10) Film Review of Trumbo (2015) by Hannah Graves
Working from Bruce Cook’s recently re-issued biography, Trumbo (2015) follows Communist Party member Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) from his appearance before HUAC in 1947 through his jailing, his years writing screenplays pseudonymously, and, finally, his blacklist-breaking accreditation as the writer of both Spartacus (1960) and Exodus (1960). Midway through the film director Jay Roach recreates the moment that familiar protest photograph was taken and his film is at its best when it seizes on the pathos of the image by focusing on the writer’s family as they struggle to hold him afloat. Trumbo falls prey to some of the familiar tropes of Hollywood-on-Hollywood biopics, allowing the audience one too many opportunities to nod and purr knowingly at extended impressions of Golden Age stars.
Throughout the twentieth century, the American music industry was plagued by issues of race, segregation and inequality; much like America itself. As the century progressed, music became a significant indicator of race relations and a willingness within the majority of the United States to racially integrate. This is exemplified through the growing ability for African American musicians to crossover to mainstream audiences. Scholar Phillip Harper defines the term ‘crossover’ as an act’s achievement of commercial success due to its appeal across racial boundaries. Although there is evidence that confirms black artists were to shift into the mainstream early into the twentieth century, it was not until the mid-century that black musicians infiltrated the mainstream market.
Interdisciplinary panels, ranging from the ‘Unheard Voices of the Caribbean’ to ‘Transnational Perspectives of the US’, stimulated lively debate and reflection between chairs and audiences. These, and others, engaged with a range of historical approaches and topics, including the fifth session which brought together three historical readings of slavery in North America. This included an examination of the influence of conceptions of ‘Man’s Natural Rights’ as well as religious beliefs in the anti-slavery thought of Alexander McLeod. Abolitionism was also addressed through an analysis of the experiences and representations of freed and escaped slaves who made their way to British Canada following its relatively early abolition.
7) ‘“A Scene of Tumult and Uproar”: Mapping the Gruelling Lecturing Tours of Black Abolitionists’ by Hannah-Rose Murray
My interest in black abolitionists in Britain was born from a Masters project at Royal Holloway University in 2011. Upon discovering Frederick Douglass not only visited Britain but also organised an extensive lecturing tour, I began collecting the locations of every speech I could find to build a broader – and visual – picture of his achievements. By marking his lectures on a map we can see how many hundreds of miles Douglass travelled, the gruelling speaking schedule and how he exploited abolitionist networks to spread the antislavery gospel. For the first time, this interactive map provides us with key insights into how Douglass travelled.
6) Book Review of American Hippies by W.J. Rorabaugh by Katherine Doniak
Proclaiming its title against a bright, tie-dye backdrop in swirling, psychedelic font, the visual appearance of W.J. Rorabaugh’s latest work could be said to somewhat underplay the scholarly worth of its contents. This is, however, perhaps fitting given its subject matter. Where recognised at all as something separate and distinct from the era’s climate of activism, the counterculture has often been portrayed as a colourful, but ultimately frivolous sideshow within broad histories of the 1960s, and it is in this respect that the account offered by Rorabaugh differs. merican Hippies instead seeks to provide its reader with a sustained analysis of the movement’s many facets, whilst simultaneously maintaining an unbiased distance – thus, for the most part, successfully evading a problem that appears to have plagued many of its predecessors: the tendency to nostalgically romanticise the counterculture’s sense of optimism, or, conversely, make its supposed naivety the subject of cynical critique.
5) ‘Listening to Rosa Parks’ by Say Burgin
It isn’t that British students are more taken with such narratives than students in the US; on both sides of the pond, it is the ‘bad apples’ and the US South that are mostly loudly denounced. But something more is at stake for students in the UK – greater detachment from the idea that racial inequalities might shape their world, as well. As a student once told me, ‘Sure there is some racism in the UK, but the US has so much more.’ And so certain histories help to confirm their notion that real racism happens over there, in America.
In the aftermath of an intense decade of civil rights struggles, Syl Johnson, a blues singer and musician, released the anthemic and reflective “Is It Because I’m Black?” in 1969. Four decades later, his daughter, R&B singer-songwriter Syleena Johnson, recorded the song for her 2008 album Chapter 4: Labor Pains. The career trajectories of Syl and Syleena, although decades apart, followed a similar path of music industry politics, broken promises, and soured relationships. It remains to be understood then, how and why did a song written in the 1960s, laced with references to racism and prejudice, resonate with the career of an African American woman in the twenty-first century?
Much of Beyoncé’s career has been defined by an image that has spoken largely to notions of the form of ‘girl power’ and independence that we associate with the emergence of postfeminist popular culture in the 1990s. Largely conceptualised as a ‘non-political’ feminist discourse, manifestations of postfeminism in popular culture have been characterised by notions of choice, individualism and the re-commodification of femininity. Examples may include artists such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry, whose works speak to the complexity of female independence and hyper-femininity. These characteristics are particularly evident in Beyoncé’s work within Destiny’s Child (notably with tracks such as “Independent Woman” and “Survivor”) as well as her early solo career (which included the singles “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies”).
It has become difficult to think about David Foster Wallace without thinking about the intense dedication he inspires among his readers. His writing’s knotty brilliance is responsible both for his fanbase and for the field of Wallace Studies. More than perhaps any other late-twentieth-century writer, his work invites an academic response, not least because Wallace himself was fluent in the language and methodologies of academia. As the field of Wallace Studies matures, it has become a challenging task to outline a framework through which the entire subject of Wallace can be fruitfully viewed; yet, in this publication, Clare Hayes-Brady does just that.
Charged with social awareness and style, Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing is nothing less than a street ballet. It fuses music with the body, giving characters idiosyncratic and physically charged expression to their narrative arcs. They shuffle, strut, stride, and twitch their way through the world, with changes in bodily (and musical) expression coming to signify much larger attitudinal shifts. These changes are important – they help the film to antagonise its audience, shining an uncompromising light upon the hidden subtexts of modernised racism, degradation, and white supremacy. Lee’s camera in this film is simultaneously a mirror and a window. It reflects back its audience’s own prejudicial or submissive attitudes, whilst acting as a window into a distant, yet familiar world.