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Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II. By Darlene J. Sadlier. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. 251 pages. $55.00 (cloth).
The Latin American Literary Boom and U.S. Nationalism during the Cold War. By Deborah Cohn. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012. 280 pages. $69.95 (cloth). $34.95 (paper).
Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War. By Claire F. Fox. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. 352 pages. $90.00 (cloth). $30.00 (paper).

In 1941 four hardscrabble Brazilian fishermen set sail from the northern city of Fortaleza in a primitive jangada (raft), inaugurating a sixteen-hundred-mile voyage south to Rio de Janeiro, where they sought to petition President Getúlio Vargas to expand social welfare benefits. By the time they arrived in Rio on November 15, Jacaré, Jerônimo, Tatá, and Preto were hailed as national folk heroes. A few weeks later, Orson Welles flew to Brazil on a filmmaking mission funded by Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), in cooperation with RKO Pictures.1 Welles planned to make It’s All True, a multipart film including a “documentary” segment on the jangadeiros’ voyage. However, on May 19, 1942, as the “Four Men on a Raft” reenacted their entry into Rio’s Guanabara Bay for the cameras, their jangada capsized, and they plunged into choppy seas. Three were rescued, but Jacaré drowned in the waves. Although the incident only enhanced Welles’s commitment to the film, the production never recovered, RKO and CIAA pulled funding, and several canisters of footage were lost in the archives until the 1980s.

How might scholars of inter-American cultural diplomacy aid our comprehension of this vexing episode? As recounted in Catherine Benamou’s exhaustive It’s All True: Orson Welles’s Pan-American Odyssey (2007), Jacaré’s unreal [End Page 1129] sacrifice at the altar of Welles’s abandoned film has an air of tragic singularity.2 But consider it instead as an unexceptional origin story for the complex era of inter-American cultural diplomacy that it inaugurates. The episode typifies how the tremendous energies of 1930s left movements were milled, sometimes disastrously, into the gleaming media-sphere of corporate liberal antifascism and, subsequently, Cold War anticommunism. It also typifies a moment galvanized by what Claire Fox has called “the compression of hemispheric space” (11): that is, when the cultural topography that hemisphere scholars now often theorize as polycentric, dispersive, and asymmetrical was conceived as mutually knowable, neighborly, and navigable by those whirring around its increasingly connected cinema reels, sea lanes, and skyways. To be sure, Welles’s montages of ennobled laborers hewing wood for the rafts on which they quested after social enfranchisement suggest the forgotten alternatives to Walt Disney’s Saludos Amigos (1942), which Darlene Sadlier describes as the marquee example of “soft” propaganda in the wartime Americas. Yet the episode also evinces Welles’s delusive relation to the exercise of state power, muddling his aspirations toward transnational cultural citizenship with blithe, neo-imperialist confidence. Careening between the not-so-distant poles of cultural front protest and what Deborah Cohn describes as the emerging institutions of state-sponsored culture, Welles announces nothing short of a period style: the lurching submission of ostensibly oppositional aesthetic activities to the state’s political and economic imperatives.

The three books under review here—by Fox, Sadlier, and Cohn—join a wave of scholarship giving new visibility to such inter-American interludes, resituating them in the enormous “state-private network” (Cohn, 30) of foreign policy collaborations between US government agencies and private cultural institutions.3 Welles jostles among an eclectic array of cultural actors who circulated through traveling art exhibitions, mobile film units, cultural ambassadorships, radio broadcasts, literary translations, and intellectual congresses. Their names include filmmakers and entertainers such as John Ford, Walt Disney, Carmen Miranda, and Julien Bryan; cultural brokers like Lincoln Kirstein, Blanche Knopf, José Gómez Sicre, and Emir Rodriguez Monegal; policymakers such as Lewis Hanke and Concha Romero James; writers from Archibald MacLeish to Carlos Fuentes and Pablo Neruda; musicians such as Charles Seeger and Alberto Ginestra...

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