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Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation in Depression-Era African American Performance Paperback – January 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Darkening Mirrors is a powerful argument that during the 1930s, African American popular performers took part in U.S. imperial and nationalist projects even as they resisted the dominant culture's racism. In vivid, illuminating readings of films and stage shows—from The "Swing" Mikado and the Federal Theater Project's 'voodoo' Macbeth to Katherine Dunham’s concert ballet L'Ag'Ya—Stephanie Leigh Batiste makes her case stick, and she makes it sting. At the same time, she writes beautifully about how black Americans asserted the genius of African and Afro-diasporic arts on the national and transnational scene."—Joseph Roach, Yale University

"Darkening Mirrors is an important contribution to thinking about what has been, until now, an undertheorized subject: black Americans' complicity in imperialist discourse. Stephanie Leigh Batiste covers drama, film, and dance; analyzes texts that have received little critical attention; and brings the insights of postcolonial, critical race, performance, and theater studies to bear on complex issues of power, desire, imperialism, aesthetics, and racial solidarity. Her nuanced readings of Depression-era performances show not only how African Americans were implicated in the quest to solidify American imperialism and the colonization of the 'racial other,' but also how they rejected those same projects through performance practices including costume, set design, speech, movement, and music."—E. Patrick Johnson, author of Appropriating Blacknesss: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity

"In Darkening Mirrors, Stephanie Leigh Batiste rigorously explores black Americans' complicity in imperialist discourse at the height of the Depression era. She makes an important, enlivening contribution to a growing body of scholarship examining some of the more complicated and ambiguous political affiliations of black cultural producers of the nineteenth century and early twentieth. This is a tremendously provocative study."—Daphne Brooks, author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850–1910

“What separates Batiste’s work from the existing literature is her ability to pinpoint how modern black film, theater, and dance performances repurposed normative gazes, racist imagery, and dominant narratives to relocate black identities from the margins to a reimagined center.... Batiste achieves an impressive balance....”
(Marvin McAllister Journal of American History)

“Throughout, [Batiste’s] analysis is rich and meticulous, grounded in and facile at negotiating and nuancing the subtleties of racial and postcolonial theory. Indeed, by demonstrating the variety of ways that black performers in this period not only engaged but also expanded, refined, challenged, and subverted the meaning of blackness in American culture, Batiste’s book itself 'performs' important cultural work.”
(Lori Duin Kelly Journal of American Culture)

Darkening Mirrors provides insightful detailed critical commentary on theatricality and aesthetics as well as a wealth of details on the milieu and audience responses, with concentrated attention to issues related to empowerment and disempowerment. Batiste is especially strong in revealing the complicated duality for blacks in assuming the imperial culture and protesting against it.”
(Sandra M. Mayo New Theatre Quarterly)

“Resisting simplification at every turn, Darkening Mirrors deftly describes the complicated negotiations Depression-era African-American performers entered into with the hopes of incorporating themselves within a national body…. Darkening Mirrors is a thoughtful and rigorous study of an underexamined era of black performance. Batiste’s book not only draws attention to an all-too-frequently neglected body of work, it also offers a theoretical corrective to the impulse to position black cultural workers as either heroes or villains.”
(Soyica Diggs Colbert Theatre Research International)

“What makes Darkening Mirrors an important contribution to postcolonial studies, performance studies and area studies is that it strengthens our empirical understanding of black performance past and present so as to better theorize both temporalities. Batiste implicitly expands our understanding of the governmentalities that structure modernist artistic discourse in the twentieth century. In the end, Darkening Mirrors skilfully brings together the aesthetic and national to deepen our understanding of these operations.”
(P. Khalil Saucier Interventions)

About the Author

Stephanie Leigh Batiste is a performance artist and Associate Professor of English and Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (January 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082234923X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822349235
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #789,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gospel Gramma on December 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
*Stephanie Leigh Batiste, Associate Professor of English and Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has written a thought provoking book and scholarly study on an under-theorized subject of black Americans' complicity in imperialist discourse; Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation In Depression-Era African American Performance.

As a performance artist at UCSB, Batiste is in a position to deliver this provocative study of the performances of Lena Horne, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Paul Robeson, and lesser known performers, and their social implications. She traces the black experience in theater through a turbulent period in our history to a point in time now better appreciated and understood.

In Darkening Mirrors, Batiste examines how African Americans, a population treated as second-class citizens at home, imagined themselves as empowered, modern U.S. citizens and transnational actors in Depression-era plays, operas, ballets, and films. Many of these productions, such as the 1938 hits Haiti and The "Swing" Mikado, recruited unknown performers, involving the black community not only as participants but also as spectators. Performances of exoticism, orientalism, and primitivism are linked to issues of embodiment, including how bodies signify blackness as a cultural, racial, and global category. Whether enacting U.S. imperialism in westerns, dramas, dances, songs, or comedy sketches, African Americans maintained a national identity that registered a diasporic empowerment and resistance on the global stage. This message, this story that Batiste attempts to convey in her well researched and documented book, comes through vividly in the included photos and announcement of Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the classic, Stormy Weather.

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