By Charlene B. Regester
9 actresses, from Madame Sul-Te-Wan in start of a kingdom (1915) to Ethel Waters in Member of the marriage (1952), are profiled in African American Actresses. Charlene Regester poses questions about winning racial politics, on-screen and off-screen identities, and black stardom and white stardom. She unearths how those girls fought for his or her roles in addition to what they compromised (or did not compromise). Regester repositions those actresses to spotlight their contributions to cinema within the first 1/2 the twentieth century, taking an educated theoretical, ancient, and important strategy. (2011)
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Additional resources for African American actresses: the struggle for visibility, 1900-1960
Toni Morrison expounds on the juxtaposition of whiteness to blackness that is reified in the relationship between Cindy and Ann and suggests that Images of impenetrable whiteness need contextualizing to explain their extraordinary power, pattern, and consistency. Because they appear almost always in conjunction with representations of black or Africanist people who are dead, impotent, or under complete control, these images m a d a m e s u l - t e - wa nâ•… · â•… 29 of blinding whiteness seem to function as both antidote for and meditation on the shadow that is companion to this whiteness.
In the end, however, she acceded to the rules of the Hollywood game, which meant that because of her blackness she had to accept roles associated with the occult, voodoo, evil, immorality, and sexual promiscuity in order to remain employed as an actress. She accepted the marginalization that equated her with invisibility. ”97 However, while seemingly accepting this multiply coded position of invisibility, Sul-Te-Wan managed to establish her space as the racial Other and to turn invisibility into visibility, through the power of her acting in minimal roles and through the eccentricity of her personal appearance.
It was not until 1938, when m a d a m e s u l - t e - wa nâ•… · â•… 37 she was cast in In Old Chicago and Kentucky, that Variety would cite her contributions. Despite such marginalization, with each decade Sul-Te-Wan gained increasing visibility, and by the 1940s, a decade that witnessed a growing acceptance of African Americans in Hollywood and in society in general, she was more often mentioned in the mainstream press’s film reviews. Nevertheless, she still could not escape a significant amount of continuing invisibility.
African American actresses: the struggle for visibility, 1900-1960 by Charlene B. Regester