From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures

By Daniel J. Leab | Go to book overview

6
A LIMITED RESPONSE

ALTHOUGH HOLLYWOOD FILMS before Pearl Harbor tended to be cautious in their treatment of World War II, once the country was formally involved the industry unstintingly backed the war effort and its announced goals. For the coming four years, the onscreen population of the United States would fight a heroic battle to preserve democracy's "Four Freedoms." If there were few black participants in these films, the industry did at least try to heed the advice of the Office of War Information to "stress national unity" and to "show colored soldiers in crowd scenes." 1

Yet even as American propaganda castigated Axis racism, the traditional stereotypes of the movie black failed to disappear. Producer David O. Selznick's approach to publicizing Since You Went Away typified the industry's attitude toward the black during the war years. In March, 1944, his public relations staff released a statement to the black press about the film, which was scheduled to premiere shortly. According to the release, Since You Went Away would show the home front activities of "all" Americans. Selznick, it continued, felt that "not enough attention had been paid to the colored Americans who fight and die for their country and work and live in it." The movie proved to be a banal and melodramatic view of the effects of the war upon an American family called the Hiltons while the man is away in the armed forces. The only prominent black role was played by Hattie McDaniel, as the Hilton cook, Fidelia: she "satisfied all that anyone could possibly desire of a Negro in . . . restive times," James Agee ironically noted. For not only did Fidelia

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From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Intruduction: the Lack of Humanity 1
  • 1 - Gamut from a to B 7
  • 2 - The Birth of a Nation 23
  • 3 - The Freezing of an Image 41
  • 4 - All-Colored -- but Not Very Different 59
  • 5 - Shufflin' into Sound 83
  • 6 - A Limited Response 119
  • 7 - Glimmers of Change 145
  • 8 - A Pale Black Imitation 173
  • 9 - Toward a New Image 197
  • 10 - Black Is Boxoffice 233
  • Notes 265
  • Notes 267
  • Bibliography 279
  • Index 289
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