Date of Submission

Fall 2015

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Ed Halter

Abstract/Artist's Statement

The purpose of my senior thesis paper involves the racial politics concerning the presence of African-American entertainers in Hollywood cinema. I will note the changes over time in how black entertainers-- whether they are musicians, dancers, singers, and actors--were typecast in stereotypical roles that defined how black culture would be represented. The beginning of my timeline starts with the limited opportunities applied to black talent on screen during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the social destabilization during World War II and the integration policies and awareness of racism as a social issue throughout the 1950s-1960s. More importantly, I will detail how the musical genre throughout the timeline both typecast and acknowledged the versatility and overall talent of black entertainers.

The musical genre‘s prevalence was illustrated by the rise of jazz and swing music, invented mostly by African American artists. At the same time as jazz’s popularity in the early 20th century was when American cinema implemented sound as a new phenomenon to entertain the masses. However, the limited screen time afforded to black artists who contributed to the music’s popularity were seen as background characters. with barely any character development or plot function, African-American talent were segregated from the more relevant white characters. Around the time of World War II and the postwar period of the 1950s, the growing unrest for civil rights was reflected in Hollywood through real world integration in the studio system and in movies. The gradual integration of black character actors being more important narratively gave way to African American stars finding more mainstream appeal. The stereotypes still persisted, but the prominence of black screen stars both personified and deconstructed these often harmful roles.

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