Challenging the Authenticity/Minstrelsy Lens: Jacqueline Stewart on Spencer Williams

Spencer Williams’ The Blood of Jesus

On Friday, October 26th, at 4 PM, visiting scholar Jacqueline Stewart will present the 2012 James Naremore Lecture at IU Cinema, “The Films of Spencer Williams:  A Comic History of Race Movies.” Stewart, an Associate Professor of Radio/Film/Television and African American Studies at Northwestern University, and author of the award-winning Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity, will survey the filmmaking career of  Spencer Williams (1893-1969) and discuss the integral role and social impact of comedy in these early Black-cast films.  The comic elements of race movies, ranging in approach from parody to slapstick and stand-up, have been overlooked by scholars, among whom a greater focus has been placed on the Black-cast melodrama and its response to racial stereotyping.  From the event description:

Challenging oversimplified equations of Black humor with either racial authenticity or exploitative minstrelsy, the talk suggests that when we chart the numerous comic elements across Williams’ work, we gain a more nuanced perspective on how Black media artists engaged diverse audiences during the era of Jim Crow segregation.  We also expand our understanding of Black media authorship beyond the role of the director to consider the functions of writing, onscreen performance, and collaborators from both sides of the color line.

Stewart will also appear at IU Cinema at 7 PM on Thursday, October 25th—the evening before her Naremore Lecture—to introduce and discuss Williams’ 1941 film, The Blood of Jesus, screening here in a restored print courtesy of the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.  Williams wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which paved the way for him to make several more features through the 40s, before gaining wider exposure as Andy of Amos ‘n Andy in the television adaption of Freeman Godsen and Charles Corell’s eponymous radio show.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Indiana University’s Department of Communication and Culture and additional support from IU Cinema and BFC/A, these events are free and open to the public.

Jacqueline Stewart

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About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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