Zebrahead – Nikki, Love or Sex Object

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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8 thoughts on “Zebrahead – Nikki, Love or Sex Object

  1. Hip hop seemed to have been the connection to the black community for Zach. It also seemed as if it was the way to express the light of the mood throughout certain scenes. The only other connection he had was through his best friend. Although we might not have seen Nikki behave “jezebel” like, her character does have some reference toward it. These references were always made by other people. The first was Nikki’s mother bringing this to light when they were seated at the kitchen table. As Nikki was explaining to her that Zach is different, she made a statement that insinuated that Nikki has said this before about many other guys. However, Nikki seemed to be depicted as a love interest to Zach. He seemed to genuinely like and cared about Nikki, though he did have a moment at the party speaking to his friends turning her into the “sexual object” of their conversation. Towards the end of the movie there was another reference to Nikki as a sort of “Jezebel” when one of her classmates referred to her as the white man’s whore for dating Zach.

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    • Latoya again, you made some good points but could have dug a little deeper. In regards to your point about the role of hip hop, you are right but it also works in a number of other ways. 1) As a cultural bridge that connects the students of different races together. 2) It becomes a symbol of cultural appropriation as it relates to Zach. He loves the cultural and music, he uses it to identify and connect to a community that’s different than his own 3) Hip hop in the end also shows how different they are despite how much they love the music and that the music can’t always heal the wounds and differences just through music.

      In regards to Nikki as a sex object versus a love object, you would think that Zach is caught between two worlds but its really Nikki. She is seen as the beautiful girl next door that you either want to bring home to meet your parents or take her home for the night. Her character is complex enough to actually be a binary of both. How she reacts to both Zack and Nut are different. 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. 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. Nikki is a love object to Zach. But to Nut, Zach’s friends as well as Zach’s father, all see her as a sexual object available for their consumption. Nut’s inability to have her and possess her forces him to be violent and destructive. 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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  2. The last paragraph of Moynihan Black Poverty Report Revisited 50 Years Later, Achs warns: “If we let kids grow up in poverty, in single families, going to bad schools, they’re going to grow up to become dependent adults. The cycle will just repeat.” This is the setting of “Zebrahead” in a nutshell. Detroit, early 90’s, bad education system, bad neighborhoods with rundown housing and stores closing due to lack of business. These are all non-verbal messages along with the fact that out of all characters shown only 1 had 2 parents in the home, which was Dee, who was shot in the back in the skating rink. Nikki’s being raised by a Jezebel mother and a father not around while it was the opposite on Zach’s end with a mother passed away and a father who was promiscuous.

    Moynihan stated “About a quarter of Negro families are headed by women. The divorce rate is about 2 1/2 times what it is [compared with whites],” Moynihan said. “The number of fatherless children keeps growing. And all these things keep getting worse, not better, over recent years.” Which you see when it comes to Nikki and Nut.

    Nikki is a sex object at the beginning of the movie because no character knows Nikki’s character just her physical. As the movie progresses both Zach and Nut see her as a love object, Zach who truly loves her and Nut who is jealous of their relationship but wants Nikki all to himself. Nikki is also portrayed as a sex object in both the restaurant scene when Zach is asked to the party by his ex-girl. Zach’s ex-girlfriend’s friend states, “Zach is only messing with Nikki just to get back at you.” But the ex-girlfriend shows Nikki as a Love object when she replies, “No, I think he really does like her.”
    Heavy tones of music run thru this movie and it is not just Hip-hop that is used to convey messages of love, hate and disrespect. The director used the words from songs as dialog for some of the characters to show their emotions. Perfect example would be when Zach was at the record and his dad asked him “Are we talking about Love or are we talking about sex?”
    Which lead his dad to talk about different artists his son should play to show how he felt or to set the mood. This scene connects later in the movie when Zach’s dad walks in his house and hears the music coming from Zach’s bedroom.
    This heavy tone of Hip-hop is also utilized when Zach leaves Nikki’s house after apologizing for the comment he made. Nut saw Zach leaving so we can only assume that Nut heard the whole apology and bothered him so much that he went back inside to slam the door, pick up his gun and start firing his revolver that was empty.

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    • Magda, you are the first person to connect the Moynihan Report to Zebrahead. Good job!!!! Cities like NY, LA and Detroit would certainly serve as an example of the failure of the poverty programs of the late 60’s and 70’s. Programs that created or perpetuated the stereotype of the Welfare Queen and the absentee father would have created the home that Nikki was raised in during the late 80’s/early 90’s.

      The media as well as the programs created to address poverty and single motherhood help to perpetuate the stereotype of the jezebel that Nikki falls in despite her actaully being more like “the girl next door” or even “the good girl”. As you and your classmates have all stated, she is viewed as the sex object by Zach’s friends, his father as well as Nut. Zach who has gotten to know her and has expressed love and affection for her treats her like the “Love Object.” But despite Zach’s attempts to love her, by the end there we are left to believe Nikki fails to fully become a love object. As an example to clarify your point, Manatu says “Cinematic heroine like romance heroine represents female respectability.” Therefore, does Nikki ever fall into female respectability? How is she defined based on the readings???

