- Mixed Race Hollywood
Mixed Race Hollywood is a collection of essays that could not be timelier. As popular media, journalists, and citizen bloggers actively dispute the impact of President Barack Obama’s election on attitudes toward race, editors Mary Beltràn and Camilla Fojas have compiled a series of essays that explore ways popular media and celebrity have presented miscegenation and racial identity for Americans. These historical and critical essays analyze specific films, television programs, Internet sites, and the appearance of celebrity image to help explain the ways popular media presentations of race correspond with the development of social behaviors and attitudes. Though some might credit “liberal Hollywood” for ushering America into the “mulatto millennium,” it is obvious from the collection of essays in this book that Hollywood is not always the leader of public opinion but often takes the more conservative approach, lagging behind fairly widespread social attitudes.
The editors divide the book into four sections: themes of mixed race representation, miscegenation and romance, genre and mixed race characters, and finally, a section that examines the shift in media presentation of mixed race characters from tragic to heroic. The introduction by Beltràn and Fojas helps set the background and the overall argument that media presentations reveal a cultural shift in American attitudes toward mixed race characters. The introduction also provides some useful notes on terminology.
The essays begin, appropriately, with J. E. [End Page 60] Smyth’s chapter, “Classical Hollywood and the Filmic Writing of Interracial History, 1931–1939.” This chapter examines films such as Cimarron (1931), Ramona (1936), Show Boat (1936), Jezebel (1938), and Gone with the Wind (1939), to show that early Hollywood did occasionally produce a film of historical fiction that managed to escape the racial censorship of the Hays Code (1930–68). The discussion here includes a focus on biracial heroines, which could make this chapter interesting supplemental reading for courses in gender studies as well as African American, American Literature, and film studies. I have to say that Smyth’s examination of Scarlett O’Hara made me reconsider aspects of a character I thought I knew fairly well.
Camilla Foja’s chapter on “Mixed Race Frontiers” continues the discussion of mixed race in historical films. She compares the westerns Duel in the Sun (1946) and Rio Lobo (1970) to show how the two films might represent more than 20 years of attitude change toward mixed race characters. Whereas Pearl from Duel in the Sun is “orphaned between two cultures,” the character of Pierre Cordona from Rio Lobo assimilates as a vital support for the film’s white hero, Cord McNally. The final chapter in this section does not provide traditional film scholarship but examines how the Internet site, Mixedfolks.com, celebrates multiracial heritage by “outing” multiracial celebrities. This chapter felt a bit out of place in this particular section but did offer an important examination of the Internet as a forum for racial discourse.
Some of the liveliest chapters in the book come in part 2, which examines film portraits of miscegenation and mixed race romance, adding to the discussions provided in works such as Susan Courtney’s Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation: Spectacular Narratives of Gender and Race, 1903–1967 (2005). I found Heidi Ardizzone’s analysis of Night of the Quarter Moon (1959) particularly interesting because, based on the 1927 Rhinelander case, this often-overlooked film corresponds with the current fascination with “reality.” Ardizzone’s discussion about the disparity between the earlier case and the 1959 film’s adaptation to racial politics and “Hollywood endings” is a smart and compelling read.
In “A Window into a Life Un-closeted,” Robb Hernandez adds a comment on the scholarship of New Queer Cinema and what he observes as the critical omission of interracial politics in analysis of these films. He introduces the “spice boy” as a character type, which the films often paired with the lovelorn white gay protagonists and observes that romances between white male protagonists and the “Spice Boys” rarely survive. His study of spectatorship revealed that gay...