Regulating “Nigger”: Racial Offense, African American Activists, and the MPPDA, 1928–1961, FILM HISTORY 26.4: Regulating “Nigger”: Racial Offense, African American Activists, and the MPPDA, 1928–1961
By ELLEN SCOTT
The ready use of the word nigger in 1930s Hollywood comes as a shock to modern ears: production crews commonly referred to the black reflector on the set as a “nigger”; trade publications called movie theater balconies “nigger heaven”; fan periodicals like New Movie Magazine and Boy’s Cinema casually called Black characters “niggers” in plot synopses; and Hollywood glamour columnists referred to the deep brown fabrics worn by Vivien Leigh or Myrna Loy as “nigger-brown.” As Randall Kennedy has shown, the word nigger has been uttered variously as a provocation or compliment and with internalized antiblack prejudice or as an intraracial term of endearment, with deadly seriousness, or through the protective veil of satire or irony. But to many Black people, nigger is always an invective—one that symbolically encapsulates the force of American racism.
This article from our journal Film History examines classical Hollywood’s struggle over whether the word could be used onscreen, a battle centered at the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), an organization the film industry formed in 1922 to fend off public outcry against its controversies.
READ FOR FREE:
FILM HISTORY 26.4: Regulating “Nigger”: Racial Offense, African American Activists, and the MPPDA, 1928–1961(pp. 1-31)