Al Jolson's Use of Blackface in the Early 1900s Article Review by Taylor

Al Jolson's Use of Blackface in the Early 1900s
An analysis of Charles Musser's article, "Why Did Negroes Love Al Jolson and the Jazz Singer?".
# 153941 | 0 words | 0 sources | 2013 | US
Published on Jul 08, 2014 in History (African) , Film (Analysis, Criticism, Etc.) , Music Studies (History)

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From the Paper:

"The use of blackface is considered extremely offensive today, but from its development in the late 17th century up until late 1930s, it was also considered very entertaining and widely accepted. There is much discussion on the acceptance of the use of blackface in the context of its history, but although this was the majority's opinion, it was not approved by all, even in its most popular time. I will be looking further into Charles Musser's article, "Why Did Negroes Love Al Jolson and the Jazz Singer?" and exploring the opposition to blackface in the late 1920s, in a time where it was being praised, even by black newspapers. Using Musser's article and other articles by Josh Glick and Michael Rogin, I will be putting together a more complete view of the opposition of blackface coming from the African American and Jewish communities.
"In his article, "Why Did Negroes Love Al Jolson and the Jazz Singer?", Musser argues that The Jazz Singer did not reinforce any racial divide between blacks and whites, but gives a futuristic vision of being able to cross racial, ethnic, and religious lines and as a result paved the way for modern day cinema's approach to these issues. Musser cites many examples of how Al Jolson was repeatedly trying to show a sense of equality between blacks and whites. He dressed up in blackface, not to replace the role of a black actor, but to show that he aligned himself with them and could relate to them in a sense because of how Jews were seen at the time. Jolson was able to connect his experiences of discrimination as a Jew to the more blatant discrimination African Americans experienced everyday, and he did this through his use of blackface and his role in TheJazz Singer. Musser presents the criticisms and also praise of Jolson's use of blackface, from movie critics of the pasts to researchers analysis' of today. We see many reports of the black newspapers speaking very highly of Jolson and his wide acceptance within the black community, despite his use of blackface, and what we know of as a very racist gesture today. Other critics are seen comparing Jolson's use of blackface as an escape or diversion from being seen as a Jew. Musser takes these reports on people's views and opinions of The Jazz Singer and presents them in a way where we constantly see both sides of the argument regarding Jolson's use of blackface and integration within the black community. The author is notably looking mostly at the African American community's love for Jolson, and there is an absence of background information of those in that community who did not like what Jolson was doing and how he was portraying black people in his movies. Jolson's use of blackface was unlike any other white person's use of blackface at the time. Musser convinces his reader of the black community's love for Jolson and of Jolson's want for a desegregated cinematic experience. Musser assumes that because of this, Jolson's use of blackface was acceptable."

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