Evolution Of Black Actors In Early American Cinema

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Black Faces, Black Voices: The Evolution of Black Actors in Early American Cinema As Michael Rogin states in his article, “Blackface, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice”, “Each transformative moment in the history of American film has founded itself on the surplus symbolic values of blacks, the power to make African Americans stand for something besides themselves,” (417). So, although it may not be made evident to the majority of audiences, Black actors have had a great impact and contribution to early American Cinema, without necessarily receiving the credit they were due. Instead, Black actors were reduced to minimal acting roles and portrayed as “Jim Crowe” stereotypes characters. This was the most evident in the Blackface…show more content…
As Alice Maurice discusses in her article, “‘Cinema at It’s Source’: Synchronizing Race and Sound in the Early Talkies”, “in 1929, when the sound recording apparatus was as new and technically limited as the stationary camera of early cinema, “black voices” provided the perfect medium for the talking picture. A spate of all-black features and short subjects was hurried into production, and the demand for African American actors reached unprecedented levels,” (35). Therefore, the desire for Black actor voices and talents was seen to be in high demand in Hollywood. However, this new inclusion into talking pictures did not diversify the type of roles Black actors were cast in. Black actors were still cast as the stereotypical Mammy, Jim Crowe, Uncle Tom, or slave characters. For example, Stepin Fetchit was the main actor in the almost all-black casted film, Hearts in Dixie, but played the stereotypical “Gummy”, the lazy, freeloading “colored boy” who only finds his feet when the music plays (Maurice, 43). This role furthering the stereotype as Black actors as entertainers and not dramatic actors. This was even further reinforced, as Black actors were even made to perform in blackface to further their performance of the stereotypical black character. Blackface was not only socially acceptable in these films, but also characterized a stereotyped ideal of Black bodies and established a negligence for Black actors as being enough to represent their own

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