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Representations of African Americans in US Mass Media, Popular Culture and Literature American Studies MA, Spring Semester 2013

Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru Email:

Course description: This largely interdisciplinary course will examine the African American contributions to American life with an emphasis on the performance of African American identities as represented mainly in popular and TV culture, cinema, performance arts, and literature. We will insist on the ways in which the African American presence has triggered significant developments in the USA wider cultural scenario as a whole. Starting from Antonin Dvoraks late nineteenth-century assumption that the African American element ensured the originality of American music in the world through jazz and Toni Morrisons more recent statement that in todays world race has become metaphorical, we shall aim to interpret the wider impact of a few African American instances in American culture. Some of the questions we will address are: What is African and what is American in African American culture as we see it nowadays? How does African American emancipation through culture resemble or differ from other emancipation movements in the States? What characterises African American culture and how does it differ from US diasporic cultures or from other black cultures in todays world? Please note that The Norton Anthology of African American Literature , ed. by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997 (abbreviated as Norton below, see room 4 library) and Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America , eds. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 2001 (.pdf) will be reference volumes and will be used as background material for the course. Most of the readings are in the course package or will be provided. Assessment will be based on: - Short presentations in class on topics relevant to the respective seminar and agreed on with the course tutor in advance; - Presentations are to be developed into an essay on a topic of your choice related to African Americans in US media, making reference to two primary sources (two films, a film and a show, a book and a show or any other media-related instance) and min. three secondary sources from the course bibliography. The essay should be 6-10 page long (1.5 spaced) and should be submitted by email and in printed form a week before the end of the semester; plagiarism will lead to essays not being considered and failure of the course. Seminar Topics: Introduction: Key concepts in media and popular culture. Intersections with African American Studies Readings: Historical timeline from The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel , ed. Maryemma Graham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. x-xvii. Stuart Price. Chapter 1, The Background to Media Studies. Media Studies, London: Longman, 1993. 1-56. Kevern Verney. Chapter Five, African Americans in US Society since 1976. African Americans and US Popular Culture. Routledge, 2003. 87-108. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, eds. Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America . New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Chapter 15, Race-ing to the New Millennium. 340356. 2. Photography: The Importance of Visual Representation African American Press: The Ebony magazine, Oprahs magazine. Gooding-Williams, Robert. Look, A Negro! New York and London: Routledge, 2006. hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston, MA: South End Press, 1992. Maren Stange, Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures 1941-1943, New York: The New Press, 2003. 1.

Reading: Stuart Price, Photography, op. cit.181-232. 3.4. Performance and Representation: Evading Stereotypes Film viewing: Bamboozled (2001), dir. Spike Lee References to: Birth of a Nation (1915), dir. D. W. Griffith; Gone with the Wind (1939), dir. Victor Fleming, with Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel, Everett Brown. Readings: Patricia Hill Collins. Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York and London: Routledge, 2000. 69-96. Robyn Wiegman. Race, Ethnicity and Film. The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, eds. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 158-168. The African American Presence in the US Public Media. Urban Middle Class African America: Going Mainstream TV Shows: examples from Oprah, Whoopy Sitcoms: The Cosby Show Readings: Sonia Livingstone and Peter Lunt. Studio Discussions. The Television Studies Reader, eds. Robert C. Allen and Annette Hill. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. 322-331. Timothy Havens. The Biggest Show in the World: Race and the Global Popularity of The Cosby Show. The Television Studies Reader. 442-456. Black Cinema, Black Crime and the Depiction of Ghetto culture. Rewriting African American History Film viewings: John Singleton, Boyzn the Hood (1991) Robert Markowitz, The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) References to: Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing (1989), Christopher Scott Cherot, G (2002), Brian Barber, Idlewild (2006). Readings: J. Todd Moye. The Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project and Oral History in the National Park Service. The Journal of American History, vol, 89, No. 2, History and September 11: A Special Issue (Sep. 2002). 580-587. Manthia Diawara, ed. Black American Cinema, New York and London: Routledge, 1993. Watkins, S. Craig. Black Cinema and the Changing Landscape of Industrial Image Making. Representing. Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. 77106. 7.8. Figures of Emancipation. Comedy, the Black Trickster Figure and Minstrel Shows as Subversive of Mainstream American Culture. References to: Pulp Fiction (1994), dir. Quentin Tarantino, with John Travolta and Samul L. Jackson. (or The Bone Collector (1999), dir. Phillip Noyce, with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie) Bamboozled (2001), dir. Spike Lee, with Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, Jada Pinkett-Smith. Boat Trip (2002), dir. Mort Nathan Readings: Henry Louis Gates, Introduction (xix-xxviii) and Chapter 1: A Myth of Origins: Esu Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey (3-43). The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism . Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. John Docker. Preface (xi-xxi), Chapter Fifteen, Fools: Carnival-Theatre-Vaudeville-Television, Chapter Sixteen, Fool, Trickster, Social Explorer: The Detective (219-232). Postmodernism and Popular Culture: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 9.10.Dealing with the Slavery Trauma: The Double Bondage of African American Women in Fiction and Movie Adaptations. Time Distance Factors between Novels and Movies. 6. 5.

