Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity

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"With this book, Stewart establishes herself as the authority on early Black cinema. The historiography is meticulous, original and compelling. Stewart puts theory and history into productive conversation. An extremely important work."—Linda Williams, author of Playing the Race Card

"As a child in West Virginia, I loved the movies, but I had little idea that my people's history was being constructed (and deconstructed) as I watched them. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart's bold new book lets us see how black history was,...

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Overview

"With this book, Stewart establishes herself as the authority on early Black cinema. The historiography is meticulous, original and compelling. Stewart puts theory and history into productive conversation. An extremely important work."—Linda Williams, author of Playing the Race Card

"As a child in West Virginia, I loved the movies, but I had little idea that my people's history was being constructed (and deconstructed) as I watched them. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart's bold new book lets us see how black history was, in part, made at the movies. The history of the Great Migration has rarely been so vivid or compelling."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans

"Jacqueline Stewart's Migrating to the Movies finally brings the unmistakable sparkle of brilliance to the field of racial constructions in early cinema. Part of Stewart's magic in this book is her substantial gift for critical insight, while the other part of this inimitable brew is her uncanny grasp of this particular topic. As an avid student of silent film for the past decade, I've been patiently waiting for a work that would juggle the obvious sociological weight of the raw material while also grappling with the technological and aesthetic complexities at stake. Migrating to the Movies is the first book to achieve this, and it is an indispensable volume on racial constructions of vision and the scopic gaze in the early twentieth century."—Michele Wallace, author of Dark Designs and Visual Culture

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520233508
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 367
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacqueline Najuma Stewart is Associate Professor of English, Cinema & Media Studies, and African & African American Studies at the University of Chicago.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : a nigger in the woodpile, or black (in)visibility in film history 1
1 "To misrepresent a helpless race" : the black image problem 23
2 Mixed colors : riddles of blackness in preclassical cinema 50
3 "Negroes laughing at themselves"? : black spectatorship and the performance of urban modernity 93
4 "Some thing to see up here all the time" : moviegoing and black urban leisure in Chicago 114
5 Along the "stroll" : Chicago's black belt movie theaters 155
6 Reckless rovers versus ambitious Negroes : migration, patriotism, and the politics of genre in early African American filmmaking 189
7 "We were never immigrants" : Oscar Micheaux and the reconstruction of black American identity 219
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2005

    For film or Chicago history buffs

    This book differs from most studies of African Americans and cinema because it ends where others usually begin: with the prolific Oscar Micheaux, who made more than 40 ¿race¿ films between 1917 and 1948. Exploring cinema during the ¿preclassical¿ era (ie before it became codified and centralized in Hollywood) the author argues that the Great Migration and cinema shaped each other in powerful ways. The study focuses on Chicago¿s ¿Black Belt,¿ the birthplace of African American cinema and at the time, a center of thriving black entrepreneurship, entertainment culture and political activism as well as home to country¿s most widely-regarded race newspaper, The Chicago Defender. The first section of the book considers how the Great Migration was registered and reflected in dominant cinema, including educational films and travelogues. The second section describes African Americans as spectators and critics. The third section explores how African American filmmakers attempted to comment on cinema and to build and profit from developing black consumer cultures. I found the first chapter of the book, which establishes the theoretical framework, rather daunting...the author herself calls it ¿discursive¿ in the first sentence of the next chapter. But after that point, academics and general readers alike will find this to be a fascinating exploration of early cinema and race relations, with implications still reverberating today. For example, while discussing images of blackness and stereotypes, she notes that when white filmgoers saw a black person carrying a chicken or a watermelon, they knew without further explanation that the item had been stolen. This instantly called to mind media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, when photo captions portrayed black people as ¿looting¿ whereas white people were ¿finding supplies.¿ The book is generously illustrated with 56 rare film images. I recommend it to anyone interested in film or ethnic studies, but also to anyone interested in Chicago¿s historic Black Belt.

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