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Race Movies of the 1930s 1930s -- Popular Films

During the Depression, screwball comedies (e.g. It Happened One Night), tear jerkers (e.g. Imitation of Life), and nostalgic films (e.g. Gone With the Wind) -- reflected the desire to escape from reality by reminding audiences of the "good old days". By using stereotypical black characters that represented the past, films from this period, "The Age of the Negro Servant" (Bogle), reassured white audiences of the stability of their race privilege, despite economic hardships. Passing films had the potential to destabilize these assumptions about identity, however they failed because passing characters, represented as weak or selfish, were isolated from the social contexts that they were resisting.

The following pages include an overview of the films with major passing characters from this period, a comparison between the treatment of passing characters in race movies and popular films, and an analysis of the construction of race and identity in these films.

According to Donald Bogle, "during this period of breadlines, of fireside chats from President Roosevelt over the radio, of labor problems, of intellectual Leftist activities, and of WPA programs, blacks in films were used to reaffirm for a socially chaotic age a belief in life and the American way of living itself. Indeed, the black servants of the 1930s proved that human beings could and should endure."