AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Re-visioning tropes of womanhood in early African American all black cast movie musicals: representations of the holy woman and her transgressive counterpart in King Vidor’s Hallelujah (1929), Spencer Williams’ The blood of Jesus (1941) and Vincente Minnelli’s Cabin in the sky (1943)

by Anne Bower

Institution: University of Birmingham
Department: School of Humanities, Centre of European Languages and Culture
Year: 2015
Keywords: HQ The family. Marriage. Woman; PN1993 Motion Pictures; PS American literature
Record ID: 1405602
Full text PDF: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/5606/


The purpose of this thesis is to interrogate cinematic representations of black female sexuality and spirituality in King Vidor’s vision of religious normalcy and black life in the deep south in ‘\(Hallelujah\)’ 1929, Spencer Williams’s 1941 independently produced religious melodrama, ‘\(The\) \(Blood\) \(of\) \(Jesus\)’, and the vaudevillesque, folkloric Hollywood musical fantasy of Vincente Minnelli’s 1943 ‘\(Cabin\) \(in\) \(The\) \(Sky\)’. The paper will examine specific cinematic configurations of black womanhood that were popularised in the all black cast American movie musicals between 1929 and 1943. The highly marked racial and gendered configurations of the Mammy and Jezebel stereotypes function, the paper will argue, as phallocentric constructs of black femininity, firstly in the configuration of the black church woman as the bogeywoman, unknowable, a superwoman and secondly, that of the black female condition as transgressive and the catalyst of male deviancy. During this period, the Hollywood movie industry’s propensity for authoring and fixing racial and religious categories, produced the binary manifestation of the puritanical, defeminised black church woman and her sexually transgressive counterpart. Such filmic representations of black femininities and their deleterious ascriptions and the historical institutions that produced them will be the focus of this inquiry.