African American Theatre

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Over the course of approximately one-hundred years there has been a discernible metamorphosis within the realm of African-American cinema. African-Americans have overcome the heavy weight of oppression in forms such as of politics, citizenship and most importantly equal human rights. One of the most evident forms that were withheld from African-Americans came in the structure of the performing arts; specifically film. The common population did not allow blacks to drink from the same water fountain let alone share the same television waves or stage. But over time the strength of the expectant black actors and actresses overwhelmed the majority force to stop blacks from appearing on film. For the longest time the performing arts were the only way for African-Americans to express the deep pain that the white population placed in front of them. Singing, dancing and acting took many African-Americans to a place that no oppressor could reach; considering the exploitation of their character during the 1930's-1960's ‘acting' was an essential technique to African American survival. Although the black performing arts population had to take the road of survival to gain self satisfaction in the theater, it was not painless. For a long time, black people were not allowed on the stage; instead black actors were mocked by white actors in "black face." Black face was a technique where white actors would physically cover their face with black paint and act as a black character. It was from this misrepresentation of the "black actor" that the names tom, coon, mulatto, mammy and buck derived. According to Donald Bogle, none of the types were meant to do great harm, although at various times individual ones did. He proceeds to say, that they were all merely filmic reproductions of black stereotypes that had existed since the days of slavery and were already popularized in American life and arts (4-9). ‘The Tom' represented the African-American who was badgered and controlled by the white population. This person was the one who endured all of the abuse from any white person who was in the position of superiority. Bogle defines him as, the harassed hounded, flogged, enslaved, and insulted. They keep the faith, and stay true to their masters always remaining kind and selfless. Thus they endear themselves to white audiences and emerge as heroes of sorts (6). One of the most prevalent plays where this type of black characters emerged was given the name, Uncle Tom's Cabin. This theatrical production came about during the 1850's. It gave an overview of Harriet Beecher Stowe's (a white women who was against slavery) claim that white Americans imagine themselves as suffering slaves. In this production whites in blackface played Tom, Eliza, and Topsy . This construction was very controversial; Michael Rogin gives a brief summary and comment on this in his book, Blackface, Whitenoise: The production of Uncle Tom's Cabin was not only embracing slaves but also supporting antislavery politics. There was considerable overlap, to be sure, between the proslavery and sentimental abolitionist structures of feeling, for maternalist abolitionism embedded itself in plantation nostalgia. Stowe may speak for freedom, but her heart belongs to the interracial southern home. The fundamental losses required and lamented by Uncles Tom's Cabin point backward to the extended black-and-white Selby family (sans white father) in Kentucky and to the erotic triangle of Tom, St. Clair, and Little Eva (sans white mother) (41). But just as Stowe attempted to erase the nasty images of blacks, other white playwrights fought back with plays such as Ten Pickaninnies. This production brought to life the image of the ‘coon'. The coon represented the no-account niggers, those unreliable, crazy, lazy, subhuman creatures good for nothing more than eating watermelons, stealing chickens, shooting crap, or butchering the English language (Bogle 8). The coon simply...
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