Richardson, Riché. “Southern Horrors, Global Terrors.” Black Renaissance, 7.3 (Fall 2007). 30 Nov. 2008.
Southern Horrors, Global Terrors by Riche Richardson analyzes the manner in which producers D.W. Griffith and David Selznick approached translating the racially-charged novels “The Clansman” and “Gone With the Wind” into film. Both novels, set during the American Civil War and rooted in Southern ideology, utilize virulent racist language to illustrate the pervasive bigotry typical of the South during the War period. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation, based on the novel “The Clansman,” retains and advances the novel’s racist elements. In contrast, Selznick’s 1939 film adaptation of Gone With the Wind offers an ostensibly less racially-charged account of the War and Reconstruction than both the film’s literary counterpart and Birth of a Nation. Richardson describes the film version of Gone With the Wind as more “sanitized,” ignoring numerous instances in the novel where popular characters like Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes dehumanize and devalue African Americans. Further, Richardson contends that Selznick’s omission of many of Margaret Mitchell’s racist elements is reflective of Hollywood’s contemporary rejection of overt racism as distasteful and morally reprehensible.
In assessing the consistency of Gone With the Wind with the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Richardson’s article provides a valuable insight into the nature of racism in the 19th Century South. Both novels advance the Southern ideology of the period that aimed to perpetuate black inferiority to the white supremacist class. As the article illustrates, Griffith chose to accommodate such bigotry in his film, while Selznick chose to “tone down” Mitchell’s racist elements. Selznick’s choice to abandon much of the bigotry that pervades the literary narrative may make the film more appealing to contemporary Hollywood and American culture, but makes the film less reflective of the Southern ideology of the period.
Bilwakesh, Nikhil. "Alias Jeremiah: Oscar Micheaux's pathetic preachers." West Virginia University Philiological Papers Vol.15 (2003) .
Content and Relevance of Work:
In Nikhil Bilwakesh's article, "Alias Jeremiah: Oscar Micheaux's Pathetic Preachers", he delves into the illustration of preachers in Micheaux's early novels as well as his two early films: Within Our Gates and Body and Soul. Bilwakesh also analyzes Micheaux's integrationist philosophy in terms of racial superiority. His argument in the article is to demonstrate two of Micheaux's goals in films such as Body and Soul: First, to portray preachers as beings who should be sympathized with because they have fallen to corruption due to unfortunate circumstances. Second, to show the merits of racial integration. He focuses on the Reverend Jenkins character in Body and Soul, claiming that the Reverend is presented in a negative light in order to elicit sympathy from the viewer because black preachers such as Jenkins are vulnerable to the "traps of corruption". Bilwakesh points to Jenkins' alcoholism and solitary drinking as ways in which Micheaux conveys the misery of the preacher. Although Bilwakesh is focusing on the religious connotations of Micheaux's film, in doing so he also addresses the question of why Micheaux presents negative images of blacks in the film. It could be that Micheaux presents these negative images of black characters such as the stereotypical black Reverend Jenkins in order to convey their pathetic and thus sympathetic sides. Bilwakesh's discussion of Micheaux's integrationist theory is also relevant to the investigation. He points to the superiority of "mulattoes" in Micheaux's films and how these characters are almost always the "healthiest and sanest" and most "positive characters". The negative characters, Bilwakesh claims, are usually presented as either dark black or starkly white, such as the preacher and the white racist mobs in Body and Soul. Bilwakesh sees this positive representation of people of mixed-race as Micheaux's attempt at destroying stereotypes from white films such as Birth of a Nation. This emphasis on Micheaux's integrationist philosophy is also very relevant to the posed question and almost leans toward the argument that Micheaux was somewhat racist against his own kind and saw superiority in a mixed race.
Wiesenfeld, Judith. "For the Cause of Mankind: The Bible, Racial Uplift and Early Race Movies." African Americans and the Bible. Ed. Vincent L. Wimbush and Rosamond C. Rodman. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. 728-740.
Content and Relevance of Work:
In her article "For the Cause of Mankind: The Bible, Racial Uplift and Early Race Movies" found in the book African Americans and the Bible, Judith Wiesenfeld explores both the prevalence of religious themes in early black films and the ways in which early black filmmakers attempted to respond to D.W. Griffith's negative representation of blacks in his film Birth of a Nation. Wiesenfeld first analyzes Birth of a Nation which she sees to be the catalyst for much of early black film as it denigrated blacks and promoted a racist ideology. She then explores the overall ineffectiveness of the initial response by blacks embodied in the film Birth of a Race which attempted to use the Bible to emphasize equality. The rest of her essay focuses on the methods of one particular black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux, and his creation of films such as Within Our Gates and Body and Soul to respond to widespread racism against blacks in white films. Wiesenfeld takes a look at Body and Soul and demonstrates how Micheaux depicted blacks as thinking members of complex communities which varied according to class, education, religion and politics. She emphasizes this "complex" image of blacks which Micheaux chose to present instead of a deliberately positive one. Wiesenfeld also comments on Micheaux's use of religion and the Bible in Body and Soul to accentuate black rights and equality. Wiesenfeld's essay is extremely relevant to the investigation in that she explores directly the absence of a positive representation of blacks in Micheaux's Body and Soul. Nevertheless, she makes clear that Micheaux made his film as a response to racism in order to demonstrate the misunderstood complexity of blacks and their inherent claim to equal humanity. She would also argue that religion and the Bible were important concepts used by Micheaux to convey the equality deserved by all human beings. From this article I would assume that Wiesenfeld would reject the notion that Micheaux was racist against his own kind in creating films such as Body and Soul.