Automobilities in Walter Mosley’s Detective Fiction on Film

Bronzeville at Night (1949) by Archibald John Motley, Jr.
Judith Nicholson examines the importance of depictions of African American automobilities to Walter Mosley’s detective fiction and its screen adaptations.
[Ed. Note: This article is part of a dossier on Mediating Urban Automobility.]

Walter Mosley’s detective fiction has been the “subject of a great deal of both popular and academic interest.”1Daylanne K. English, “The Modern in the Postmodern: Walter Mosley, Barbara Neely, and the Politics of Contemporary African-American Detective Fiction,” American Literary History 18, no.4 (2006): 786, https://doi.org/10.1093/alh/ajl018. In such studies, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) and its 1995 neo-noir film adaptation directed by Carl Franklin are the focus far more often than any of Mosley’s other works. The book (Mosley’s first) immediately drew critical acclaim for its use of the “hard-boiled genre of detective fiction”2English, “The Modern,” 774. to represent African American experiences in a fictionalized postwar Los Angeles, specifically the South Central Black community of Watts. The film adaptation is sultry and gorgeous, starting with the title sequence featuring the Blues song “West Side Baby” and a slow close-up panning shot of the painting Bronzeville at Night (1949) by Archibald John Motley, Jr. The song carries through to the opening scene before fading under the noise and motion of a streetscape heavy with traffic and throngs of Black pedestrians on a summer afternoon in 1948. While automobilities are prominent throughout the novel and in the film’s title sequence and its opening scene’s depictions of car and foot traffic, interpretations of Devil in a Blue Dress make no mention of them. I contend that a closer examination of African American automobilities in Mosley’s detective fiction supports arguments for his work to be regarded as significant historical fiction.

Automobilities3I am using the plural “automobilities” to include the dominant system of automobility as defined by Urry and to emphasize that urban automobilities include not just car travel but also walking and trolley mobilities. comprise a system of transportation infrastructure that dominates and defines public spaces (for example, roadways, sidewalks, and gas stations), ideology (including representations of freedom, progress, autonomy), and experiences (as well as individual and collective emotions and memories) of human and motor-propelled journeys.4John Urry, “The ‘System’ of Automobility,” Theory, Culture & Society 21, nos. 4/5 (2004): 26; Steffen Böhm, Campbell Jones, Chris Land, and Mat Paterson, “Introduction: Impossibilities of Automobility,” Sociological Review 54 (2006), 3–16. Automobilities also capture, John Urry argues, “a double sense, both of the humanist self as in the notion of autobiography, and of objects or machines that possess a capacity for movement, as in automatic and automaton.”5Urry, “The ‘System’,” 26. While automobilities are irreducible to the car,6Böhm et al., “Introduction,” 3. the car is dominant among American automobilities, and it is a key symbol of social mobility and of amorality in the mid-century film noir genre and its contemporary progeny, neo-noir.7Mark Osteen, “Noir’s Cars: Automobility and Amoral Space in American Film Noir,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 25, no. 4 (August 2010): 183–192, https://doi.org/10.3200/JPFT.35.4.183—192. In both the novel and film adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress, automobilities are significant because the plot and main character, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, move across various locales within and beyond Watts. Automobilities are also key to the upwardly mobile (auto)biography of Easy, a Black World War II veteran who stumbles into becoming a private detective while seeking a job. However, the film adaptation veers from noir and neo-noir conventions because the car is not only a symbol of social mobility and amorality, as depicted in association with the pedophile and mayoral candidate Matthew Terell, who is chauffeured in a stretch Cadillac with thick privacy curtains and whose crimes Easy exposes. While Easy’s car functions as a symbol of amorality where Blackness and whiteness overlap whenever he drives with Daphne, who for much of the plot he assumes is white, Easy knows the perpetual possibility of his automobilities falling under police surveillance. As an African American driver, Easy’s automobilities cannot be the site of obvious amorality or lawlessness.

