Slavery on Film with Dr. Maria Seger

Slavery on Film with Dr. Maria Seger


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From The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind to 12 Years a Slave and Harriet, how have US films depicted histories of slavery? Join us for a seminar that considers what’s at stake in aesthetic representations of this cruel institution.

The earliest blockbuster films, from The Birth of a Nation (1915) before sound and color to Gone with the Wind (1939) after, prominently featured stories of the Old South, stories of slavery. Today’s Hollywood studios tread similar ground with historical films like 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Harriet (2019) and horror films like Get Out (2017) and Antebellum (2020). Why does slavery appear so often on film? What are the legacies of the early films, and why are contemporary filmmakers returning to slavery in this cultural moment?

In examining a range of US films from the interwar period to the present, this seminar will trace the thematic development of slavery as a subject of film alongside the development of filmmaking technologies across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Likewise, it will examine the influence of earlier theatrical forms on the creation and performance of enslaved black characters, such as the tradition of blackface minstrelsy.

How do these films call their audiences to bear witness to slavery? What stories do they tell about slavery? And how do they understand slavery as a cultural, political, and economic institution? These are just some of the questions we’ll explore in this seminar.

Led by an expert in US literature and culture, Dr. Maria Seger, this interactive seminar will figuratively take participants to the movies to witness the development of slavery in the US cultural imagination. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased ability to interpret old and new films about the institution of slavery.

Maria Seger is an assistant professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she researches and teaches US, Black, and ethnic literatures and cultures and critical race and ethnic studies. Her work appears in Callaloo, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Studies in American Naturalism, and her edited collection, Reading Confederate Monuments, is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. She earned her PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2016.

This conversation is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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