Book Review: Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation: Spectacular Narratives of Gender and Race

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by Susan Courtney

    Publication Date:
    List Price: $75.00
    Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9780691113043
    Imprint: Princeton University Press
    Publisher: Princeton University Press
    Parent Company: Princeton University
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    Book Reviewed by Kam Williams

    "Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation analyzes white fantasies of interracial desire in the history of popular American film. From the first interracial screen kiss of 1903, through the Production Code's nearly thirty-year ban on depictions of miscegenation, to the contemplation of mixed marriage in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), this book demonstrates a long, popular, yet under examined record of cultural fantasy at the movies.

    ’Excerpted from Preface

    Actor Taye Diggs, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Miami Dolphins star Jason Taylor and some other high profile black men have recently been receiving hate mail threatening to castrate, burn and or shoot them for being married to white women. To understand the deep-seated hatred motivating their racist pen pal, you might like to turn to Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation, a highly academic, seminal study of black-white romance as portrayed in cinema.

    Miscegenation is technically still defined by Webster as the mixture of two races, even though the Genome Project has proven conclusively that there is only one race, the human race. Historically, however, Hollywood considered such romantic unions taboo, particularly when it comes to the black male and the white female.

    Author Susan Courtney, Professor of Film Studies at the University of South Carolina, explains that a cultural tone was set by even before D.W. Griffith's release of the inflammatory The Birth of a Nation in 1915, an incendiary silent flick which stoked societal fears of black men raping white women. Furthermore, she points out, this recurring theme of African-American males as beasts had the harmful effect of enabling any cry of rape by a white woman to be used as an excuse for lynching.

    Courtney suggests that this characterization is ironic since, if anything, it was white men who had a penchant for crossing the color line forcibly for satisfaction. But you'd never learn that from the movies. For in 1930, the strict Production Code was passed, which for about thirty years dictated exactly how  filmmakers were allowed to portray whites in relation to people of color.

    The book's analysis of movies is broken down into three parts: pre, post, and during that screen prohibition era in terms of race-mixing. In intricate detail, Professor Courtney dissects popular pictures like The Blonde Captive, Gone With the Wind, The Jazz Singer and Jungle Fever, relying on over 140 images to make her persuasive case that we live with fallout from Tinseltown's bigoted attitudes about relationships regarding skin color and gender.

    She wonders why has the stereotype of the black rapist persisted, while any hint of the sexual exploitation of black women by white men has been perpetually repressed? She instructs her readers to ask what a picture is routinely prompting them to feel and to remember, or possibly to forget, or not notice?

    Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation, an education in film appreciation guaranteed to change the way you watch movies forever.

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