TAP DANCE, RACE, AND INVISIBILITY DURING HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
How and why was outdated racial content - and specifically blackface minstrelsy - not only permitted, but in fact allowed to thrive during the 1930s and 1940s despite the rigid motion picture censorship laws which were enforced during this time? Introducing a new theory of covert minstrelsy, this book illuminates Hollywood's practice of capitalizing on the Africanist aesthetic at the expense of Black lived experience. Through close examination of the musicals made during this period, this book shows how Hollywood utilized a series of covert "guises" or subterfuges-complicated and further masked by a film's narrative framing and novel technology to distract both censors and audiences from seeing the ways in which they were being fed a nineteenth-century White narrative of Blackness.
Drawing on the annals of Hollywood's most popular and its extremely rare films, Behind the Screen uncovers a half century of blackface application by delicately removing the individual layers of disguise through close analyses of films which paint tap dance, swing, and other predominantly Africanist forms in a negative light. This book goes beneath the image of recognizable White performers including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Fred Astaire, and Eleanor Powell, exploring the high cost of their onscreen representational politics. The book also recuperates the stories of several of the Black artists whose labor was abused during the choreographic and filming process. Some of the many newly documented stories include those of The Three Chocolateers, The Three Eddies, The Three Gobs, The Peters Sisters, Jeni Le Gon, and Cora La Redd. In stripping away the various disguises involved during Hollywood's Golden Age, Behind the Screen recovers the visibility of Black artists whose names Hollywood omitted from the credits and whose identities America has written out of the national narrative.
"A stunning exploration of how tap dance arrives in radicalized complexities. Shiovitz writes with masterful sensitivity to detail historical routes of encounter that produced blackface minstrel performance, and the enduring ways that systemic racism continues to choreograph our senses. Essential reading for performance historians, dance researchers, and sonic studies theorists. Behind the Screen sets a new standard for considerations of how race continues to matter." --Thomas F. DeFrantz, Founding Director, Collegium for African Diaspora Dance
"With subtlety and punch, Behind the Screen unmasks the visual and sonic layers of amputation, violence, and foundational instability animating blackface even today. Shiovitz guides us into the performative recesses of racism and anti-Blackness in Hollywood, as a necessary stage in the journey toward recuperating our bodily wholeness and celebrating the Blackness of our shared culture." --K. Meira Goldberg, author of Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco
"In this groundbreaking addition to scholarship on blackface minstrelsy in American film, Shiovitz demonstrates how 'covert minstrelsy'--a complex sonic, embodied, kinesthetic, visual, and citational system--operated to reproduce white supremacist modes of representation that erased Black artistry. Using skillful multimodal analyses of dance sequences, and tap dance in particular, Shiovitz peels back layers of meanings to reveal how White filmmakers and performers were able to mask their insidious use of blackface and minstrelsy during Hollywood's golden age." --Rebecca Rossen, author of Dancing Jewish: Jewish Identity in American Modern and Postmodern Dance