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

Durkin, Hannah

Authors

Hannah Durkin H.Durkin@nottingham.ac.uk



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.

Journal Article Type Article
Journal New Review of Film and Television Studies
Print ISSN 1740-0309
Electronic ISSN 1740-0309
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 2
APA6 Citation Durkin, H. ‘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), doi:10.1080/17400309.2012.658263
DOI https://doi.org/10.1080/17400309.2012.658263
Keywords Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, tap dance, minstrelsy, specialty number, classical Hollywood
Publisher URL http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17400309.2012.658263
Copyright Statement Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address: http://eprints.nottingh.../end_user_agreement.pdf
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....80/17400309.2012.658263

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Copyright Statement
Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/end_user_agreement.pdf





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