Colloquium | Theresa Runstedtler

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 12:00pm

Theresa Runstedtler

White Censors, Dark Screens: The Jeffries-Johnson Fight Film Controversy

This presentation is based on a chapter from my forthcoming book Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner: Boxing in the Shadow of the Global Color Line (University of California Press, spring 2012). In the early 1900s, Jack Johnson—born in Texas, the son of former slaves—was the most famous black man on the planet. As the first African American world heavyweight champion and arguably the first black film star, he publicly challenged white supremacy at home and abroad, enjoying the same audacious lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, masculine bravado, and interracial love wherever he or his image traveled.

In particular, I will explore the concerted efforts across the United States (and its spheres of influence) and the British Empire to ban the moving picture featuring Johnson’s defeat of the white American fighter Jim Jeffries in 1910. News of this heavily anticipated interracial fight, along with its film recording, traveled far beyond the confines of the actual live event in Reno, Nevada. The many reports and visual representations of Johnson’s victory inspired anticolonial discussions and celebrations across the globe, from South Africa to India to Fiji. They also provoked interimperial conversations about the maintenance of white supremacy in the modern world, especially given the increasingly transnational reach of commercial mass culture.

Cinema Studies Program
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