Girlboss, Gaslight, Gatekeep. Redemption Documentaries and the Mediation of Celebrity Image
Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears and Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Amy Winehouse: a number of celebrities are currently returning to public interest, and more importantly, to public admiration. Since about the mid-2010s, a considerable number of films, podcasts, and limited series have been depicting the redemption arcs of formerly maligned stars, using documentary to set the record straight. This dissertation projects aims to investigate an emerging corpus of work through the concept of the redemption documentary. Redemption documentaries, I argue, are multi-modal constructions of celebrity image; generative mediations of truth, fame, power, and morality that appear at a specific moment in time and try to reinstate or strengthen a star’s public value. Within this framework, I am especially interested in the way redemption operates in accordance with different dimensions of class, race, and gender. How do moral absolution and marketable political sensibility interact in what has been called a post-#MeToo moment, navigating commodification and affective reclamation? How are these documentaries watched, listened to, consumed, and (re)produced? And what does it mean to fall from grace, and to be redeemed, in the first place?
Marie Malina is a PhD candidate within the graduate research program “Configurations of Film” at Goethe University, Frankfurt. She completed her bachelor’s degree in literature, art, and media studies at the University of Constance, as well as her master’s degree in theater, film, and media studies at Goethe University, Frankfurt. Next to her research, she has been working as an editor and translator. Her research interests include digital media, feminist and queer theory, fan studies and documentary studies.