Journal Article

A broader nationalism: reconstructing memory, national narratives and spectatorship in World War II black audience propaganda

Elizabeth Reich

in Screen

Published on behalf of University of Glasgow

Volume 54, issue 2, pages 174-193
Published in print June 2013 | ISSN: 0036-9543
Published online June 2013 | e-ISSN: 1460-2474 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/screen/hjt001
A broader nationalism: reconstructing memory, national narratives and spectatorship in World War II black audience propaganda

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This essay argues that Marching On! (Spencer Williams, 1943), We've Come a Long, Long Way (Jack Goldberg, 1943) and The Negro Soldier (Stuart Heisler, 1944), three black-audience World War II propaganda films, engaged audiences in a reshaping of black politics ongoing in the black presses but absent in Hollywood cinema of the time. These films used a new figure of the black soldier not only to reach black audiences but also to inaugurate a cinematic reworking of America's representational relationship to African America's history. I argue that this reconstruction of racial representation, inaugurated by what historian Nikhil Singh has called the ‘reconstruction of nationhood’ during the war, required also a reconstruction of black cinematic viewing practices, which I call ‘reconstructive spectatorship’. These practices are mediated through multiple processes of reconstruction: of history; of the film text; and of black political identity. I show how Marching On!'s representations of black history and intergenerational black soldiers addressed debates in which its spectators’ political identities were at stake. My reading explores the film's use of memory, arguing that memory provides a necessary lens for the film's deployments of history, and forgetting a vehicle for its nationalism. I also argue that because Marching On!'s propaganda was organized around the paradoxically rebellious and nationalist figure of the black soldier, the film was able not only to offer viewers tutorials in American nationalism, but also to plant the seeds for what would emerge after the war as a new African American nationalism.

Journal Article.  10291 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film ; Television

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