A Piece of the Action

Race and Labor in Post–Civil Rights Hollywood

Eithne Quinn

Columbia University Press

A Piece of the Action

Pub Date: December 2019

ISBN: 9780231164375

288 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: December 2019

ISBN: 9780231164368

288 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£74.00

Pub Date: December 2019

ISBN: 9780231551014

288 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

A Piece of the Action

Race and Labor in Post–Civil Rights Hollywood

Eithne Quinn

Columbia University Press

Hollywood is often thought of—and certainly by Hollywood itself—as a progressive haven. However, in the decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the film industry grew deeply conservative when it came to conflicts over racial justice. Amid black self-assertion and white backlash, many of the most heated struggles in film were fought over employment. In A Piece of the Action, Eithne Quinn reveals how Hollywood catalyzed wider racial politics, through representation on screen as well as in battles over jobs and resources behind the scenes.

Based on extensive archival research and detailed discussions of films like In the Heat of the Night, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Super Fly, Claudine, and Blue Collar, this volume considers how issues of race and labor played out on the screen during the tumultuous early years of affirmative action. Quinn charts how black actors leveraged their performance capital to force meaningful changes to employment and film content. She examines the emergence of Sidney Poitier and other African Americans as A-list stars; the careers of black filmmakers such as Melvin Van Peebles and Ossie Davis; and attempts by the federal government and black advocacy groups to integrate cinema. Quinn also highlights the limits of Hollywood’s liberalism, showing how predominantly white filmmakers, executives, and unions hid the persistence of racism behind feel-good stories and public-relations avowals of tolerance. A rigorous analysis of the deeply rooted patterns of racial exclusion in American cinema, A Piece of the Action sheds light on why conservative and corporate responses to antiracist and labor activism remain pervasive in today’s Hollywood.
Well-written, meticulously researched, critical, and smart, A Piece of the Action may be the most important book on black American cinema in the last quarter century. Enjoyable and highly informative, this book will quickly emerge as a classic and must-read among those interested in film history, black cinema, race and popular culture, and the sociology of culture. S. Craig Watkins, author of Don't Knock the Hustle: Young Creatives, Tech Ingenuity, and the Making of a New Innovation Economy
A Piece of the Action is a story about the interconnections between white privilege, “colorblind” ideology, and Hollywood business-as-usual practices. With a historian’s nose for detail, Quinn reveals in sharp relief how an industry filled with self-proclaimed white progressives manages to reproduce⁠—to this very day⁠—its infamous legacy of racial exclusion and marginalization. This book is a must-read for anyone hoping to make sense of Hollywood’s integral role in the shaping of American racial politics. Darnell M. Hunt, author of Channeling Blackness: Studies on Television and Race in America
Quinn offers a revelatory account of resistance and reaction unfolding in Hollywood between In the Heat of the Night (1967) and Blue Collar (1978). She chronicles black creatives struggling to get black experiences on screen and black labor on the set. Powerful and richly insightful, A Piece of the Action details black filmmakers’ and their white allies’ attempts to counter liberal tokenism and colorblindness only to come up against the industry’s neoconservative retreat from racial and economic justice. Judith E. Smith, author of Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. “The Screen Speaks for Itself”: Institutional Discrimination and the Dawning of Hollywood Postracialism
2. Racializing the Hollywood Renaissance: Black and White Symbol Creators in a Time of Crisis
3. Challenging Jim Crow Crews: Federal Activism and Industry Reaction
4. “Getting the Man’s Foot out of Our Collective Asses”: Black Left Film Producers and the Rise of the Hustler Creative
5. Color-Blind Corporatism: The Black Film Wave and White Revival
Conclusion: Race, Creative Labor, and Reflexivity in Post–Civil Rights Hollywood
Notes
Index

About the Author

Eithne Quinn is senior lecturer in American studies at the University of Manchester. She is author of Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap (Columbia, 2004) and acts as a defense expert on rap music in criminal proceedings.