‘It's all the way you look at it, you know’: reading Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson's film career

Durkin, Hannah (2012) ‘It's all the way you look at it, you know’: reading Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson's film career. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 10 (2). pp. 230-245. ISSN 1740-0309

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Abstract

This paper engages with a major paradox in African American tap dancer Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson's film image – namely, its concurrent adherences to and contestations of dehumanising racial iconography – to reveal the complex and often ambivalent ways in which identity is staged and enacted. Although Robinson is often understood as an embodiment of popular cultural imagery historically designed to dehumanise African Americans, this paper shows that Robinson's artistry displaces these readings by providing viewing pleasure for black, as much as white, audiences. Robinson's racially segregated scenes in Dixiana (1930) and Hooray for Love (1935) illuminate classical Hollywood's racial codes, whilst also showing how his inclusion within these otherwise all-white films provides grounding for creative and self-reflexive artistry. The films' references to Robinson's stage image and artistry overlap with minstrelsy-derived constructions of ‘blackness’, with the effect that they heighten possible interpretations of his cinematic persona by evading representational conclusion. Ultimately, Robinson's films should be read as sites of representational struggle that help to uncover the slipperiness of performances of African American identities in 1930s Hollywood.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in New Review of Film and Television Studies on 21 Feb 2012, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17400309.2012.658263
Keywords: Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, tap dance, minstrelsy, specialty number, classical Hollywood
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham UK Campus > Faculty of Arts > School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies > Department of American and Canadian Studies
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1080/17400309.2012.658263
Depositing User: Horsley, Dr Adam
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2015 15:07
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2016 13:15
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/30953

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