African American Actresses

African American Actresses

The Struggle for Visibility, 1900–1960
Charlene B. Regester
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/14/2010
Format: Paperback 14 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22192-6
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A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2011

Nine actresses, from Madame Sul-Te-Wan in Birth of a Nation (1915) to Ethel Waters in Member of the Wedding (1952), are profiled in African American Actresses. Charlene Regester poses questions about prevailing racial politics, on-screen and off-screen identities, and black stardom and white stardom. She reveals how these women fought for their roles as well as what they compromised (or didn't compromise). Regester repositions these actresses to highlight their contributions to cinema in the first half of the 20th century, taking an informed theoretical, historical, and critical approach.

Author Bio

Charlene Regester is Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. She is co-editor of the Oscar Micheaux Society Newsletter and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Film and Video.


“Taking an informed approach, the author profiles nine black actresses from before the civil rights era, posing questions about prevailing racial politics, and on- and off-screen identities, while revealing how these women fought for their roles along with what they did and didn't compromise.”

“In this important work, Charlene Regester brings into focus the lives and careers of representative black women actresses in Hollywood across generational divides in order to reposition them beyond the confining shadow of otherness and marginality. The sum result is a re-telling and correction of history.”
 — Audrey McCluskey, Indiana University Bloomington

“Regester's work is an important synthesis of previous studies in the fields of film studies and history. Vol. 98.1, June 2011”
 — The Journal of American History

“African American Actresses is an important addition to film history, film studies, and African American studies because it illuminates those who were often invisible. Regester’s historical work is to be lauded as it uncovers significant information.”
 — Black Camera

“What Regester does well is present a holistic portrait of the lives of these women. She fuses both the personal and the professional into this narrative. Reviews of films, personal statements by the actresses to the press, and newspaper articles referencing the actresses' private lives provide the reader with a behind the scenes portrait of their struggles. Vol. 23 Issue 2, 2011”
 — Film History

“A major tribute to nine talented black actresses and their complicated negotiations with white mainstream entertainment industry before Civil Rights, African American Actresses is an invaluable asset for students of ethnicity and race in Hollywood. Not only does Regester bring the early twentieth century American racial scene alive by detailing the politics that informed choices and roles of African American women actors, she also contributes richly to studies of stardom as refracted by the socio-cultural and political status of black people and women in America.”
 — Scope

“An exemplary study of race in US cinema, this is easily the best book on the subject to date. . . . Essential.”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents


1. Madame Sul-Te-Wan: The Struggle for Visibility
2. Nina Mae McKinney: Early Success and Tumultuous Career
3. Louise Beavers: Negotiating Racial Difference
4. Fredi Washington: The Masquerades and the Masks
5. Hattie McDaniel: Centering the Margin
6. Lena Horne: Actress and Activist
7. Hazel Scott: Resistance to Othering
8. Ethel Waters: Personification of Otherness
9. Dorothy Dandridge: Intertwining the Reel and the Real


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