"Tap Dancing on the Racial Boundary": Racial Representation and Artistic Experimentation in the Films of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

Durkin, Hannah Kate (2008) "Tap Dancing on the Racial Boundary": Racial Representation and Artistic Experimentation in the Films of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. [Dissertation (University of Nottingham only)] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This thesis engages with a major paradox in Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's Hollywood image - namely, its concurrent adherences to and contestations of dehumanising racial iconography - to reveal the ways in which performances of "blackness" work to both establish and challenge cultural boundaries. I will consider Robinson's cinematic image in relation to two competing cultural forces: values of what constitutes "blackness" and individual artistic experimentation. My readings will draw upon Richard Dyer's (1986) notion that "the audience is also part of the making of the image," and Eric Lott's (1993) argument that popular culture is "a place where cultures of the dispossessed are routinely commodified and conteste" to reveal the interplay between Hollywood production values, the subjectivities of the audience and Robinson's own interpretation of his roles.

Unlike previous critics, most notably Donald Bogle (1973), who have sought to ascribe a fixed interpretation to Robinson's screen image, I will contend that he constructs a persona and artistic legacy that defies a straightforward reading. Although Robinson's film roles are often understood as embodiments of popular cultural imagery historically designed to dehumanise and emasculate the African American male, I will show that their concurrent dealings in artistic experimentation displace these readings by providing viewing pleasure for black, as much as white, audiences. Through a focus on Robinson's three major characterisations - the white female child's servant (The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel), the all-black musical entertainer (Stormy Weather), and the segregated performance act (Dixiana, Hooray for Love) - I aim to establish Robinson's films as sites of representational struggle which help to uncover the slipperiness of identity.

Item Type: Dissertation (University of Nottingham only)
Keywords: African American film performance, dance, identity
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2008
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2016 09:31
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/22089

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