In Plain Sight: Changing Representations of “Biracial” People in Film 1903-2015

Posted in Communications/Media Studies, Dissertations, Media Archive, United States on 2017-02-09 21:26Z by Steven

In Plain Sight: Changing Representations of “Biracial” People in Film 1903-2015

Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
December 2016
247 pages

Charles Lawrence Gray

A Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School, Marquette University, In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Educational Policy and Leadership)

Rooted in slavery, the United States in both law and custom has a long history of adhering to the one drop rule–the stipulation that any amount of African ancestry constitutes an individual as black. Given this history, decidedly mixed race people have been subjected to a number of degrading stereotypes. In examining the three broad themes of the tragic mulatto, racial passing, and racelessness in cinema, this dissertation asks to what extent film representations of mixed race characters have had the capacity to educate audiences beyond stereotypes. Although a number of film scholars and critics have analyzed mixed race characters in American cinema, there is no treatment spanning the last century that comprehensively analyzes each film’s capacity to diminish racism.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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An Octoroon: Education Guide

Posted in Arts, History, Media Archive, Passing, Reports, Teaching Resources, United States on 2017-02-09 20:36Z by Steven

An Octoroon: Education Guide

The Wilma Theater
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
27 pages

Anne Holmes, Education Director
Lizzy Pecora, Education Assistant

BY Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
DIRECTED BY Joanna Settle
March 16 – April 10, 2016



Thank you for choosing to bring your students to the Wilma’s production of An Octoroon, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. I applaud your willingness to take a risk on this one. While on some level we all understand that the most extraordinary learning opportunities emerge when we venture outside our comfort zone, most of us still gravitate toward what’s familiar and safe. An Octoroon promises to be a powerful catalyst for discussions around race, identity and stereotypes; if there’s a more urgent conversation we should be having with young people at this moment, I don’t know what that is. Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins has written a smart, intricately layered text to propel these discussions. Director Joanna Settle adds a live seven-piece band, with an original score composed in the rehearsal room alongside the actors, and dynamic step infused choreography to create a theatrical event big enough to encompass such a play. This is a risk worth taking.

If the Wilma were producing Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, the original 1859 melodrama upon which Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play is based, I would have a much tougher time arguing for its value in a high school classroom today. While Boucicault is still considered one of the great writers of the 19th century melodrama, there are so many cringe worthy moments throughout the play that it can feel like a minefield of political incorrectness. Similar questions have been raised about the value of reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 2016. I believe those concerns have validity and ignoring them would be irresponsible. What is it then about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon that makes it different, particularly given that the playwright has preserved so much of Boucicault’s original text? The crucial difference is that Jacobs-Jenkins provides a meta-theatrical lens through which to view the play, forcing us to consider a contemporary critical perspective on what we are seeing and hearing. Beyond that, he never tells us what to think or feel, leaving us to navigate our own way through this unsettling play. At times it feels like an irreverent romp, delighting in its own theatricality and celebrating the craftsmanship of the great 19th century melodramas. There are moments when we can’t help but laugh and yet we’re not sure if laughing is really okay. In many ways, An Octoroon is so suited to the classroom because it repeatedly eschews easy answers, all the way up through the final moments of the play’s deliberate non-ending.

In this education guide we tried to focus on providing key historical background on Boucicault and his original melodrama, as well as introducing you to this astounding, two-time Obie Award Winning Playwright (Best New American Play for An Octoroon and Appropriate) Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. BJJ’s character breakdown page as well as Boucicault’s plot breakdown page should help with getting clarity on the basics. With this play in particular, Lizzy Pecora and I both found ourselves repeatedly drawn back to the written, video and podcast interviews with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins because we really wanted to hear from the playwright himself as much as possible. We’ve included most of our favorite links to those interviews in the appendix, but I would leave these for after your students have already seen or read the play, so as not to clutter their experience of it with too much imposed meaning. The In the Classroom section includes our suggestions for introducing the play with interactive lessons designed to engage students in discussion and get them making their own predictions about its content and themes.

Thanks again for agreeing to go on this ride with us. Your students are going to love you for it!…

Read the entire guide here.

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The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts by Amber D. Moulton (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-09 02:01Z by Steven

The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts by Amber D. Moulton (review)

The Journal of the Civil War Era
Volume 6, Number 4, December 2016
pages 594-596
DOI: 10.1353/cwe.2016.0075

Tamika Y. Nunley, Assistant Professor of History
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts. By Amber D. Moulton. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. 288. Cloth, $45.00.)

