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Hollywood blackface and its descendents Katharine S Thomas

Hollywood blackface and its descendents

Katharine S Thomas

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ISBN : 9780549574682
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325 pages
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Blackface has had a deep influence on American culture, continuing into the present day, but it is often considered solely a facet of past racist practices. By applying Rick Altmans discussion of genre in the Hollywood musical to a thorough surveyMoreBlackface has had a deep influence on American culture, continuing into the present day, but it is often considered solely a facet of past racist practices. By applying Rick Altmans discussion of genre in the Hollywood musical to a thorough survey of blackface scenes in Hollywood musicals, it is possible to see the different markers that define the genre and how they continue to influence popular culture today. These markers fall into two groups. The semantic markers ranged from visual elements like make-up and costumes to aural elements like repertory, instrumentation, and vocal technique. The syntactic markers simultaneously showed the distance and closeness between blackface performances and everyday life. Eventually, the genre was so well codified that it could easily be evoked with only a few of the major markers, at times even eliminating elements as fundamental as the make-up, a change that was useful as blackface fell from favor, thanks to both social and technological progress. At the same time, other kinds of performances began to incorporate these markers, still exploring whiteness by comparing it to Others, as in blackface. Those that focused on class became tramp and hillbilly numbers. Those that presented further racial and ethnic stereotypes followed the path laid out by a large body of blackface-style Latin performances, artistic renderings of FDRs Good Neighbor policy. Both of these new styles became genres in their own right and gradually replaced traditional blackface numbers. Unlike the heavily political and class-conscious live blackface of the 19th-century, mid-20th-century Hollywood performances concentrated on blackface as representing the world of entertainment. Modern films that use blackface return it to its 19th-century political roots, using it now to speak to matters of race relations in contemporary society. Other recent films use non-blackface race-crossing scenes to show an idealized musical union between seemingly opposing poles---male and female, black and white.