Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.N4 B6 2001
Bogle, Donald. "Black Beginnings: from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Birth of a Nation." Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc., 2001. 3-18.
The opening chapter of Bogle’s landmark text begins with a history of Uncle Tom, the American movies’ first black character, and Edwin S. Porter’s 12 minute film, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After the tom’s debut, a variety of black presences arose in cinema, such as the coon, the tragic mulatto, the mammy, and the brutal black buck. Each were stereotypes used to entertain by stressing Negro inferiority. Bogle goes on to define the popular Black caricatures. The tom was a Good Negro character, always content in pleasing his White master. The coon presented the Negro as amusement object. There were two types of coons: the pickaninny and the uncle remus. The pickaninny was the harmless, little screwball Negro child actor. The uncle remus was the first cousin to the tom, naïve and comical. The third figure of common black stereotypes was the tragic mulatto, or the victim of divided racial heritance whose life is ruined because of the drop of black blood. The Mammy, or “handkerchief head,” represents the content, ready to please black female servant. Lastly, the brutal black bucks are the oversexed, violent black men who lust for white flesh. Audiences believed that these Black caricatures embodied all the aspects of the black experience itself, rejecting the slightest modification of these archetypes.
Bogle details the characteristics of the “mammy” stereotype, which are important to be familiar with when attempting to understand why black women would not enjoy the portrayal of Louis Beavers within Imitation of Life. He also explains the notion of the “tragic mulatto” figure, giving the reader better insight into the complexity of the character of Peola. Without knowing the definitions of mammy and tragic mulatto, it would not be possible to fully comprehend all that is wrong with the film in terms of racial issues.