Dunham in World War II Hollywood
This chapter examines Dunham’s interventions in World War II-era U.S. cinema. Focusing on three of Dunham’s Hollywood films, Carnival of Rhythm (1941), Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), and Stormy Weather (1943), the chapter recovers Dunham’s groundbreaking contribution as a Black woman choreographer to midcentury U.S. cinema. Establishing that Dunham was the first Black choreographer to gain onscreen credit for her work in Hollywood, it shows how her performances represented a negotiation of studio-era racial codes but also how she mediated such codes and was able to assert her authorship by presenting a vision of Black dancing womanhood in Hollywood that was pioneering its open engagement with sensuality, cultural diversity, and choreographic allusions to ballet and modern dance.
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