This article examines African American automobilities in two of Mosley’s detective novels and their film and television movie adaptations: Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997; 1998, Michael Apted, HBO), hereafter simply Always Outnumbered. Since the publication of Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley has written over eighty works of fiction and non-fiction according to his official website and other sources. His prolific writing comprises non-fiction as well as novellas, short story collections, plays, and novels across genres such as science fiction and mystery. He has won several literary awards, including PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Mosley has also worked as a writer and producer in film and television. Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered are the only two of Mosley’s multiple detective fiction books that, to date, have been adapted for the screen.8Mosley has also worked as a writer and producer in film and television outside the realm of the detective genre, including as co-creator of the 2022 limited streaming series for Apple TV+, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, which was adapted from his 2010 novel of the same name. The former is co-written by Mosley and director Carl Franklin, and the latter is co-written by Mosley and director Michael Apted.

Always Outnumbered is a collection of fourteen linked morality tales of friendship and love featuring Socrates “Socco” Fortlow, a Black WWII veteran and ex-con turned amateur sleuth and vigilante, who lives in poverty in Watts in the mid-1990s. Socco relies on public buses and his own two feet for mobility. Whereas Easy’s mobilities are geographically broad and upwardly mobile as a car and property owner, Socco’s mobilities are geographically limited and downwardly mobile as a poor man without a car whose only source of income is collecting cans in a shopping cart to redeem for coins at a local market. Socco is big and strong with “rock breaker” hands,9Walter Mosley, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 30. but as a pedestrian and bus passenger within a system of automobilities where cars and drivers dominate, he is an enfeebled version of the Rawlins character. In the screen adaptation, Laurence Fishburne plays Socco.

In what follows I interpret how depictions of automobilities in Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered function as a leitmotif for historical African American social and geographic mobilities and immobility, especially at mid-century. I use the musically-inflected leitmotif here deliberately because African American mobilities flow through Devil in a Blue Dress alongside the jazz joints depicted in the novel and the jazz and Blues music that thrums through the film from the start and can be read as mirroring Easy’s improvisations as he learns how to be a private detective. Likewise, the Blues music of Always Outnumbered might be read as mirroring Socco’s melancholy, stemming from his criminal record, and lack of job, car, and stable home (he lives in two rooms at the end of an alley). The threading of these musical forms and automobilities in the screen adaptations helps to differentiate African American mobilities from dominant automobilities as well as automobilities depicted in the noir and neo-noir genre. Together, the music and African American mobilities intimate the history of African Americans who brought jazz and Blues from Southern states as they travelled to the urban North and West in the early and mid-twentieth century for new beginnings. This is the history of Mosley’s own father’s journey from the South, which is echoed in the character biographies of Easy and Socco, whose roots Mosley sets in Southern states.

African American automobilities are further differentiated from dominant automobilities in Mosley’s work because of how he acknowledges the long history of transportation racism in the US and its specific forms in Watts. His fiction and screen adaptations represent how the roadway is “a sorting device [for] heterogeneous processes of racial differentiation”10Dan Swanton, “Flesh, Metal, Road: Tracing the Machinic Geographies of Race,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28, no. 3 (2010): 447–466, https://doi.org/10.1068/d9507. based on factors of race as well as the type of car or lack of car, and because of how African American mobilities are policed, including via profiling practices broadly called Driving While Black (DWB).

My interpretation builds on existing studies of Mosley’s detective fiction that focus on race, gender, and sexuality. Some such studies note the depiction of driving but do not interpret the significance of automobilities, especially how the doubling of screens in the adaptations—the viewing screen and the car windshield or bus windowpane—mediates the characters’ Black gaze.11Tina M. Campt, A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2023). I also perform a comparative reading of depictions of automobilities in the books and in their screen adaptations, keeping in mind that adaptations are necessarily different from their book sources because of book length versus adaptation running time and author versus director voice, among other considerations.

