Fellow 2007-08

Frances Gateward

African American Studies


Given the long history of Jewish involvement in the growth and development of American cinema and the centrality of African-American culture and performers in motion pictures, a study of Black-Jewish interaction in film is long overdue. The special relationship that once existed, has been claimed for, and may yet still exist between Blacks and Jews in American society makes a study of their media interactions that much more compelling.

The once closely aligned Black-Jewish links in matters of social and civil justice – ranging from the formation of the NAACP to Jewish participation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left – are now, in contemporary society, often viewed as contentious, marked by mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. The same is no less true in the realm of popular culture. Using film as a site for the interrogation of these social relations, Professor Gateward seeks to reveal and understand fissures in the Black-Jewish alliance, with close textual analysis and film-production histories used to indicate how Black and Jewish film directors are trying to repair inter-community relations.

It was not until the postwar era that Hollywood began to address issues of race and racism in America; and it was mainly Jewish directors, producers, and writers who took the lead in exposing anti-Semitism and racism and creating opportunities for African-American actors to play a far greater range of roles. In the last couple of decades, Black directors have been similarly attracted to issues of Black-Jewish relations. Bill Duke, for example, directed the Jewish-themed film The Cemetery Club (1993) and examined Black-Jewish interaction in Deep Cover (1992).

Professor Gateward’s work builds on her published book chapter “In Love and Trouble: Teenage Boys and Interracial Romance” in Where the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth (Wayne State University Press, 2005) and is expected to result in a book-length manuscript. She will investigate the literature, closely analyze dozens of feature-length films, and meet with focus groups for a chapter on the reception of stars. She will also travel to three locations: The National Center on Black Jewish Relations in New Orleans, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, and the Warner Bros and MGM Studio Archives in Los Angeles. During her Center appointment, she will begin a first draft of the book.