Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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The Black Female Body from Silence to Sound in Race Films
Nina Cartier

Last modified: 2010-05-28


The black female body was heavily represented in early cinema, from mammies to tragic mullatoes and other stereotypical depictions. Early race filmmakers challenged these stereotypes, often utilizing them to advance story lines or expose the roles' inherent contradictions and shortcomings. But as cinema ushered in the talkie, did technological innovation pave the way for black female roles' transformations? This paper considers a few works from the two most prolific black filmmakers of the early silent and sound race film era: Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams.

Though perhaps best known for his silent films, Micheaux continued in cinema well into the sound era. Williams, best known as Amos from The Amos ‘n Andy Show, began his filmmaking career during the sound era.  In addition to stylistic differences, are there any differences in how the two depict black women, particularly concerning narration, desire, and social standing? With these questions in mind, I take a closer look at excerpts from Within Our Gates (1920), Body and Soul (1925), The Girl from Chicago (1932), Blood of Jesus (1941), The Girl in Room 20 (1946) and Juke Joint (1947).

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