Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Classic Hollywood Classic Whiteness

Daniel Bernardi Editor
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 542
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Classic Hollywood Classic Whiteness
    Book Description:

    Leading scholars address the myriad ways in which America’s attitudes about race informed the production of Hollywood films from the 1920s through the 1960s. Contributors: Eric Avila, Aaron Baker, Karla Rae Fuller, Andrew Gordon, Allison Graham, Sarah Madsen Hardy, Joanne Hershfield, Arthur Knight, Gina Marchetti, Gary W. McDonough, Chandra Mukerji, Martin F. Norden, Brian O'Neil, Roberta E. Pearson, Marguerite H. Rippy, Nicholas Sammond, Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, Peter Stanfield, Kelly Thomas; Hernan Vera, Karen Wallace, Thomas E. Wartenberg, Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong, Geoffrey White, and Jane Yi.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8971-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)
    Daniel Bernardi

    Classic Hollywood, Classic Whitenessbuilds upon the questions and arguments developed in my first anthology on film history,The Birth of Whiteness: Race and the Emergence of U.S. Cinema.¹ In that volume, contributors from such diverse fields as critical race studies, cultural studies, film history, literary studies, and social history address the relationship between race and film from around the turn of the century to the 1920s, or the early and silent periods. In arguing that early cinema constructed whiteness as the “norm by which all ‘Others’ fail by comparison,” the volume sets forth to reveal the distinct ways in...


    • 1 ʺWHAT YOU ARE . . . I WOULDNʹT EATʺ: Ethnicity, Whiteness, and Performing ʺthe Jewʺ in Hollywoodʹs Golden Age
      (pp. 3-30)
      Nicholas Sammond and Chandra Mukerji

      In Ernst Lubitsch’sTo Be Or Not To Be(1942), a Nazi officer is asked if he knows the lead character, a ham actor. He replies, “Oh yes . . . what he did to Shakespeare, we are now doing to Poland.” When the film premiered, during wartime, the line was considered grossly inappropriate—how tasteless to compare the depredations of the Nazis to a bad rendition ofHamlet. Still, the line had an undeniable resonance: what was Hitler but a tin-pot dictator, a second-rate caricature of a leader, laying to waste not only Europe, but an idea of Europe...

    • 2 FROM SECOND STRING TO SOLO STAR: Classic Hollywood and the Black Athlete
      (pp. 31-51)
      Aaron Baker

      With the exception of a few race films, African Americans appear only as minor characters (if at all) in feature-length movies about sports from the coming of sound through the beginning of the civil rights movement. A cycle of Hollywood films in the early 1950s that featured Black athletes followed closely on the opening of previously all-Whiteprofessional sports to African-Americans just after World War II. These, however, were stories of self-reliance and White paternalism that attempted to de-emphasize social determinants of racial identity. In the almost half century since that time, Blacks’ participation in Hollywood movies has increased slowly and...

    • 3 DARK CITY: White Flight and the Urban Science Fiction Film in Postwar America
      (pp. 52-71)
      Eric Avila

      At the outset ofInvisible Man, Ralph Ellison seeks to dispel white perceptions of black people. Such perceptions, he realized, often drew upon the vast array of images that saturated the cultural life of mid-twentieth century white America. Writing in the early 1950s, a time when American movie audiences reveled in the spectacular images of alien invasions, Ellison took strides to deny his similarity to “Hollywood movie ectoplasms.” Although he painfully recognized his invisibility as a black man in cold war America, he also protested his visibility in cultural productions like the urban science fiction film of the 1950s. Ellison,...

    • 4 ʺTHEY WORSHIP MONEY AND PREJUDICEʺ: The Certainties of Class and the Uncertainties of Race in Son of the Gods
      (pp. 72-92)
      Gina Marchetti

      Made in 1929 and released in January 1930,Son of the Gods(directed by Frank Lloyd and based on a story by Rex Beach), a Vitaphone sound feature from Warners/First National, is marked by several different cataclysmic changes in both the movie industry and American society. The film tells the story of Sam Lee (Richard Barthelmess), the son of a wealthy Chinese merchant, who becomes the victim of racism when he falls in love with a European-American socialite, Allana Wagner (Constance Bennett). After both nearly self-destruct because of their taboo relationship, Sam learns he is actually white. While he continues...


    • 5 ʺTHE LOVELIEST AND PUREST OF GODʹS CREATURESʺ: The Three Faces of Eve and the Crisis of Southern Womanhood
      (pp. 95-110)
      Allison Graham

      The southern white woman has long been a conventional figure in our cultural iconography. Soft-spoken and flirtatious, the belle (or “peach”) has functioned as a rebuke to the masculinized women of American industrialism and as an emblem of the femininity that blooms unbidden in agrarian simplicity. To the defenders of racial segregation in the 1950s, she symbolized a threatened and embattled way of life that, ironically, had existed primarily as legend for more than one hundred years. Invoking a fantasy to defend a fantasy, segregationists rallied around their favorite icon when the Supreme Court issued its May 1954 school desegregation...

