African American actresses: the struggle for visibility, by Charlene B. Regester

By Charlene B. Regester

9 actresses, from Madame Sul-Te-Wan in delivery of a kingdom (1915) to Ethel Waters in Member of the marriage (1952), are profiled in African American Actresses. Charlene Regester poses questions on winning racial politics, on-screen and off-screen identities, and black stardom and white stardom. She unearths how those girls fought for his or her roles in addition to what they compromised (or did not compromise). Regester repositions those actresses to spotlight their contributions to cinema within the first 1/2 the twentieth century, taking an educated theoretical, historic, and demanding procedure. (2011)

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This is another way in which Sul-TeWan’s character remains invisible. Later in the film, Kong’s capture becomes symbolic of the lynching of a black man accused of raping a white woman. As Kong hangs from the Empire State Building, his positioning simulates that of a lynching victim in that “the ghostly post . . 69 Though Kong symbolically represents the threat of black male sexuality, Wartenberg writes that “rather than maintain this view of Kong, the film employs a romantic narrative in which Kong figures as a tragic hero.

M a d a m e s u l - t e - wa nâ•… · â•… 27 Sul-Te-Wan in Roles of the Other Though her employment title changed from maid to actress, Sul-Te-Wan subsequently still was cast in various roles as subservient, multiracial, and evil characters. Despite the insignificance of her screen roles and the mainstream press’s failure to cover her performances, Sul-Te-Wan frequently transformed these minimal roles into notable performances. 44 The details of her specific roles in these films remain unknown, but it can be inferred that because of her blackness she was likely used to imply racial codes that positioned her in direct opposition to these white stars.

Melvyn Stokes reports that Sul-Te-Wan was visible in at least three shots in the film. 34 Raymond Lee provides a firsthand report of her performance during the production of the film: Madame tried to spit. No spit. She tried three times. Still no spit. Griffith’s lids pinched his eyes. Madame tried again to spit. She whined that Miss Crowell was too nice a lady to spit at, besides she never thought working in pictures meant spitting at people. Griffith poked another hole in his straw hat. Madame thought her acting days were over before they started.

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