President Franklin Roosevelt appoints a theatrical producer as the new Secretary of Amusement in order to cheer up an American public still suffering through the Depression. The new ... See full summary »
President Franklin Roosevelt appoints a theatrical producer as the new Secretary of Amusement in order to cheer up an American public still suffering through the Depression. The new secretary soon runs afoul of political lobbyists out to destroy his department. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The portrayals of African American characters in this movie are, as has been pointed out, stereotypical, but I would like to suggest that where the actors themselves are allowed to show their talents, they transcend the stereotypes in ways even the filmmakers themselves recognized.
Take, for example, the show-stopping finale to "I'm Laughing," performed by Tess Gardella. There are a series of tableaux in this number, of various individuals all representing different marginalized groups: Immigrants, sweatshop workers, laborers of all kinds, all leading up to Tess Gardella herself busting out with the biggest, cheeriest performance of all, surrounded by a rousing, dancing chorus. It was clearly meant to recap the song's theme--if I can laugh, as downtrodden as I am, so can you--and to embody those who persevere and triumph over circumstance. With a swish of her ample hips and a gleam in her eye, Ms. Gardella triumphs.
The standard Stepin Fetchit routine has been analyzed everywhere, but let me just add that in this picture, the actor personifies African American resistance. In 1934 Black men were still not free from the vicious system of racial etiquette known as Jim Crow, and were therefore limited in the number of personae they were allowed to display. The genius of Stepin Fetchit is that he acts out the prescribed social role while frustrating those who prescribe it by withholding his intelligence and personality from the social interaction altogether. He slyly gives white people exactly what they demand,nothing more, forcing them to realize that perhaps that's not what they want after all. The resistance is his and the joke is on them.
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