    • 6 THE REDSKIN AND THE PALEFACE: Comedy on the Frontier
      (pp. 111-138)
      Karen Wallace

      The American Indian is a stock character in American film and literature. He is little more than a cliché, serving more often than not as a narrative device rather than as a fully developed and significant character. In his essay “The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism,” Homi K. Bhabha writes, “It is the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial stereotype its currency [and] ensures its repeatability in changing historical and discursive conjunctures.”¹ Bhabha challenges the metanarrative of colonial discourse that reifies signs and argues whether or not they are adequate representations. He suggests as an...

    • 7 DOLORES DEL RÍO, UNCOMFORTABLY REAL: The Economics of Race in Hollywoodʹs Latin American Musicals
      (pp. 139-156)
      Joanne Hershfield

      WhenPhotoplayconducted a search in 1933 for the “most perfect feminine figure in Hollywood,” using “medicalmen, artists, designers” as judges, the “unanimous choice” of these selective arbiters of female beauty in the United States was the Mexican actress, Dolores del Río.¹ The question posed by the fan magazine search and the methodology employed to find this “most perfect” figure reveal a number of discursive parameters that defined femininity and beauty during that particular moment in U.S. history. At the same time, the selection of Dolores del Río betrays an enigma unique to Hollywood: given the particular environment of social...

    • 8 HUMANIZING THE BEAST: King Kong and the Representation of Black Male Sexuality
      (pp. 157-177)
      Thomas E. Wartenberg

      King Kong(1933, dirs. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack), the classic horror-adventure film, has had a varied reception by film scholars. Although Kong has been recognized to function as a stand-in for Black males—by James Snead, for example, in his insightful if somewhat incomplete interpretation of the film¹—there has been disagreement about the significance of this fact. Snead emphasizes the presence of multiple plots in the film and, hence, the possibility of divergent reactions to it. Nevertheless, he generally sees the racial message of the film as residing in the narrative sequence in which Kong is...

    • 9 COMMODITY, TRAGEDY, DESIRE: Female Sexuality and Blackness in the Iconography of Dorothy Dandridge
      (pp. 178-209)
      Marguerite H. Rippy

      The above observation by Salman Rushdie on the death of our latest icon of femininity, Princess Diana, is striking in that it could so aptly describe the death of Dorothy Dandridge more than a generation earlier. Rushdie captures both the psychological complexity of mass identification and desire and the corporeal burden it places on women who embody cultural desire. There lies in objectification a fundamental inhumanity that derives pleasure from the flight of the object toward subjectivity (the act of pulling away from the grasp, the hand thrust toward the camera in an attempt to block the lens); there is...

    • 10 ORIENTALISM ABROAD: Hong Kong Readings of The World of Suzie Wong
      (pp. 210-242)
      Gary W. McDonogh and Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong

      A few days after Hong Kong’s July 1, 1997, transition from British sovereignty to reunion with China, theSouth China Morning Postreviewed a new book about local prostitution under the feature headline “Sex after Suzie Wong.” The article thus highlighted a novelistic/film narrative as a symbolic landmark in local “history”:

      The fictional CinderellaWorld of Suzie Wong. . . caught the colour of 1950s Wan Chai when swaggering matelots roamed the bars looking for rest and recreation (known as R & R), love and laughter.

      But it failed to capture the harsh realities of a life serving sex. ....


    • 11 INDIANISM? Classical Hollywoodʹs Representation of Native Americans
      (pp. 245-262)
      Roberta E. Pearson

      In the mythical west of Cecil B. DeMille’sThe Plainsman(1936), Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill, two legends of the frontier, make camp together. An Indian appears, wearing a bullet-holed cavalry officer’s coat and leading a horse with a Company E guidon flying from its saddle. The two Western heroes capture the Indian, who speaks to them in Cheyenne as Wild Bill translates for Buffalo Bill (and for the audience). Bill’s translation ceases as the film cuts to a flashback, a classic image of Custer’s Last Stand. The equally legendary yellow-haired general, clad in buckskins, stands by an American...

      (pp. 263-280)
      Hernan Vera and Andrew Gordon

      In this chapter, we investigate aspects of what we call “the sincere fictions of the white self” as they can be seen in the images of five Hollywood movies across the decades of the twentieth century. These films deal with one of the crucial periods of American race relations, the era of the Civil War and the Reconstruction:Birth of a Nation(1915),The Littlest Rebel(1935),Gone with the Wind(1939),Raintree County(1957), andGlory(1990). What we find in these movies is a persistence across time in representations of the ideal white American self, which is constructed...

