Returning the Gaze

A Genealogy of Black Film Criticism, 1909–1949

Returning the Gaze

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 19 photographs Published: April 2001

Author: Anna Everett

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Media Studies > Film

In Returning the Gaze Anna Everett revises American film history by recuperating the extensive and all-but-forgotten participation of black film critics during the early twentieth century. While much of the existing scholarship on blacks and the cinema focuses on image studies and stereotypical representations, this work excavates a wealth of early critical writing on the cinema by black cultural critics, academics, journalists, poets, writers, and film fans.
Culling black newspapers, magazines, scholarly and political journals, and monographs, Everett has produced an unparalleled investigation of black critical writing on the early cinema during the era of racial segregation in America. Correcting the notion that black critical interest in the cinema began and ended with the well-documented press campaign against D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, she discovers that as early as 1909 black newspapers produced celebratory discourses about the cinema as a much-needed corrective to the predominance of theatrical blackface minstrelsy. She shows how, even before the Birth of a Nation controversy, the black press succeeded in drawing attention to both the callous commercial exploitation of lynching footage and the varied work of black film entrepreneurs. The book also reveals a feast of film commentaries that were produced during the “roaring twenties” and the jazz age by such writers as W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as additional pieces that were written throughout the Depression and the pre– and post–war periods. Situating this wide-ranging and ideologically complex material in its myriad social, political, economic, and cultural contexts, Everett aims to resuscitate a historical tradition for contemporary black film literature and criticism.
Returning the Gaze will appeal to scholars and students of film, black and ethnic studies, American studies, cultural studies, literature, and journalism.


“[A]n interesting contribution to the ever-evolving literature on the subject of African Americans and their historic relationship as subjects, objects, makers, and viewers to the medium of movies.” — Thomas Cripps , Journal of American History

“[T]he critical importance of the archival work that Everett has done to establish what is at once a polyphonic and a coherent black film literature tradition is incontrovertible.” — Laura Quinn , Film Criticism

“Since too much of the early criticism in the black press is ‘unknown, under appreciated, and worst, yet, inaccessible,’ the importance of this book is clear.” — P. H. Stacy , Choice

"[A] timely and important new book. . . . Returning the Gaze makes a major contribution to our understanding of American film history. Most importantly, it adds to our knowledge of the role that critics for the black press played in fostering public debate about the cinema and its complicated, multivalent effects on race relations. To put it another way, one of the real pleasures of this book lies in its recovery of critical role models from the archives of the black press." — Marianne Conroy , Film Quarterly

"[F]ascinating. . . . Returning the Gaze performs an invaluable service, brining to our attention an entire canon of writing that was previously all but lost to history. Just as importantly, perhaps, more so, the book demonstrates that at a time when African-Americans were looked at through a prejudiced lens, some were looking back-in anger." — Clifford Thompson , Cineaste

"Returning the Gaze makes an important contribution to film scholarship by bringing this previously overlooked archive to critical attention and by arguing persuasively for its importance to the study of film. . . . It is an indispensable reference book for film theorists as well as a lively history of writing about film. It is a major contribution to film studies that opens the door to further innovative investigations of early Black film criticism." — Kara Keeling , Callaloo

“Anna Everett moves African American film criticism and commentary from the margins to the center in this innovative, imaginative, and original book. Superbly researched and engagingly written, Returning the Gaze shows us the necessity of placing race at the center of the history of the American cinema, while at the same time making it clear that any adequate understanding of African American identity needs to acknowledge the centrality of cinema to the practices and processes of U.S. racial formation.” — George Lipsitz, author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness and Time Passages

“Everett’s fine book makes an important contribution to our understanding of black cinema, from production to journalism and criticism, as a resistance practice representing every orientation of black culture, from the popular to the political and aesthetic. This one is ‘must’ reading for all interested in black cinema, its issues, and its critical discourse.” — Ed Guerrero, New York University

Compelling and of great critical importance, Returning the Gaze makes a major contribution to film studies.” — Dana Polan, University of Southern California


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anna Everett is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Returning the Gaze 1

1. The Souls of Black Folk in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Black Newspaper Criticism and the Early Cinema, 1909–1916

2. The Birth of a Nation and Interventionist Criticism: Resisting Race as Spectacle 59

3. Cinephilia in the Black Renaissance: New Negro Film Criticism, 1916–1930 107

4. Black Modernist Dialectics and the New Deal: Accomodationist and Radical Film Criticism, 1930–1940 179

5. The Recalcitrant Gaze; Critiquing Hollywood in the 1940s 272

Epilogue 314

Notes 317

Works Cited 333

Index 349
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2614-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2606-9
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