Saturday, February 11, 2012

Guess Who's Finished With Her: Essay Proposal and Annotated Bibliography

I've pretty drastically changed my topic (thus the lateness--apologies). I'm very excited about this topic (though I don't necessarily relish the though of rewatching Guess's terrible!). While I believe I have enough scholarship on the films, I would really appreciate feedback on a particular theoretical text or framework for my essay. Any ideas on what might be fitting or fruitful here? Thanks!

This essay will examine the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967) and its modern revision Guess Who (2005) in an attempt to explore the effects of the significant recasting and repositioning that occur between the more recent film and its predecessor. The essay will focus specifically on the women in these films: Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton), Sidney Poitier's white fiancée in the 1967 film, and Theresa Jones (Zoe Saldana), Ashton Kutcher's black fiancée in Guess Who. By recasting the roles in the modern version, Guess Who purportedly, and comically, reveals the realities of "reverse racism" in the United States, but what I will argue is that this shift in genre and casting maintains the politically suspect "problem film" genre that the original film presented. In doing so, Guess Who propagates stereotypical and, at times, bigoted notions of interracial marriage. This essay will frame the discussion by comparing the ideologies surrounding the purity of the white woman, contrasted with the depiction of Zoe Saldana's character in Guess Who. While some scholarship exists surrounding these two films, and others similar in subject matter, most notably Tru Leverette's "Guess Who's Welcome to Dinner: Contemporary Interracial Romance and the New Racism", my essay will explore the unexamined angle of the role of the raced women (both white and black) in these narratives as crucial to the social impact and import of these works.

 Annotated Bibliography:

Angel, Naomi. "The Missing Bi-racial Child in Hollywood." Canadian Review of American Studies. 37:2 (2007). JSTOR. Web.

This essay examines the role of the mixed-race child, or character even, in popular Hollywood films. Using Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and Jungle Fever, Angel demonstrates that this role has largely been silenced or altogether eliminated. Instead, the mixed-raced identity has been identified as a "problem", and the mixed-race child discussed by others in these films as a child who would face significant challenges owing to their racial status. The paper takes two tacks on this subject. First, Angel examines the social and historical background for each film, paying particular attention to anti-miscegenation legislation, and the rule of "hypodescent." The second tack being a close reading of the two films in question, with a specific focus on questions of "passing" and representations of interracial affairs. After laying the groundwork for her analysis of the absent role of mixed-race children in these films, Angel concludes with a discussion of the work these films did to further the silencing of mixed-race individuals.

Fryer, Roland G. Jr. "Guess Who's Been Coming to Dinner? Trends in Interracial Marriage over the 20th Century." Journal of Economic Perspectives. 21:2 (Spring 2007), 71-90. JSTOR. Web.
This empirical study of the trends in interracial marriage in the 20th century uses census data gathered between 1880-2000. It historicizes social intimacy between black, white, and asian populations, and attempts to find correlations between the history of repealed anti-miscegenation laws (broken down by individual state) and reported rates of interracial marriages within said states. This paper touches upon the groundbreaking Loving v. Virginia, and extends this to discuss potential factors for specific interracial marriage rates, including education and socioeconomic level of the parties involved.

Harris, Glen Anthony and Robert Brent Toplin. "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?: A Clash of Interpretations Regarding Stanley Kramer's Film on the Subject of Interracial Marriage." The Journal of Popular Culture. 40:4 (2007). JSTOR. Web.
This essay attempts to recapitulate a staged verbal debate between Glen Harris and Robert Toplin after a screening of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?. Harris explains, in his allotted section, that the film had the potential to be a hard-hitting portrayal of the realities of race prejudice in the U.S. in the 1960s, though Stanley Kramer instead produced a film that was "too weak", and pandered to its audience's desire for a light version of the social problem film. Toplin's argument centers on historicizing Kramer's film in terms of previous attempts at social problem films that dealt with interracial relationships. Toplin suggests that, for its time, Guess Who's was extremely progressive, and its attempt to fairly portray societal resistance to mixed-race marriages was a direct assault on American bigotry. Through juxtaposing both arguments for the film, the essay provides a balanced perspective on the historical context, as well as the ultimate significance, of the race depictions and relations of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?.

Leverette, Tru. "Guess Who's Welcome to Dinner: Contemporary Interracial Romance and the New Racism." Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. 8:4 (2008). JSTOR. Web.
This essay examines three films: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Guess Who, and Something New (2006), in an attempt to situate the latter two films as examples of works which present seemingly progressive representations of interracial relationships, but which instead propagate harmful racial ideologies. The essay frames this discussion through a look at the historical context of mixed-race identities, and the media fascination with questions of racial identity in general. Leverette uses the theoretical lens of "past in present racism", from Frederic Jameson, to discuss how the contemporary films analyzed perpetuate racist ideologies. Leverette concludes with a discussion of the audience for these modern films, with an emphasis on this young audience's (possible) belief in a post-racial society. The essay argues for a continued examination of ideologies and social structures in an attempt to open a space in which racist ideologies may be deconstructed.

Levine, Andrea. "Sidney Poitier's Civil Rights: Rewriting the Mystique of White Womanhood in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night." American Literature. 73:2 (2001). JSTOR. Web.
Levine's essays frames its discussion of these two films, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and In the Heat of the Night (1967) in terms of an examination of "white helplessness" in the face of the Black Nationalism movement of the 1960s. Levine argues that films such as these were in direct response to this helplessness, and were an attempt to transform this helplessness. Levine reads these films' female protagonists as emblematic of white womanhood. Specifically, the essay focuses on white female purity in contrast to black male sexuality and masculinity. Levine concludes with a discussion of the racial politics of the American South in the 1960s, and posits that the presentation of the white female in these films works to devalue female sexuality, and instead reposition the white male as central to the ongoing "race debate" rather than their current role as helpless spectator.


  1. That sounds really interesting Lauren! I didn't know you were working with films for your thesis. I'd really like to hear more about what you're arguing.

    1. Thanks! I'm not writing a thesis for my MA, this is just a project for my film class this quarter. I am, however, definitely switching to film if/when I go for the PhD. How are your studies going? Also, I'll be living in Phoenix as of July so that's *so close* to being able to visit you!! Miss you. :)