Friday, February 27, 2015

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In 1939, Hattie McDaniel broke the color line by becoming the first black actress to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in the film Gone with the Wind. In 2012, Octavia Spencer also won an Oscar for playing a maid in The Help. What has changed in the portrayal of blacks in cinema and on stage? These two awards are complicated, juxtaposing great talent with persistent stereotypes of blacks as domestic servants, drug dealers, or others consistently needing help from white benefactors. Problematic, often racist depictions continue to appear in film, theater, and social media, where minstrels and blackface still surface in YouTube videos, even of our current African American President. In a discussion drawing from the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and current theater and film, learn more about African American artistic contributions, not only dispelling myths and stereotypes, but also revealing the appropriation of black culture by white artists.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, check out some of the highlighted resources.

Recommended Books

Follow University of Minnesota Libraries's board Critical Conversations: Beyond Myth-Making and Appropriation: African Americans in Theater and Film on Pinterest.


Ethnic Notions, directed by Marlon T. Riggs San Francisco: California Newsreel, 1987.

White Space by Maya Washington

Black and Sexy TV (YouTube)

Primary Source Database

Black Drama Contains the full text of 1,310 plays written from the mid-1800s to the present by more than 200 playwrights from North America, English-speaking Africa, the Caribbean, and other African diaspora countries. The database covers key writings of the Harlem Renaissance, works performed for the Federal Theatre Project, and plays by critically acclaimed dramatists of the 1940s.

Archives & Special Collections

  • UMBRA In partnership with Penumbra Theatre Company, the Givens Collection of African American Literature and Performing Arts Archives is developing a shareable online search tool that brings together archival content documenting over 400 years of African American cultural history from across the country, with a focus on African American theater and performing arts. The two-year project is generously funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

  • Penumbra Theatre Company Archives The Penumbra Theatre Company Archives document the theater's founding in 1976 by Lou Bellamy, its extensive repertoire of productions, and its unique collaboration with Pulitzer prize-winning playwright August Wilson. From annotated scripts to costume designs, programs, educational materials, reviews, and administrative records, the Penumbra Theatre Archives capture the inner-workings and history of one of the country's preeminent African American theater companies. Penumbra Theatre playbills have been digitized and are available online.




Katrice Albert, Vice President, Office for Equity and Diversity, University of Minnesota.


Malaika Grant, subject librarian for African and African American Studies

This page was created by Jody Gray, Diversity Outreach Librarian

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