    • 13 CREATURES OF GOOD AND EVIL: Caucasian Portrayals of the Chinese and Japanese during World War II
      (pp. 281-300)
      Karla Rae Fuller

      The most well known Oriental figures on the Hollywood screen were almost always non-Asian actors made up to look Asian. From the film industry’s earliest days, African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians have been impersonated by performers of other racial groups. Notably, the Asian depictions have produced well-known iconic figures, such as Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan, who remain familiar. Still, scholars, critics, and viewers frequently collapse distinctions between portrayals of Asian roles by Caucasian actors and those by Asian actors in order to create a generalized Asian typology. Implicit in the practice of Asian impersonation by Caucasian actors in...

    • 14 DECEMBER 7TH: Race and Nation in Wartime Documentary
      (pp. 301-338)
      Geoffrey M. White and Jane Yi

      In 1986 an enterprising film distributor released a video version ofDecember 7th, the official 1943 film about the bombing of Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II. Liner notes for the video read:


      President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” On that Sunday morning at 7:55 the Japanese began an air attack that devastated the Pacific fleet and took the lives of 2,343 servicemen. This film is a heavily partisaned look at the day’s events, designed to sway even the most avowed isolationist. Since few cameras were actually...

    • 15 ʺCOWARD, TAKE MY COWARDʹS HANDʺ: Racism, Ableism, and the Veteran Problem in Home of the Brave and Bright Victory
      (pp. 339-356)
      Martin F. Norden

      Before their eventual demise in the Red Scare era, liberal sentiments found expression in numerous Hollywood movies during the years following World War II. Their political views tempered with a heavy dose of profit-mindedness, these films focused on individuals struggling against a variety of social ills such as racism, anti-Semitism, alcohol abuse, malignant social institutions—hot box office topics, all. Undoubtedly, the person misunderstood and victimized by society had become a highly marketable Hollywood commodity during the immediate postwar period.

      Within this cycle of so-termed “problem pictures,” two movies managed to explore the postwar concerns ofthreedisadvantaged social subgroups:...


    • 16 THE DEMANDS OF AUTHENTICITY: Addison Durland and Hollywoodʹs Latin Images during World War II
      (pp. 359-385)
      Brian OʹNeil

      Will Hays, “film czar” of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, announced at a New York press conference on March 26, 1941, that Addison Durland would join Joseph Breen’s staff at the Production Code Administration (PCA) in Hollywood. Hays hailed the new appointment as “another step in the industry’s co-operation in the current efforts to promote hemispheric solidarity.” Durland’s mandate was seemingly straightforward and simple: to ensure that all Hollywood films be free from anything potentially offensive to “Latin sensibilities.” Or, as the characteristically succinct and colloquial headlines of theFilm Dailyput it the following day, “Durland...

    • 17 STAR DANCES: African-American Constructions of Stardom, 1925–1960
      (pp. 386-414)
      Arthur Knight

      Let two images, along with some of the questions—and problems—they raise, both hover over and serve as touchstones for this essay:

      First, a still from the finale of the 1938 race film musical The Duke Is Tops. What relations do these performers have to stars and ideas of stardom? Are they—or which of them are—stars?

      Second, a photograph taken by photographer Aaron Siskind in 1940 as part of a project documenting life in Harlem. Sometimes it goes by the title “Sleeping with White Pinups.” What is this man’s relation to stars, especially movie stars?

      At the...

    • 18 LISTENING TO RACE: Voice, Mixing, and Technological ʺMiscegenationʺ in Early Sound Film
      (pp. 415-441)
      Sarah Madsen Hardy and Kelly Thomas

      In a 1929 issue of the film journalClose Updevoted to the topic of “Negro art for the cinema,” African-American writer Geraldyn Dismond attributes the relatively large influx of black actors in Hollywood film to the advent of sound: “It is significant that with the coming of talkies, the first all-Negro feature pictures were attempted by the big companies.”¹ Dismond refers specifically to King Vidor’sHallelujah(1929), the first post-synchronized sound film, and Paul Sloane’sHearts of Dixie(1929), which soon followed. Her comment underscores a fundamental shift in Hollywood’s treatment of race, especially blackness, that has yet to...

    • 19 ʺEXTREMELY DANGEROUS MATERIALʺ: Hollywood and the ʺBallad of Frankie and Johnnieʺ
      (pp. 442-466)
      Peter Stanfield

      Dear Mr. Mayer

      We have read the Frankie and Johnnie number for your proposed picture ʺZiegfeld Follies.ʺ We regret to report that we feel this subject matter would be unacceptable from the standpoint of the Production Code, on account of its flavor of prostitution and excessive sex suggestiveness.

      Furthermore, it has been the practice of censor boards generally to delete even the mention of this song, whenever any attempt has been made to inject it into pictures.

      We strongly urge, therefore, that you steer away entirely from this extremely dangerous material and substitute something else.

      Cordially yours,

      Joseph I. Breen,...

    (pp. 467-482)
    Beretta E. Smith-Shomade
    (pp. 483-488)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 489-516)