Iain Borden contends that cinema “provides the most direct sense of what it actually feels like to drive, its visual qualities giving a substantive (if not always entirely accurate or complete) indication of how driving involves movement, bodies, thoughts, feelings, spaces, sights and sounds.”12Iain Borden, Drive: Journeys Through Film, Cities and Landscapes (London: Reaktion Books, 2013), 12–13. Likewise, as Margaret Morse (borrowing from Raymond Williams) contends, similarities also exist between the roadway and television as each is a “distribution system” that mediates “mobile privatization” via car travel and via broadcasting.13Margaret Morse, “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall and Television,” in Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 119. She argues that these media, along with the mall, “are not merely similar in form, they are systems constructed to interact in mutually enforcing ways.”14Morse, “An Ontology,” 119. Automobilities, cinema, and television broadcasting promised democratic inclusion through participation. However, Mosley’s detective fiction and their adaptations reflect how automobilities did not deliver these promises to African Americans in the eras in which these works are set.

The neighborhood of Easy Rawlins (played by Denzel Washington) in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
The neighborhood of Easy Rawlins (played by Denzel Washington) in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995).
Driving, Walking and Passengering While Black

In the first five minutes of the Devil in a Blue Dress adaptation, the camera tilts up from the street scene to Joppy’s, a second-floor bar. Easy, played by Denzel Washington, is scanning the newspaper for a new job after being fired from his job building airplanes when DeWitt Albright, a white man, walks into the bar. Albright would soon hire Easy to find a missing white woman, Daphne Monet, played by Jennifer Beals. Easy is hired because Daphne is purportedly in the company of Black people. “She likes jazz and pigs’ feet and dark meat, if you know what I mean,” says Albright.15Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress, Thirtieth Anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020 [1990]), 19. Easy accepts the job, which takes him to jazz bars such as John’s speakeasy and propels him into a “murky borderland between good and evil, where he can never be sure at any given time which is which.”16Helen Lock, “Invisible Detection: The Case of Walter Mosley,” MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) 26, no. 1 (2001): 78.

The job initiates Easy into the role of private detective, which Mosley threads through fourteen other Easy Rawlins books, each of which revolves around a plot where Easy must locate someone, wending his way through communities in and around auto-centric Los Angeles. Easy successfully carries out his mission in each of the novels with a great deal of violence enacted both by and against him. He survives with the help of his homicidal best friend, the deceptively nicknamed Mouse, whom Mosley depicts driving shiny new pink cars. Along the way, Easy earns a lot of money and struggles with his inner demons, with PTSD, and with his aspirations of upward mobility. As expected of the detective genre, Easy’s search for others is also a quest to find and understand himself. His quest is often mediated by automobilities. Socco is also a seeker, for a job, for upward social mobility, and for better self-understanding. He can be regarded as a passenger in the way that scholars of mobility studies define “passengering” as active.17Peter Adey, David Bissell, Derek McCormack and Peter Merriman, “Profiling the Passenger: Mobilities, Identities, Embodiments,” Cultural Geographies 19, no. 2 (2012): 169–193. In the television adaptation of Always Outnumbered, the camera follows Socco as he boards a city bus that takes him from the concrete, garbage-strewn, chain-link landscape of South Central to a clean, uptown neighborhood with tree-lined streets, expansive parking lots, and a gleaming supermarket.

Mosley represents Black communities “as the dominant site of [his novels’] action, rather than simply being the locus of exotic difference into which the white detective occasionally stumbles.”18Theodore O. Mason, Jr., “Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins: The Detective and Afro-American Fiction,” The Kenyon Review 14, no. 4 (Autumn 1992): 173–183. His work in turn centers on themes of Black masculinities, systemic racism, and police violence. Accordingly, studies of his work largely focus on interpreting “the Black dick,”19Roger A. Berger, “‘The Black Dick’: Race, Sexuality, and Discourse in the L.A. Novels of Walter Mosley,” African American Review 31, no. 2 (Summer 1997): 281–294, https://doi.org/10.2307/3042465; Peter Lehman, “A ‘Strange Quirk in His Lineage’: Walter Mosley, Donald Goines, and the Racial Representation of the Penis,” Men and Masculinities 9, no. 2 (October 2006): 226–235. a double entendre and a double consciousness for how Mosley’s creation of Black male sleuths potentially subverts the hard-boiled detective genre with its typical leading white male detectives. Black dick is also shorthand for the race, masculinity, and heterosexuality of Easy and Socrates in the eras chosen by Mosley in which the characters’ automobilities, whether by foot, car, or bus have the potential to be regarded as criminal.20See Robert Crooks, “From the Far Side of the Urban Frontier: The Detective Fiction of Chester Himes and Walter Mosley,” College Literature 22, no. 3 (October 1995): 68–90; Daylanne K. English, “Being Black There: Racial Subjectivity and Temporality in Walter Mosley’s Detective Fiction,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 42, no. 3 (2009): 361–365; Elisabeth V. Ford, “Miscounts, Loopholes, and Flashbacks: Strategic Evasion in Walter Mosley’s Detective Fiction,” Callalloo 28, no. 4 (2005): 1074–1090; Lock, “Invisible,” 78; Klara Szmañko “Oppressive Faces of Whiteness in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress,” Text Matters 8 (2018): 258–277; Chris Ruíz-Velasco, “‘Lost in These Damn White Halls’: Power and Masculinity in Walter Mosley’s Fiction,” The Midwest Quarterly 51, no. 2 (December 2010): 135–151; Marilyn C. Wesley, “Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress,” African American Review 35, no. 1 (2001): 103–116. While waiting at a bus stop, for example, Socco gets into a tense argument with another Black man. Mosley writes,

