Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema: American Popular Culture and Racialized Performance in Early Film


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars


Cinema and Media Studies


For residence at the Newberry Library during academic year 2020-2021


“Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema” reframes the emergence of American cinema through the lens of Black performance and representation, and especially the ubiquity of minstrelsy in US culture. Built out of analysis of rare film artifacts and archival research, the book traces the development of performance tropes, themes, and practices from minstrelsy to the vaudeville stage and movie screen. In so doing, it reveals the depth and complexity of minstrelsy's influence on the emergence of US cinema and accounts for its popularity and longevity beyond the first years of moving pictures. By using a series of racialized performances in early cinema as case studies, this book shows how Black performers and artists negotiated issues of race in a rapidly changing social order while also exploring moments of creative resistance to the prevalence of dehumanizing portrayals of African Americans.