Choosing to Live: Cancer Education, Movies, and the Conversion Narrative in America, 1921–1960


Conversion narratives dominated the American Cancer Society's (ACS) public education films from the 1920s to the late 1940s: the vast majority of its films included a conversion story, and conversion provided the central narrative structure of those movies in which it appeared. This hegemony, however, did not survive the 1940s. Both forms of domination came to be challenged late in that decade, as television began to change the context in which these films were viewed, and as the cancer organization began to increase the numbers of educational films it produced and to broaden the range of subjects covered by its movies. This paper aims to explain the changing role of the conversion narrative within the ACS's cinematic output, and to explore the role of movies, and the conversion narratives embedded in them, as tools for managing public responses to cancer.