      In regards to hip hop, as I noted in Latoya & Shimon’s response there are three key ways that black music (hip hop, Jazz and r-n-n) is used in the film. As you noted, its servesto set the mood in several scenes, but it also seen as a cultutal bridge to the multi-ethnic group of student at the high school. But by the end of the film the music is not enough to heal the wounds caused by racism and the misconceptions held by each other. It also serves as a symbol of cultural appropriation as it relates to Zach. He loves the culture and music, he uses it to identify and connect to a community that’s different than his own but its not enough. Just like how love has failed Nikki, hip hop has failed to save and protect Zach.

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  3. Unlike her family and people of her ethnicity, people view Nikki as an exotic foreigner in the community. She is seen as a sex object by the white teenagers as can be noted by the crude comments that Zach’s friends state. Gossips about her “big lips” and the fantasy to have sex with a black girl are evident behaviors that the white boys see her as nothing but a sex object. “Unlike white women, black women have never had the benefit of being on the proverbial pedestal and allowed to be “feminine”. Excluded from the world of the “feminine,” black women have long been confined to the world of work and sexuality” (Manatu, 2002, p. 45). However, Zach vies her in a different manner than his friends do. Nikki is more of a love object than a sex object for Zach as he falls in love with her and constantly tries to earn her forgiveness after she encounters the conversations Zach’s friends were engaging in about her. Examples of non-verbal messages that are used to define Nikki include the constant staring, implying Nikki to be an outsider. Hip Hop is the bridge that connected Nikki and Zach. Due to Zach’s affiliation with the black culture, from having black friends to rapping and making mixtapes, he was able to assimilate into Nikki’s life and love interest.

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    • Shimon, without directly saying it seems that your comments point to you viewing Nikki as the sex object more so than the love object. Which you have good examples to support your argument as well as quotes from the readings. As you noted from your comments and quote, Nikki is not considered feminine, because she is black, sexually active and considered exocitc and provocative. As Manatu stated, “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) She fails to become a “love object.” By the end of the movie, love escapes her despite her romantic relationship with Zach. And Zach’s love and affection can’t protect her from the lust and misconception other men like his father, his friends and Nut has for her.

      In regards to hip hop, as I noted in Latoya’s response there are three key ways that rap music is used in the film. As you noted, its serves as a bridge but as we see towards the end of the film the music is not enough to heal the wounds caused by racism and the misconceptions held by each other. Rap, R n B as well as Jazz, serves as a symbol of cultural appropriation as it relates to Zach. He loves the culture and music, he uses it to identify and connect to a community that’s different than his own but its not enough. Just like how love has failed Nikki, hip hop has failed to save and protect Zach.

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  4. In the film Zebrahead, Nikki, the main character can be seen as both a sex and a love object. I would say that Zach’s friends and Nut view Nikki as a sexual object and somewhat exotic. Their negative comments about her and her appearance at the party clearly show what they think of Nikki. “Unlike white women, black women have never had the benefit of being on the proverbial pedestal and allowed to be “feminine”. Excluded from the world of the “feminine,” black women have long been confined to the world of work and sexuality” (Manatu, 2002, p. 45). On the other hand, we can see that Zach is the total opposite. He does not seem to care about Nikki’s physical appearance and is not interested in sex but rather interested in her feelings. Regardless of the racial controversies, they had to face while dating from both the black and the white community Zach still chooses to date, Nikki. Nut couldn’t seem to get his head around the fact that Nikki was dating someone else, especially a white boy, and tries to force Nikki to date him.

    Hip hop music was use in this film as a form of representing culture appropriation. Zach a lover of hip hop music find himself in the middle of a battlefield. From my point of view, the black community was perceiving Zach as a want to be. First of all, because he was dating and black girl and second of all because he was trying to become a rapper, something that was not common around the white community.

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  5. Karen, great use of a Manatu quote! I agree with you that Nikki is both a love object and sex object. Although, I think Nut could have seen her as a love object as well as a sex object. He had feelings for her but was not able to express them or control them. As you noted, he was not able to deal losing her to a white boy. But, I also think that Zach saw Nikki as a sex object as well as a love object. He had sex with her on one of their first dates and she was sexually available to him. Of course, his view of her sexually was not the same as his friends, father or Nut’s. In the end, Nikki fails to be a true love object or even Romantic Heroine since love fails to save or protect her by the end the film. Both Nikki and Zach allow race, division and violence to pull them apart. One would believe that there love was not strong to endure their differences much less the death of the best friend/cousin. In regards to hip hop, you are absolutely right in terms of how it is used to represent cultural appropriation. That despite how much Zach, his father and his friends loved black music, it wasnt enough to bridge the gap between the races and cultures as well as their different economic standings. And despite how easily Nikki was able to fit in Zach’s world, she was still seen as a black girl. Music wasnt enough to transend the racial differences.

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