Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson
ISBN: 069110283X
EAN13: 9780691102832
Language: English
Pages: 424
Edition: Revised
Dimensions: 1.00" H x 9.00" L x 6.00" W
Weight: 1.00 lbs.
Format: Paperback

Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson

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Book Overview
The black man suffering at the hands of whites, the white woman sexually threatened by the black man. Both images have long been burned into the American conscience through popular entertainment, and today they exert a powerful and disturbing influence on Americans' understanding of race. So argues Linda Williams in this boldly inquisitive book, where she probes the bitterly divisive racial sentiments aroused by such recent events as O. J. Simpson's criminal trial. Williams, the author of Hard Core , explores how these images took root, beginning with melodramatic theater, where suffering characters acquire virtue through victimization. The racial sympathies and hostilities that surfaced during the trial of the police in the beating of Rodney King and in the O. J. Simpson murder trial are grounded in the melodramatic forms of Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Birth of a Nation . Williams finds that Stowe's beaten black man and Griffith's endangered white woman appear repeatedly throughout popular entertainment, promoting interracial understanding at one moment, interracial hate at another. The black and white racial melodrama has galvanized emotions and fueled the importance of new media forms, such as serious, integrated musicals of stage and film, including The Jazz Singer and Show Boat . It also helped create a major event out of the movie Gone With the Wind , while enabling television to assume new moral purpose with the broadcast of Roots . Williams demonstrates how such developments converged to make the televised race trial a form of national entertainment. When prosecutor Christopher Darden accused Simpson's defense team of playing the race card, which ultimately trumped his own team's gender card, he feared that the jury's sympathy for a targeted black man would be at the expense of the abused white wife. The jury's verdict, Williams concludes, was determined not so much by facts as by the cultural forces of racial melodrama long in the making. Revealing melodrama to be a key element in American culture, Williams argues that the race images it has promoted are deeply ingrained in our minds and that there can be no honest discussion about race until Americans recognize this predicament. -- Publishers Weekly
Editor Reviews
From the Back Cover Playing the Race Card possesses all the boldness, high intelligence, and far-reaching revisionism one has come to expect from the author of the brilliant Hard Core and other path-breaking work in film studies. Linda Williams here insists on the general importance of the melodramatic mode to our understanding of the United States' ongoing racial predicament. Her arguments are extremely compelling, not least because she executes them with such thoroughgoing smartness and prodigious learning. --Eric Lott, University of Virginia Linda Williams's book is a beautifully written, meticulously researched, and conceptually lucid engagement with the genres of painful feeling that organize racial fantasy in the United States. It joins the works of Michael Rogin, Eric Lott, and Ann Douglas as a major statement about the founding conventions of representation and cross-racial encounter in the U.S. twentieth century. --Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago A tour de force of cultural analysis. The subject of Playing the Race Card is at once urgent and entertaining. Linda Williams's book is poised to do for film studies what Toni Morrison and others have so famously done for American literature: to reveal the ghost in the machine, the role of 'race' in the making of American popular culture. --Susan Gillman, University of California, Santa Cruz A strikingly accessible book that makes a timely appearance, now that discussions about race and representation have developed a heightened immediacy. Elegantly written and meticulously researched, this book combines scholarly rigor with clarity and insight. --Valerie Smith, University of California, Los Angeles