Just then a police car cruised slowly by. The two white faces peered through the glass and rain at the two black men. A light flashed out and the patrol car slowed almost to a stop—but then it went on. The rain, Socrates thought. Boys don’t wanna get wet.21Mosley, Always, 59.

Easy encounters a similar scrutiny when he’s not driving:

I left the station at a fast walk but I wanted to run. It was fifteen blocks to John’s speak and I had to keep telling myself to slow down. I knew that a patrol car would arrest any sprinting Negro they encountered.22Mosley, Devil, 78.

In Always Outnumbered, Socco does not drive a car, so Mosley does not imbue him with Easy’s “black ‘highway consciousness’ distinct from that of white drivers.”23Cotton Seiler, Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 108. Through a Black gaze and an automobilized double consciousness, Mosley depicts how the intersectionality of Black male identity coupled with driving was/is potentially regarded as “criminal by color” in the worlds within and outside of his books and their adaptations.24English, “The Modern,” 774. Automobilities in Always Outnumbered and in Devil in a Blue Dress mediate a Black gaze for readers and viewers. For example, as Easy drives Daphne across town at night to Hollywood to retrieve a letter, Mosley writes,

[The] canyon road was narrow and winding but there was no traffic at all. We hadn’t seen a police car on the ride and that was fine with me, because the police have white slavery on the brain when it comes to colored men and white women.25Mosley, Devil, 93.

Mark L. Berrettini notes that in the film adaptation, “a close-up shows Easy’s eyes as reflected in the car’s rear-view mirror—Daphne asks Easy if he is nervous. He does not respond to her in dialogue but instead reflects in voice-over: ‘Nervous? Here I was in the middle of the night in a white neighborhood with a white woman in my car. Naw, I wasn’t nervous. I was stupid.’”26Mark L. Berrettini, “Private Knowledge, Public Space: Investigation and Navigation in Devil in a Blue Dress,” Cinema Journal 30, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 74–89. Following the assertion that the automobile mediates mobile privatization, and notably so in the noir and neo-noir genre, Mark Osteen argues that the automobile is not only an “alternative home” but an amoral space “where laws and social arrangements—marriage, class hierarchies—are suspended.”27Osteen, “Noir’s Cars,” 184. This is discernible in the scene with Easy chauffeuring Daphne, who he initially believes is white. However, the mobile privatization of car travel takes on a different register when the driver is an African American man. In the film adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress, Easy drives a burgundy 1947 Pontiac Streamliner, a big bulbous four-door sedan with whitewall tires. The car is huge and beautiful in its first introduction when we gaze over its hood through Easy’s perspective as he glides into the driveway of his home. Later in the film, the car seems small compared to the chauffeured stretch Cadillac belonging to corrupt mayoral candidate, Matthew Terell (Maury Chaykin). When Easy is beckoned into the car for a meeting with Terell, he regards how the thick curtains of Terell’s car transform it into a rolling living room and obscures the politician’s amorality. Of course, Easy eventually “pulls back the curtain” on Terell, so to speak, exposing his pedophilic crimes. However, as an African American driver and pedestrian, Easy is constantly exposed to the surveillance of the state, represented by the police officers who harass, coerce, and assault him.

