Fortress Press

The Prophetic Lens: The Camera and Black Moral Agency from MLK to Darnella Frazier

The Prophetic Lens

The Camera and Black Moral Agency from MLK to Darnella Frazier

Phil Allen Jr. (Author)


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Martin Luther King used news cameras as a means of exposing anti-Black violence by white mobs in the 1950s and 60s. Darnella Frazier used her phone to record and post the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin in May 2020. These are just two of many people who have captured images of injustice for the world to see.

The Prophetic Lens takes an important look at the use of the video camera as an indispensable prophetic tool for the security of Black lives and greater possibility for racial justice. Phil Allen shows how the camera can be a catalyst for cultural change, using Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination as a framework for understanding the concept of "prophetic." Chronicling the use of the camera, particularly in film from J.D. Griffiths' Birth of a Nation to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Allen's historical approach reveals how effective this technology has been in achieving the goals of its respective storytellers.

The book highlights both the prophetic potential of the camera and the context of Blackness as a liminal existence amid a context dominated by whiteness.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506484198
  • eBook ISBN 9781506484204
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 268
  • Publication Date September 13, 2022


"Phil Allen Jr. is the ancient-present prophetic voice of our time. With surgical precision, Allen excavates the Black experience as it is historically ensconced in the narrative of America. He utilizes the camera as a historical living witness and considers its ethical implications in anti-Black injustice. Allen's prophetic voice and courageous hope deserve consideration in the halls of truth-telling ancestors. He is the one his ancestors prayed for. His is a courageous invitation into reimagination."

Inés Velásquez- McBryde, co-lead pastor of The Church We Hope For, preacher, reconciler, and speaker

"From a bridge in Selma to a backroad in Georgia to a street curb in Minneapolis, the camera has captured the truth of injustices against Black lives, from generation to generation. But perhaps until now, we've not dived deeply enough into the cultural, historical, and theological implications of the camera as an instrument of justice. In The Prophetic Lens, Phil Allen Jr. testifies to the power of the lens, through his own lens, as a Black man in America. Allen is an author and educator, but he's also a theologian and filmmaker. And it's in this creative collision and collaboration of varied vocations, alongside his own lived experiences, that Allen ushers forth a prophetic narrative that is timely, timeless, and true. Come to this work with ears to hear and eyes to see. In so doing, you will witness a truth teller in his element, guiding us to a justice that rolls like rivers and film reels, one movement at a time."

Bobby Harrison, co-lead pastor of The Church We Hope For

"We all saw how an eyewitness's camera recording brought a modicum of justice to George Floyd's family. Phil Allen connects today's headlines to the ancient prophetic tradition in brilliant and evocative ways. He issues an inspiring call to take up a camera as a weapon against the principalities and powers that oppress our brothers and sisters. We will all begin to see far more clearly via his Prophetic Lens."

Craig Detweiler, dean, Grand Canyon University's College of Arts and Media

"This work is an excellent introduction to the life-giving force the camera has been and is in honoring the sacred journey of African Americans. This work extends the conversation that Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth started as they, like Phil Allen, see the camera lens as a witness to the dignity and sacredness of African American life. Powerful, inspiring, enlightening, and prophetic."

Ralph Basui Watkins, The Peachtree Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Phil Allen Jr. is the Howard Thurman of our time--a theologian, philosopher, educator, as well as an antiracism scholar. Allen brings a fresh and new perspective to the social justice movement. In this revelatory work, Allen animates the video camera as the protagonist in what he calls 'the prophetic movement for justice.' By breathing life into the video camera, he simultaneously breathes new life into those of us who've been shouting from the margins. This book is an essential companion as we continue our March to Zion."

Rodney D. Smith, EdD, vice president for access and engagement, William Jewell College

"The Prophetic Lens reminds us that all truth requires a witness. When it comes to the reality of the Black experience in America, the camera lens has emerged as the urgent witness we have needed to tell our stories. Phil Allen Jr. is masterful with words. His writing in The Prophetic Lens is culturally relevant, historically accurate, and deeply theological. Anyone reading this will walk away in gratitude at the mastery of a camera's ability to capture injustice and equally troubled thinking of all those same injustices that have not been caught on camera."

Khristi Lauren Adams, dean of spiritual life and equity, The Hill School, and author of Parable of the Brown Girl and Unbossed: How Black Girls Are Leading the Way

"The power of an image can influence a movement. For Phil Allen Jr., images from photography and film reveal incontrovertible stories about pain and creative hope, trauma, and resilience in the midst of Black bodies suffering under white supremacy. In The Prophetic Lens, Allen urges us to immerse in testimony of the camera as a prophetic witness to reveal and to challenge race-related violence against Black bodies, minds, and souls. He is clear: the time for the visual truth-telling movement is now."

Lisa Withrow, leadership professor, independent scholar-author, founding coach and consultant at Clear Transition Strategies