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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author
Introduction, page 1 of 17
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Introduction, Page 1

Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery tale that revolves around an elderly slave, Uncle Tom. The best selling novel of the nineteenth century, Uncle Tom's Cabin is credited with furthering the abolitionist cause, although the many plays and adaptations it inspired reinforced pernicious stereotypes about African Americans. 

This 1903 silent film adaptation by Edwin S. Porter condenses the text into four short vignettes, performed by white actors in blackface. Framed by a static camera in stagey two-dimensional sets, the actors express themselves in the melodramatic mode popular at the time.

When the film was made, the musical accompaniment would have been live and the accompanist—whether pianist, organist, band, or small orchestra—would have played a score made up of recognizable musical motifs, such as melodies from Dan Emmett's Dixie or Stephen Foster's My Old Kentucky Home, to signify location and set mood. In this way, even the music that accompanied performances could further stereotypes.

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