The Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong, regularly appeared in films in roles that were non-Asian but always racialized. I am currently obsessed with how often imagery linked her with blackness, as in this Paramount Studio photograph by Eugene Robert Richee:
Fred Astaire performing “Bojangles in Harlem” number, where he dressed like a blackface minstrel and danced with his shadows to pay homage to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
In honor of Mr. Davis’s birthday, I present this comparison that I have been pondering since I stumbled across this image of Davis (top) on the web. Mr. Davis performing Mr. Bojangles here is an intriguing counterpoint to my discussion of Fred Astaire’s “Bojangles in Harlem” number in Swing Time (1936). [Props to Elizabeth Abel’s “Shadows” essay in Representations, of course] Davis’ adoption of Mr. Bojangles as signature song speaks back to Astaire’s racial masquerade/homage to Bill Robinson in forceful ways that I don’t yet know if I will include in my book. To be continued, perhaps…
Snippet of Astaire’s performance:
Quintessential example of white modernists’ appropriation of blackness: The Congo by Vachel Lindsay, a poem from 1914