Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Andrew Burkett

Second Advisor

Katherine Lynes




gender, identity, audience, films


Feminist and gender studies critics laud Judith Butler’s theory of the performative construction of identity because of its capacity to liberate gender from the biological essentialism entailed by previous identity theories. In this thesis, I show how six twenty-first century films demonstrate the importance and problematic nature of ‘audience’ in the performative construction of identity. Each film employs a dialectic model between their protagonists and the reception they receive from diegetic audiences within the film to describe performativity. Black Swan (2010) and The Wrestler (2008) demonstrate how performative identities require an audience to legitimize them. Antichrist (2009) and The Hurt Locker (2008) show how society functions as an audience that legitimizes flawed performative identities. Melancholia (2011) and The Fountain (2006) illustrate how the death of the audience destroys the performative identity. Butler’s theory doesn’t adequately acknowledge the power of the relationship between performativity and audience because she doesn’t entirely consider the audience’s influence on the performative construction of identity. Each of the films examined in this thesis show how either an explicit or implicit diegetic audience is largely responsible for a given character's performative construction of identity. In doing so, they establish that performative identities cannot be separated from the audiences because the performative process is inherently a dialectic construct between performers and their diegetic audiences. Therefore, scholars who engage with Butlerian performativity must more thoroughly consider the audience's role in authenticating performatively constructed identities.