The 1843 repeal of the ban on interracial marriage in Massachusetts was not a guaranteed victory in the antislavery North. As Amber Moulton’s research demonstrates, the repeal was the culmination of the persistent efforts launched by African Americans and radical abolitionist allies committed to interracial rights activism in the face of formidable antiamalgamation and antimiscegenation opposition. Elucidating the social and political significance of amalgamation, Moulton underscores the process of “advancing interracialism” to further understand the justifications and merging forces that worked for and against interracial marriage and eventually full social and political inclusion (6). Through a close reading of petitions initiated by African Americans, the rhetorical strategies of activists and legislators, popular literature, committee reports, and manuscripts, Moulton presents us with a regional study that broadens our understandings of antebellum debates about interracialism beyond the scope of marriage and into the arenas of racial equality, legitimacy, and citizenship.

The book begins with an overview of the origins of antiamalgamation views rooted in eighteenth-century racial science, white supremacist justifications for colonial slavery, and the work of writers such as Jerome B. Holgate. Even as popular sentiment emphasized interracial relations as either “salacity or tragedy,” antislavery activists such as Lydia Maria Child emerged with alternative, albeit romantic, narratives about interracial relationships (26). Pairing these with popular narratives and images and actual evidence of interracial marriages, Moulton contrasts antebellum ideas about amalgamation with explanations of case studies that show how interracial couples and their children were affected by the ban. Requests made to the overseers of the poor highlight local determinations of illegitimacy that many couples and offspring confronted in efforts to receive public aid. In the second chapter, Moulton examines local responses from another lens, particularly the activism of abolitionists and prominent African American orators. Here we see that African Americans were not marginally involved in the debate over interracial marriage, as the historical scholarship suggests, but instead contributed substantially and at times independently in local organizations, editorials, speeches offered at antislavery conventions, and petitions.

Moulton builds the third chapter around a critical medium of antebellum political engagement—petitioning. The petitioning efforts of local abolitionists—particularly white women—generated controversy at a time when women’s rights, abolitionism, and sectionalism converged onto the antebellum political theater. The legislative response targeted the virtue of white female petitioners and underscored the belief that the women who signed petitions from towns like Lynn, Brookfield, Dorchester, and Plymouth inappropriately supported the repeal of the ban on interracial marriage. White women’s vocal support for repeal implicated them in sexualized discourses of interracial relationships and provoked direct attacks upon their own moral virtue. Moral reformers such as Mary P. Ryan, Eliza Ann Vinal, Maria Weston Chapman, and Lucy N. Dodge defended their activism and their political participation in debates about interracial marriage. They framed their support of the initiative as an effort to curb licentiousness, to promote the moral imperatives of marriage, and to protect the legal interests of mothers and children deserted by men. From the perspective of moralists, the lack of marital rights could only lead to immoral behavior, abandonment, and illegitimacy.

A major obstacle to the repeal effort was convincing poor whites committed to white supremacy in the North that interracial marriage should be legalized. In the fourth chapter, Moulton argues that resistance to a ramped-up fugitive slave law, and the George Latimer incident in particular, generated heightened political fervor against southern slaveholders. Latimer was a fugitive slave who fled from Virginia to Boston, where he was arrested, tried, and eventually manumitted. The case resulted in public uproar and inspired politically charged petition drives that called for an end to policies that required state authorities to detain suspected fugitives. Accordingly, the South’s imposition of the Fugitive Slave Law threatened the rights and freedoms enjoyed by white northerners, thus energizing the political momentum necessary not only to defend antislavery measures but to repeal the interracial marriage ban with the support of unlikely white citizens…

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Know It by Heart

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2017-02-09 01:47Z by Steven

Know It by Heart

Northwestern University Press
June 2003
256 pages
5.5 x 8.5
Trade Paper ISBN: 978-1-880684-95-5

Karl Luntta, Director of Media Relations
The State University of New York, Albany

When a racially mixed family moves into an all-white neighborhood in East Hartford, Connecticut, in 1961, lives are altered forever. Karl Luntta’s Know It by Heart follows the adventures of young Dub Teed, his sister Susan and neighbor Doug Hammer, who befriend newly arrived Ricky Dubois, the daughter of an African-American woman and her white husband. When burning crosses appear at night-and worse-the young adolescents set out to find justice and discover themselves in the process.

Despite the book’s serious anti-racist theme, Know It by Heart is filled with humor reminiscent of Mark Twain. In this suspenseful novel, Karl Luntta brilliantly captures the world of the young adolescent in his characters and dialogue and in the innate comedy and awkwardness of that age. This is a book that will appeal to parents and teenagers alike.

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