By Charlene B. Regester
9 actresses, from Madame Sul-Te-Wan in beginning of a kingdom (1915) to Ethel Waters in Member of the marriage (1952), are profiled in African American Actresses. Charlene Regester poses questions on triumphing racial politics, on-screen and off-screen identities, and black stardom and white stardom. She finds how those girls fought for his or her roles in addition to what they compromised (or did not compromise). Regester repositions those actresses to focus on their contributions to cinema within the first half the twentieth century, taking an educated theoretical, historic, and important method. (2011)
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Extra info for African American actresses: the struggle for visibility, 1900-1960
She whined that Miss Crowell was too nice a lady to spit at, besides she never thought working in pictures meant spitting at people. Griffith poked another hole in his straw hat. Madame thought her acting days were over before they started. Miss Crowell told her just to relax, it was only make-believe and she didn’t mind it at all. Madame failed again. . When [Bert Sutch] came back, he handed Madame a piece of soap. . Madame got real mad then. . She got madder and madder and by the time the scene was shot, she nearly blinded Miss Crowell with her soaped up spit.
Its intent is to fill a void that currently exists in cinema history because despite the existence of a number of biographies or autobiographies, few studies critically examine black actresses and how they were positioned both on screen and within the larger cinema industry. For example, recent works that have focused on black actresses frequently explore black women who performed on stage, as does Karen Sotiropoulos’s Staging Race: Black Performers in Turn of the Century America (2006). In it she explores how black performers, such as Aida Overton Walker, manipulated the stage mask to create a dialogue that spoke to black audiences and that critiqued the racism implied in the performance.
I n t r o du c t i o nâ•… · â•… 15 Most of the black actresses who preceded Dandridge and who were contemporaneous with her functioned as shadows for their white costars, particularly female costars. Once her acting career accelerated, Dandridge was not cast as a shadow for a leading white female star. She became a star in her own right, though a “dark” one, and she became a shadow for herself. The African American press (specifically nationally circulated newspapers) is probably the most valuable source for contemporary information about the careers and lives of these actresses.