Daylanne K. English contends that in writing detective fiction, Mosley is “writing doubly historical fiction.” The novels contain a “temporal duality” through Mosley’s “juxtaposition of the modern and the contemporary.”28English, “The Modern,” 776. This temporal duality is discernible in Mosley’s depictions of automobilities and in his own biography as a mixed-race Black and Jewish man born in Los Angeles and living in Watts with his family during the 1965 uprising.29Walter Mosley, “The Wages of Hate,” Index on Censorship 32, no. 3 (2003): 119–123. The police traffic stop of Marquette Frye, an African American driver, and inadequate transit have been cited as catalysts for the 1965 uprising. Sikivu Hutchinson notes that “During WWII… marginal transit access deepened Watt’s isolation from the rest of the city, undermining workers’ efforts to keep jobs outside of the community.”30Sikivu Hutchinson, “Waiting for the Bus,” Social Text 18, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 113. We see this dependency on the car reflected in Devil in a Blue Dress when Easy muses that, “Because in L.A. people don’t have time to stop; anywhere they have to go they go there in a car. The poorest man has a car in Los Angeles; he might not have a roof over his head but he has a car. And he knows where he’s going too.”31Mosley, Devil, 51.

In Always Outnumbered, Socco is the poorest of such men. His attempts to apply for a job at an uptown supermarket in a neighborhood far removed from Watts are repeatedly rejected because he does not have access to a car: “‘I don’t have a car or a ride but I can take a bus to work.’ The store manager took his application form and fingered the address. ‘Where is this street?’ she asked. ‘Down Watts.’ ‘That’s pretty far to go by bus, isn’t it? There are stores closer than this one, you know.'”32Mosley, Always, 68. In Always Outnumbered automobilities anchor a temporal duality through the historical and fictional resonances of the 1965 uprising and the 1992 Los Angeles revolt. The latter was sparked by the acquittal of four officers from the Los Angeles Police Department who were videotaped assaulting Rodney King, an African American driver, during a police traffic stop. In the screen adaptation of Always Outnumbered, continued police surveillance and tension with Watts residents is represented through a soundscape of gunshots and police helicopters that the characters note in mundane ways.

Mosley’s temporal duality addresses how automobilities’ promises of freedom, autonomy, progress and upward mobility are largely deferred for African Americans in the periods that he depicts. In Devil in a Blue Dress, the gangster Albright and the criminal Terell each drive, or are chauffeured, in Cadillacs at a time in the mid-twentieth century when Cadillac refused to sell their cars to African Americans,33Jeremy Packer, Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 289–230. though the selling and purchasing of cars were broadly “promoted as a solution to economic and social malaise.”34Osteen, 184. In the 1990s setting of Always Outnumbered, Socco’s neighbourhood restaurant, Iula’s grill, is housed in two old school buses welded together, suspended above an auto-garage, and reachable by a retractable staircase.35Mosley, Always, 37. These are examples of Cotton Seiler’s claim that “mobility relies on immobility; it is precisely because certain subjects and objects are immobilized that others can travel.”36Seiler, Republic, 107. Further to Seiler’s claim, in the screen adaptation of Always Outnumbered, Socco takes on the role of vigilante to chase the drug dealer Petis out of the neighborhood. When Petis returns to his apartment after Socco and friends tell him to leave, Socco confronts and chases Petis through back alleys with broken-down, windowless, rusting vehicles and into a wrecking yard. This vehicle graveyard, which appears in the film adaptation, but not in the book, is a visual and automobilized representation of the immobilities that are present in Socco’s life and in his Black community and neighborhood. Like Iula’s suspended school bus restaurant, the vehicle graveyard contrasts sharply with the orderly and clean parking lot with new cars at the uptown supermarket where Socco seeks work. Differential automobilities are contrasted in these moments to represent the historical disenfranchisement of the Watts neighborhood.

