Here’s what’s up for the next couple of weeks:
On March 25th, I’ll be finishing up my lecture on Genre in ê´´ë¬¼ and then we’ll be watching the Spike Lee film Bamboozled (IMDB, Wikipedia, subtitle file in case anyone wants to “read the script” beforehand).
If you’re not familiar with Spike Lee, I envy you the pleasure of discovering him for the first time. He’s one of the best directors in America at the moment, at least in my opinion, and certainly has been the most famous African-American movie director for a long time. His films are both entertaining and often satirical, but also intelligent, critical, and politically charged. Bamboozled is about 132 minutes long, so we’ll be watching it for much of next week, though I hope to get in some comments about blackface minstrelsy — a form of popular entertainment in America and, in fact, around the Anglophone world — from the early/mid-19th century to the early/mid-20th.
As preparation, you should consider reading up on Blackface Minstrel preformance, such as on this Wikipedia page. Feel free to explore further on your own. A noted and fascinating bookn on the subject — one I’ll be using for reference in preparation of my lecture — is John Strausbaugh’s 2006 text Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture (Tarcher/Penguin: New York, 2006).
Also as preparation, I expect that you will watch the following movie, which is available free online: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (free online at Google video, or download it from the Internet Archive here for free. It’s so old that that’s legal!). I expect that you will watch this three-hour movie before our next class, or at least during the coming week.
By the way, The Birth of a Nation is the film I mentioned in my lecture on ê´´ë¬¼ in connection to King Kong. The Birth of a Nation is the most famous and politically charged example of a film depiction of African-Americans not only because of the use of blackface on white actors, but also because of the subject of the film — it’s a glorification of the forming of the racist, criminal organization known as the Ku Klux Klan after the American Civil War. You can read more about the film here, and feel free also to enjoy this short clip from DJ Spooky’e remix of the movie here.
(And yes, Birth of a Nation is very long, and a silent movie, and disgustingly racist too, but is effect on film history, and the way the racism manifested in the film, make it very important to the subject we’re watching. So yes, you really should watch it. Part II is especially important.)
Here are some more videos, mp3s, and texts to check out when you have a free moment, which will present more images from the era when blackface was commonplace (in the West, anyway). I encourage you to explore them throughout this week:
- A blackface puppet show from 1937.
- A blackface show titled “Harlem Revue”.
- A documentary segment on a modern, educational blackface show.
- Jungle Jitters, a Warner Brothers cartoon which was banned for containing racist depictions of blacks Africans.
- The Old Mill Pond, a banned MGM cartoon containing blackface.\
Finally, on April 1st, we’ll have a classroom discussion of Bamboozled and various archetype of The Other, followed by a panel discussion on Baldwin’s The Stranger in the Village.
(On April 3rd, I’ll probably give you a crash course on the influence of African-American culture on American (and world) popular culture, spanning from the swing era and its jazz big bands all the way to hip-hop today, and including not only music but dance, language, fashion, and youth culture identity. I’ll have more online for you as that day approaches.)
Happy Easter Long Weekend!
PS: I’ll post a copy of the ê´´ë¬¼ Powerpoint once I’ve finished giving that lecture. So, sometime next week. You should be reviewing your notes and other class materials, because you never know when a surprise quiz might appear on your desk!