Uploaded by Shannon McRae

Race and Racism in the Jazz Age

Race and Racism in the Jazz
Hollywood, Jews and AfricanAmericans
Hollywood's founding motion picture was Birth of a Nation (1915).
It was the longest, costliest, most ambitious, most spectacular American film to date.
Its technique, expense, length, mass audience, and critical reception made it the single most important American
film of the silent era.
It celebrated the KKK.
The Jazz Singer (1927) marked the beginning of the sound era.
It was the first movie to have speech; it was also the first to integrate musical numbers into its plot.
It broke all existing box office records and its sequel, 1928's Singing Fool, was the leading money maker of the
It starred an actor who plays his role in blackface.
Gone With the Wind (1939) was Hollywood's all-time biggest box office success.
It represents a defense of the moonlight and magnolia image of the old South.
These three films provide the scaffolding for American film history.
What do the three films have in common: race.
In Birth of a Nation, white men dressed in sheets attack African Americans, who supposedly threaten the honor of
white women.
It provides an extreme white southern view of Reconstruction and justifies political and social repression.
In The Jazz Singer, Al Jolson sings in blackface.
It is a story of assimilation and Americanization, but it contains a highly offensive racial image.
And Mickey Mouse--white gloved and black faced--was copied from The Jazz Singer.
And Gone with the Wind embodied the South's plantation myth--the idea that the Old South represented a set of
higher ideals than those of the grasping, materialistic North.
Much of modern American mass culture was appropriated from African Americans.
First there were minstrel songs of the pre-Civil War era.
Racism combined with the expropriation of African American identity was part of the way that immigrants became
It was also a way to become modern.
James Baldwin: "No one was white before he/she came to America.... Everyone who got here, and paid the price
of the ticket, the price was to become 'white.'"
Whites wanted to be black (or what blackness represented psychologically and culturally) even as they rejected
Some Images of Black People:
Race as Entertainment
Minstrel Shows
• White people in
• Exaggerated
Race as Product
Race as Amusement
Realities of Race in 20th-century
• Lynching
• “Jim Crow” Laws,
Harlem Renaissance
• Rise of African-American Intelligentsia
• Occurred mostly in Harlem in the 1920s
• Self-consciousness about establishing
Pride and position through art: writing,
music, theatrical performance
• Difficulties that ensued when this required
the patronage of white audiences
The Cotton Club
Does Jazz put the Sin in
• “Jazz originally was the accompaniment of
the voodoo dancer, stimulating the halfcrazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. The
weird chant, accompanied by the syncopated
rhythm of the voodoo invokers, has also
been employed by other barbaric people to
stimulate brutality and sensuality. That it has
a demoralizing effect upon the human brain
has been demonstrated by many scientists.”
Black Bottom Stomp
Men With Hats