Mosley’s temporal duality resonates through automobilities historically and into the present day. According to English, this “temporal-political dynamic—of the past inhabiting the present—occurs throughout the African American literary tradition.”37English, “Being,” 364. Devil in a Blue Dress was published in 1990 but is set in the 1940s. Paul Gilroy defines DWB as the “tacit enforcement of segregated space,”38Paul Gilroy, “Driving While Black,” in Car Cultures, ed. Daniel Miller (New York: Routledge, 2001), 85. and is part of a larger history of anti-Black racism exists in the US, which includes Black bodies being immobilized or otherwise bounded through enslavement, lynchings by whites, property and housing discrimination, segregated education, and segregated public transportation.39Gilroy, “Driving,” 81–103; Judith Nicholson, “Don’t shoot! Black mobilities in American gunscapes,” Mobilities 11, no. 4 (2016): 553–563; Packer, Mobility, 209–216; Seiler, 105–128. Mosley sets Devil in a Blue Dress in 1948, the year in which African American driver Robert Mallard was “attacked in his car by a Georgia mob (allegedly for being “too prosperous” and “not the right kind of negro”) and murdered in front of his wife and child.”40Seiler, 115. Devil in a Blue Dress also unfolds two decades before The Negro Motorist Green Book would end its three-decade run and a decade before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat in the white section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Mosley’s depictions of police surveillance and violence now bring to mind police murders of Black pedestrians and drivers in recent years, including Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020, to name but two people.

Conclusion

The film adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress was screened for the April 22, 2022 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Books on Film series and Mosley appeared via videoconferencing for the question-and-answer portion.41Thanks to my friend Hershel Russell for bringing the Books on Film series to my attention and for joining me at this screening. Thanks to my colleague Jeremy Hunsinger for bringing the CFP for this dossier to my attention, and thanks to the reviewers for their generous comments on my submission. In response to a question about why he depicts Easy in the novel and film in moments of tending his garden to grow food or sharing food with others, Mosley responded that he included these activities to demonstrate independence and community interdependence for Black people who like his character, and his own father, had only themselves and their community to rely on after the move from the South to California did not produce the anticipated wealth. In response to my question about why cars and driving are so significant in his detective fiction, Mosley responded that his depictions of automobilities were not deliberate. However, he offered that as a co-writer for the screen adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress, he wanted every car in the film to be shown in “pristine condition.” Considering this article’s interpretations of African American automobilities, those pristine cars could be regarded as Mosley’s subtle attempt to spin his temporal duality through the current day adaptation of the novel back into his fictionalized and historical Watts to deliver some of automobilities’ promises to his African American detective heroes.

[An early version of this article was presented at the 2017 Mobile Utopia conference.]