Toni Morrison, Beloved, New York: Penguin, 1988. Alice Walker, The Color Purple, New York: Pocket, 1982. Film viewing: fragments from: Beloved (1998), dir. Jonathan Demme, with Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. The Color Purple (1985), dir. Steven Spielberg, with Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Readings: Horton and Horton. Hard Road to Freedom, ed. cit. Chapters 2-5. 26-75, 104-125. bell hooks. Representing Whiteness in Black Imagination. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler (eds.), Cultural Studies, NY & London: Routledge, 1992. 338-346. Michele Wallace, Negative Images: Towards a Black Feminist Cultural Criticism, in Grossberg, Lawrence et. al., op. cit., pp. 654-671. Collins, Patricia Hill, Some Group Matters: Intersectionality, Situated Standpoints, and Black Feminist Thought, in Lott and Pittman, op. cit., pp. 205-380. Lauren Berlant, Race, Gender and Nation in The Color Purple, in H.L. Gates, Jr and K. A. Appiah, eds., Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, New York: Amistad, 1993, pp. 211-238. Further Readings: Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom, NY & Oxford: OUP, 1977. Valerie Smith, Circling the Subject: History and Narrative in Beloved, in H.L. Gates, Jr and K. A. Appiah, eds., Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives, New York: Amistad, 1993. 11-12. African American Music and Its Wider Impact: Intersections with Classical Music From spirituals to blues and jazz; folklore/pop culture; performing race. Listening: Negro Spirituals, Blues, Jazz (from Norton CD); Louis Armstrong: selections from Antonin Dvoraks Symphony No IX From the New World and George Gershwins Porgy and Bess. Film viewing: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), dir. Joel Coen, with George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Chris Thomas King. Readings: W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Norton, pp. 606-740. Shusterman, Richard, Rap as Art and Philosophy, in Tommy L. Lott and John P. Pittman, eds., A Companion to African American Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003. 419-427. H.L. Gates and N.Y. McKay. Harlem Renaissance 1919-1940: Introduction. Norton. 929-936. Horton and Horton, op. cit. Chapter 10, The Harlem Renaissance between the Wars. 226-247. Further Readings: Selected texts (from Norton some of them also available in The Norton Anthology of American Literature ) by: Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Langsdon Hughes. Leonard Harris. The Harlem Renaissance and Philosophy, in Tommy L. Lott and John P. Pittman, eds., op. cit. 381-385. Frank M. Kirkland. Modernisms in Black. Lott and Pittman, op. cit. 67-86. Henry Louis Gates. Harlem on Our Minds. Critical Inquiry. Vol. 24 (Autumn 1997), pp. 1-12). Baker, Jr., Houston A. Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory . Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. Chip Rhodes, Structures of the Jazz Age: Mass Culture, Progressive Education, and Racial Discourse in American Modernism, London and New York: Verso, 1998. 13. The Audience Impact of African American Popular Culture. Case Study Applications. Further Perspectives on Black Popular Culture around the World. Readings: Ellen Seiter. Qualitative Audience Research. The Television Studies Reader, eds. Robert C. Allen and Annette Hill. New York and London: Routledge, 2004. 461-478. Rosalind Brunt. Engaging with the Popular: Audiences for Mass Culture and What to Say about Them. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler, Cultural Studies. New York and London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 69-80.

Michele Wallace, Negative Images: Towards a Black Feminist Cultural Feminism. Grossberg, op.cit. 654-671. Further Readings: Paul Gilroy, Cultural Studies and Ethnic Absolutism, in Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler (eds.), Cultural Studies, NY & London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 187-198; (optional) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Lodon: Verso, 1993. 14. Conclusion.