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The Problem of the Color[blind]

Racial Transgression and the Politics of Black Performance

Brandi WilkinsCatanese

Publication Year: 2012

Beautifully written and cogently argued, The Problem of the Color[blind] addresses one of the most persistent sociopolitical questions in contemporary culture: 'Are we a multicultural nation, or a colorblind one?' A tremendously illuminating study that promises to break new ground in the fields of theater and performance studies, African American Studies, feminist theory, cultural studies, and film and television studies. ---Daphne Brooks, Princeton University The Problem of the Color[blind] focuses on black performance in theater, film, and television to examine and theorize questions of multiculturalism versus colorblindness in American culture. The book explores aspects of nontraditional casting, a practice that assumes the possibility and desirability of a performing body that is somehow race neutral. Nontraditional casting occurs often enough that audiences can recognize it as a product of integration within American culture, but it's practiced far less than it could be and remains largely untheorized. Brandi Catanese explores questions that colorblind casting provokes, including what cultural and aesthetic processes are at play and where race neutrality is located (e.g., in the eyes of the spectator, in the body of the performer, in the medium of the performance?). Concluding that ideologies of transcendence are ahistorical and therefore unenforceable, Catanese advances the concept of racial transgression as her chapters move between readings of dramatic texts, films, and popular culture, and debates in critical race theory and the culture wars. Brandi Wilkins Catanese is Associate Professor of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii

I am very honored to have been the beneficiary of all of the support that has led to the publication of this book. Friends and family, mentors, colleagues, and students have all shaped this book, and in the process, have shaped me as well. It is a humbling privilege to begin the act of thanking them with this list of acknowledgments...


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1. Bad Manners: Talking about Race

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pp. 1-31

Let me begin by burnishing what has become, in fairly short critical order, an old chestnut: within the United States, blackness and performance are ineluctably linked. Some of the nodes of this linkage are already quite obvious within black cultural and performance studies: from the ignoble tradition of...

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2. The End of Race or the End of Blackness? August Wilson, Robert Brustein, and Color-Blind Casting

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pp. 32-71

When August Wilson passed away in October 2005, a major voice in American culture and dramatic literature was silenced. Lionized for his project of creating a play for each decade of the twentieth century—an ambitious feat unequaled by peers of any race—Wilson had two public personae, one developed through his...

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3. The Limits of Color Blindness: Interracial Sexuality, Denzel Washington, and Hollywood Film

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pp. 72-111

As of the second decade of twenty-first century, Denzel Washington is arguably the most successful black actor in Hollywood history. Popular with black and white audiences alike, his movies routinely succeed at the box office as well as with critics, and he has been nominated for five Academy Awards, two of which...

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4. Transgressing Tradition: Suzan-Lori Parks and Black Performance (as) Theory

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pp. 112-142

If Denzel Washington’s filmography demonstrates the impossibility of transcending race in and through performance by simply ignoring the cultural histories within which performance practices are located, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks moves in the opposite direction. Rather than transcendence, she works...

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5. Are We There Yet? Race, Redemption, and Black. White.

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pp. 143-172

The majority of this book has looked back at the 1990s to understand how the culture wars’ vocabulary and ideals affected black performance during that decade. The twenty-first century, however, has forged its own relationship to the still-unresolved controversies over race, culture, and national character, as...


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pp. 173-199


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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027927
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051267

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance
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OCLC Number: 816042073
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Problem of the Color[blind]

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans in the performing arts.
  • African Americans in motion pictures.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Performing arts -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Motion pictures -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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