnt provide the safety that they need to meet the challenges they experience.

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  6. In the film Zebrahead, the character Nikki, a black woman and Zach, a Jewish boy fall for each other in this fairly “modern” interracial love story. At face, this is a simple movie that brings to light the issues that may arise when two people date outside of their race. However, it also goes deeper to reveal that black women in any media especially film cannot simply be a love interest there is always an underlying message that rears its ugly head to reaffirm the disparaging stereotypes of black women. In this film, Nikki does surpass all of the stereotypes in that she is does not extensively take care of anyone over her own health to be the mammy nor is she the avid career woman to be the superwomen. She is mostly the cool, calm collected character until she rightfully reacts angrily towards Nut and the murder of her cousin to be toted as the sapphire. Lastly, she technically could not be referred to as the jezebel; however, this does not mean she certainly surpasses this stereotype fully.
    There were small moments in the film where Nikki was viewed as the symbolic whore which Manatu describes as a “way of advancing the [black women’s] devaluation process (Manatu, p 85). This is shown in the part of the film when Zach’s dad looks into the room where Nikki and Zach are sleeping after having sex. The look on Zach’s father’s face after seeing that his son slept with a black women is a look of disgust, shock and shame. Though, this could have been a number of things but the fact that Nikki’s body is sprawled all over and that the camera focused solely on Nikki’s spread out skin then you see the camera move to Zach’s father’s face with that instant look of disgust is extremely telling. It again, despite Zach’s “genuine” feelings for Nikki shows the repeated devaluation of black women in that Zach’s father who is pro sex and is seemingly so proactive of his son’s sexual behavior to be so put off that his son sleeps with a black woman. Showing that no matter in what context or situation, black women are not in nor will they ever be a part of this in crowd that is supposedly for everyone.

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    • Istou, you’ve made some great points in how Nikki is seen in the film. Nikki fails to become any of the typical stereotypes we normally see in mainstream or even independent films where Black women are featured. But, she is also not a true romantic heroine or love object either. Unfortunately, she fails closer to the jezebel and symbolic whore not because of anything she say or does but how she is viewed. Nut, Zach’s friends as well as his father all see her as a sexual object available for their consumption. I think the look you saw from Zach’s father had more to do with his idea of women being available for sex than shock or shame or he wouldnt have bought them food and asked about them using protection. Even Zach’s love and affection for her can’t save her from being attacked from outside sources. In the end she loses any potential possibility for love after her cousin is murdered. Your quote from Manatu is a perfect example of that and how Nikki is characterized in the film. Great job!

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  7. In the movie Zebrahead, Nikki is seen as both a sex object and a love object. In the beginning Nikki engages in a relationship with a white male named Zach. He asks her cousin for permission to take her out, he picks her up and takes her on a date. He clearly shows that he is really interested in her. Towards the middle you start to see Nikki being treated as a sex object. This happens when Zach gathers around a group of his white friends at a party and says, “the darker the berry the sweater the juice.” This continues when she has an encounter with Nut and Nut lures Nikki into thinking that he was actually sweet by showing her the kittens but all he really wanted was something sexual out of her. One thing I correlate this movie to is the idea of femininity and masculinity. Manatu says, “For while the “feminine” directive experts women to delay sex until after marriage, the “masculine” directive encourages sex prior to marriage.” (Pg.54) The guys in this movie was just doing the masculine thing, so what is Nikki considered as? She’s not considered feminine because she engaged in sex prior to being married, and she’s definitely not considered feminine just for the simple fact that she is a black female and is portrayed as not being able to find love until the end of the movie. Manatu would agree, “Nice girls don’t express sexual interest…. the “nice girl” mode; mirrors definition of the “feminine” construct, one associated with qualities black women are believed not to possess.” (Pg.56) On another note, hip-hop is used in this film as a way to set the tone and the mood. You see this when Nut gets extremely mad and takes out the gun and starts shooting it in house. The song that is played in the back talks about shooting and killing people. Zach also asks his father what kind of music would be good to play when having intimate sex. The music in the movie tells a story.

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  8. Stephanie, you selected an excellent quote to defend and address your comments regarding Zebrahead. The film attempts to portray Nikki as a love object and we believe it because of the way Zach treats her and courts her but we are lulled into a false sense of security. She quickly becomes a sex object not only once she has sex with Zach but also through the male gaze of Zach’s father, Zach’s friends at the party and definitely through Nut. Hip hop also provides a false sense of security by providing a platform for a post racial society. The music in the film provides the soundtrack to a contemporary Romeo and Juliet but like in the original, its proven that despite our love of the music we cant get a long. In addition, Nikki loses her a potential love and her cousin. There is no happy ending or a potential for one.

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