Forgeries of Memory and Meaning

Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II

By Cedric J. Robinson

456 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5841-7
    Published: December 2007
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0675-0
    Published: September 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8169-4
    Published: September 2012

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Awards & distinctions

2008 Errol Hill Award, American Society for Theatre Research

A 2008 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Cedric J. Robinson offers a new understanding of race in America through his analysis of theater and film of the early twentieth century. He argues that economic, political, and cultural forces present in the eras of silent film and the early "talkies" firmly entrenched limited representations of African Americans.

Robinson grounds his study in contexts that illuminate the parallel growth of racial beliefs and capitalism, beginning with Shakespearean England and the development of international trade. He demonstrates how the needs of American commerce determined the construction of successive racial regimes that were publicized in the theater and in motion pictures, particularly through plantation and jungle films. In addition to providing new depth and complexity to the history of black representation, Robinson examines black resistance to these practices. Whereas D. W. Griffith appropriated black minstrelsy and romanticized a national myth of origins, Robinson argues that Oscar Micheaux transcended uplift films to create explicitly political critiques of the American national myth. Robinson's analysis marks a new way of approaching the intellectual, political, and media racism present in the beginnings of American narrative cinema.

About the Author

Cedric J. Robinson (1940-2016) was professor of Black Studies and political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author of four other books, including Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (from the University of North Carolina Press).
For more information about Cedric J. Robinson, visit the Author Page.


"Deeply incisive. . . . Provides a fresh contribution to one of the most significant aspects of American cinema."--The Journal of African American History

"Invaluable to scholars of popular culture, Marxist studies, and especially, black studies. . . . [Robinson] writes with the seldom-heard acumen of a social scientist and is able to discern how and why the American entertainment industry represents--and misrepresents--class and race."--North Carolina Historical Review

"Offers a copiously researched and compelling study. . . . A profoundly important and elegantly written historical study of a great artistic conflict."--Theatre Research International

“A call to action.”--National Political Science Review

"One of the most important resources in years, this book is already a classic."--CHOICE

"This ambitious project, grounded in a broad historicity, will elicit some dissent, but Robinson's first-rate scholarship will be difficult to counter and will stand the test of time."--American Historical Review