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Race, Gender and Hollywood (HI955)

Module Leader:

J. E. Smyth

Module not running 2018-19

Context of Module
Module Aims
Intended Learning Outcomes
Outline Syllabus
Illustrative Bibliography
Context of Module:

This module may be taken by students on the MA in History and Film, the MA in History, the MA in Modern History, the MA in Comparative American Studies, or any taught Master's student outside the History Department.


Module Aims:

This module focuses on the key historical and theoretical issues informing Hollywood cinema's construction of race, gender, history, and nationalism. Seminars, focused on a suite of films and key readings, interrogate the visual instability of gender and race as categories of national difference and place them in historical conjunction with the equally complex social categories of class, ethnicity and sexuality. The module introduces students to the intertextual study of visual culture, familiarising them with the evolving discourses of racial and sexual identities in the United States and how popular history, literature, and the Hollywood studios, in particular, have both reinforced and challenged the dominant racial and sexual discourses. Key filmmakers include D.W. Griffith, Victor Fleming, David Lean, John Ford, Kelly Reichardt, James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock, Julie Dash, and Milos Forman.


Intended Learning Outcomes:

Students will explore, through the use of primary and secondary material, the visual history of gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality and class and Hollywood's complex and often contradictory narratives about national identity, historical agency and power.


Outline Syllabus:

Seminar 1: Inventing Whiteness: Race and National Identity [Case Study: The Birth of a Nation, 1915]

Reading: Michael Rogin, “The Sword Became a Flashing Vision: D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,” Representations (1985): 150-95 (available on JStor)

Seminar 2: Nativism, Racism and Cultural Identity [Case Study: The Vanishing American, 1925]

Reading: Zane Grey, The Vanishing American (1925); Walter Benn Michaels, Our America: Nativism, Modernism, Pluralism (1995)

Seminar 3: White Noise [Case Studies: The Jazz Singer, 1927 and Show Boat, 1936]

Reading: Michael Rogin, Blackface, White Noise (1998); Linda Williams, Playing the Race Card (2002)

Seminar 4: Classical Hollywood and Women’s History [Case Study: Gone with the Wind, 1939]

Reading: Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936); (strongly suggested, Margaret Mitchell’s GWTW Letters, Richard Harwell, ed. 1976); Susan Courtney, “Ripping the Portieres at the Seams” in Hollywood and the American Historical Film, Smyth, ed. (2012)

Seminar 5: Ethnicity, Urbanization, and the Gangster Genre [Case Studies: Scarface, 1932 and 1983]

Reading: Jonathan Munby, Public Enemies, Public Heroes (1999); The Production Code (1934) in Leonard Leff and Jerold Simmons, eds., The Dame in the Kimono (1990)

Seminar 7: The Western [Case Studies: The Searchers, 1956 and Meek’s Cutoff, 2010]

Reading: Arthur Eckstein and Peter Lehman, eds. The Searchers (2004); Glenda Riley, Women and Indians on the Frontier (1984); Glenda Riley, The Female Frontier (1988)

Seminar 8: The Imperial Gaze [Case Studies: Around the World In 80 Days, 1956, and Lawrence of Arabia, 1962]

Reading: Stephen C. Caton, Lawrence of Arabia, A Film’s Anthropology (1999)

Seminar 9: Beyond 9 to 5: Working Women and Gray Flannel Suits [Case Study: North by Northwest, 1959]

Reading: Steve Cohan, “The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit,” in Masked Men (1997), 1-33; suggested: William Whyte, The Organization Man (1956)

Seminar 10: Deconstructing Race and Gender? Postmodernism and Identity Politics [Case Studies: Ragtime, 1981 and Daughters of the Dust, 1991]

Reading: E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975); Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988), chapter 6; Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film (1992); Katharina Gerund, “Encountering the Familiarity of a Foreign Culture: Julie Dash’s Novel Daughters of the Dust,” Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, 11 (2010) [handout].


Illustrative Bibliography:

Daniel Bernardi, ed., The Birth of Whiteness: Race and the Emergence of U.S. Cinema (1996)

Suzanne Bost, Mulattas and Mestizas: Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850-2000 (2003)

Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint (2008)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)

Steve Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, eds., Screening the Male (1992)

Thomas Dixon, The Clansman (1905)

Richard Dyer, White (1997)

David Eldridge, Hollywood's History Films (2006)

Edna Ferber, Show Boat (1926)

Marc Ferro, Film and History (1988)

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Performing Whiteness (2003)

Jane Gaines, Fire and Desire (2002)

Philip Green, Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood (1998)

Leger Grindon, Shadows on the Past (1994)

Fannie Hurst, Imitation of Life (1933)

Robert Lang, ed., The Birth of a Nation (1994)

Walter Benn Michaels, Our America: Nativism, Modernism, Pluralism (1995)

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)

Michael Rogin, Black Face, White Noise:Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (1996)

Robert Rosenstone, Visions of the Past (1995)

Robert Stam and Ella Shohat, Unthinking Eurocentrism (1994)

Lothrop Stoddard, Reforging America: The Story of Our Nationhood (1927)

J.E. Smyth, Reconstructing American Historical Cinema from Cimarron to Citizen Kane (2006)

Mason Boyd Stokes, The Color of Sex: Whiteness, Heterosexuality and the Fictions of White Supremacy (2001)

Gaylyn Studlar and Matthew Bernstein, eds., John Ford Made Westerns (2001)

Gary Taylor, Buying Whiteness: Race, Culture and Identity from Columbus to Hip Hop (2003)

Linda Williams, Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White (2001)



1 assessed essay of 5,000 words: the course is taught in weekly 2-hour seminars.




Dr J. E. Smyth

Term Spring
Tutorial Day Tuesday


10.00am- 12.00noon

Lecturer Rooms  H0.01