Notes

Notes
1 Daylanne K. English, “The Modern in the Postmodern: Walter Mosley, Barbara Neely, and the Politics of Contemporary African-American Detective Fiction,” American Literary History 18, no.4 (2006): 786, https://doi.org/10.1093/alh/ajl018.
2, 24 English, “The Modern,” 774.
3 I am using the plural “automobilities” to include the dominant system of automobility as defined by Urry and to emphasize that urban automobilities include not just car travel but also walking and trolley mobilities.
4 John Urry, “The ‘System’ of Automobility,” Theory, Culture & Society 21, nos. 4/5 (2004): 26; Steffen Böhm, Campbell Jones, Chris Land, and Mat Paterson, “Introduction: Impossibilities of Automobility,” Sociological Review 54 (2006), 3–16.
5 Urry, “The ‘System’,” 26.
6 Böhm et al., “Introduction,” 3.
7 Mark Osteen, “Noir’s Cars: Automobility and Amoral Space in American Film Noir,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 25, no. 4 (August 2010): 183–192, https://doi.org/10.3200/JPFT.35.4.183—192.
8 Mosley has also worked as a writer and producer in film and television outside the realm of the detective genre, including as co-creator of the 2022 limited streaming series for Apple TV+, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, which was adapted from his 2010 novel of the same name.
9 Walter Mosley, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 30.
10 Dan Swanton, “Flesh, Metal, Road: Tracing the Machinic Geographies of Race,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28, no. 3 (2010): 447–466, https://doi.org/10.1068/d9507.
11 Tina M. Campt, A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2023).
12 Iain Borden, Drive: Journeys Through Film, Cities and Landscapes (London: Reaktion Books, 2013), 12–13.
13 Margaret Morse, “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall and Television,” in Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 119.
14 Morse, “An Ontology,” 119.
15 Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress, Thirtieth Anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020 [1990]), 19.
16 Helen Lock, “Invisible Detection: The Case of Walter Mosley,” MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) 26, no. 1 (2001): 78.
17 Peter Adey, David Bissell, Derek McCormack and Peter Merriman, “Profiling the Passenger: Mobilities, Identities, Embodiments,” Cultural Geographies 19, no. 2 (2012): 169–193.
18 Theodore O. Mason, Jr., “Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins: The Detective and Afro-American Fiction,” The Kenyon Review 14, no. 4 (Autumn 1992): 173–183.
19 Roger A. Berger, “‘The Black Dick’: Race, Sexuality, and Discourse in the L.A. Novels of Walter Mosley,” African American Review 31, no. 2 (Summer 1997): 281–294, https://doi.org/10.2307/3042465; Peter Lehman, “A ‘Strange Quirk in His Lineage’: Walter Mosley, Donald Goines, and the Racial Representation of the Penis,” Men and Masculinities 9, no. 2 (October 2006): 226–235.
20 See Robert Crooks, “From the Far Side of the Urban Frontier: The Detective Fiction of Chester Himes and Walter Mosley,” College Literature 22, no. 3 (October 1995): 68–90; Daylanne K. English, “Being Black There: Racial Subjectivity and Temporality in Walter Mosley’s Detective Fiction,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 42, no. 3 (2009): 361–365; Elisabeth V. Ford, “Miscounts, Loopholes, and Flashbacks: Strategic Evasion in Walter Mosley’s Detective Fiction,” Callalloo 28, no. 4 (2005): 1074–1090; Lock, “Invisible,” 78; Klara Szmañko “Oppressive Faces of Whiteness in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress,” Text Matters 8 (2018): 258–277; Chris Ruíz-Velasco, “‘Lost in These Damn White Halls’: Power and Masculinity in Walter Mosley’s Fiction,” The Midwest Quarterly 51, no. 2 (December 2010): 135–151; Marilyn C. Wesley, “Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress,” African American Review 35, no. 1 (2001): 103–116.
21 Mosley, Always, 59.
22 Mosley, Devil, 78.
23 Cotton Seiler, Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 108.
25 Mosley, Devil, 93.
26 Mark L. Berrettini, “Private Knowledge, Public Space: Investigation and Navigation in Devil in a Blue Dress,” Cinema Journal 30, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 74–89.
27 Osteen, “Noir’s Cars,” 184.
28 English, “The Modern,” 776.
29 Walter Mosley, “The Wages of Hate,” Index on Censorship 32, no. 3 (2003): 119–123.
30 Sikivu Hutchinson, “Waiting for the Bus,” Social Text 18, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 113.
31 Mosley, Devil, 51.
32 Mosley, Always, 68.
33 Jeremy Packer, Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 289–230.
34 Osteen, 184.
35 Mosley, Always, 37.
36 Seiler, Republic, 107.
37 English, “Being,” 364.
38 Paul Gilroy, “Driving While Black,” in Car Cultures, ed. Daniel Miller (New York: Routledge, 2001), 85.
39 Gilroy, “Driving,” 81–103; Judith Nicholson, “Don’t shoot! Black mobilities in American gunscapes,” Mobilities 11, no. 4 (2016): 553–563; Packer, Mobility, 209–216; Seiler, 105–128.
40 Seiler, 115.
41 Thanks to my friend Hershel Russell for bringing the Books on Film series to my attention and for joining me at this screening. Thanks to my colleague Jeremy Hunsinger for bringing the CFP for this dossier to my attention, and thanks to the reviewers for their generous comments on my submission.
Nicholson, Judith A. "Automobilities in Walter Mosley’s Detective Fiction and Film." Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture 8, no. 3 (September 2023).
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.