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The Underworld Films of Oscar Mischeaux and Ralph Cooper: Toward a Genealogy of the Black Screen Gangster.

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsChapter

Published

Publication date2005
Host publicationMob Culture: Hidden Histories of the American Gangster Film
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages263
ISBN (Print)0813535573
Original languageEnglish

Bibliographic note

This publication developed out of papers presented at Pittsburgh's Carlow College and Carnegie Mellon University's Theory and History Seminar (2002) and the AHRC-funded '3 Cities' project's final conference at the University of Nottingham in 2003. In an anthology that through its original engagement with the American gangster film critiques the way genre theory has encouraged ahistorical and archetypal accounts of Hollywood (that generalise from a few canonical films), this chapter provides the first sustained critical analysis of the first cycle of films to deal exclusively with the African American gangster'in particular the films of Oscar Micheaux and Ralph Cooper in the 1930s. The presence of black gangsters in American cinema history is characterised by discrete moments of visibility rather than recurrence. Findings from research conducted at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and The Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division (Washington, D.C.) support the main contention that although this cycle of films is typified by a reliance on Hollywood's formulaic fictional strategies connecting race to criminality, these films rework strategies of apparent complicity with white racist stereotypes to offer a counter-hegemonic and anti-essentialist form of African American self-representation and a black view on American possibility. In the process, it is argued that this first cycle of talking underworld 'race' films are seminal in defining a black cinematic experience as both oppressive and enfranchising. RAE_import_type : Chapter in book RAE_uoa_type : LICA