Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

5

FATAL BEAUTIES

Black women in Hollywood

Karen Alexander

First they said I was too light

Then they said I was too dark

Then they said I was too different

Then they said I was too much the same

Then they said I was too young

Then they said I was too old

Then they said I was too interracial… 1

As we approach the 1990s in Britain, black faces have never been more visible. Black women now appear on mainstream magazine covers, they are seen in magazine advertisements, on billboards in the street and even on television, something unheard of even a few years ago. In many ways this may be viewed as a progression from days when black women were heard but not seen, but appearances can be deceiving. We can hardly speak of progress when the most publicised recent use of black skin in advertising-the notorious 'United Colours' Benetton campaign-is not only offensively iconic, using a suspect idea of what blackness stands for, but also fetishistic, using only parts of the black body-a hand (in handcuffs), a breast (breast feeding)-to represent that idea. Moreover it is an idea that exists mainly in the minds of white people. As a black woman, born in Britain and brought up here in the sixties and seventies, my own idea was to find an image of the complete black woman to identify with, someone I could hope, however naively, to be: young, gifted and beautiful. In my search I thumbed through out-of-date, grubby issues of Ebony magazine, reading a little and looking a lot, soaking up all I could. Time and again I would read about black achievers-mainly men-and see advertisements that featured exclusively black people-mainly women. These were beautiful women; what they were selling was unimportant, what mattered was the hair styles, the dresses and the make-up. My younger relatives elevated these images into images of stars by sticking them on the ceiling above their beds, alongside their posters of The Jackson Five and Diana Ross.

In such a frame of mind my discovery of a woman who was not only

-45-

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Stardom: Industry of Desire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The System 1
  • 1 - Seeing Stars 3
  • 2 - The Emergence of the Star System in America 17
  • 3 - The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window 30
  • 4 - The Building of Popular Images 40
  • 5 - Fatal Beauties 45
  • Part II - Stars and Society 55
  • 6 - Charisma 57
  • 7 - Shirley Temple and the House of Rockefeller 60
  • 8 - 'Puffed Sleeves Before Tea-Time' 74
  • 9 - The Return of Jimmy Stewart 92
  • 10 - Three Indian Film Stars 107
  • 11 - A Star is Born and the Construction of Authenticity 132
  • 12 - Feminine Fascinations 141
  • Part III - Performers and Signs 165
  • 13 - Articulating Stardom 167
  • 14 - Screen Acting and the Commutation Test 183
  • 15 - Stars and Genre 198
  • 16 - Signs of Melodrama 207
  • Part IV - Desire, Meaning and Politics 231
  • 17 - In Defence of Violence 233
  • 18 - The Politics of 'Jane Fonda' 237
  • 19 - The Glut of the Personality 251
  • 20 - Pleasure, Ambivalence, Identification 259
  • 21 - 'A Queer Feeling When I Look at You' 283
  • 22 - Monster Metaphors 300
  • Select Bibliography 317
  • Index 332
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