CIVIL RIGHTS WESTERNS

   As in all historical cinema, Westerns concern themselves more with cultural issues contemporary with their audiences than with issues relating to the historical setting itself. Thus throughout their history, cinema Westerns have struggled with racism. As the American culture itself began serious examination of civil rights for African Americans, so did Westerns of the 1960s. In the 1950s African American racial issues were treated by recasting them as a Native American versus white struggles. Such films as John Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Ralph Nelson’s Duel at Diablo (1966) began serious treatment of American racial tensions using actors Woody Strode and Sidney Poitier as sympathetic African American characters, but the most significant civil rights Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s were comedies. John Sturges’s Sergeants 3 (1962) stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop—the Rat Pack. The fifth member of the Rat Pack was Sammy Davis Jr., an African American whose mere presence in the film as a comic equal to the white characters made a powerful cultural statement. However, the most significant advance toward integrating African Americans into Westerns as equals resulted from Cleavon Little’s brilliant comic performance of an African American sheriff in Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles (1974). From that point on, the civil rights issue of full integration into the casts of cinema Westerns was settled.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • CLASSIC WESTERNS —    After the silent era ended, Westerns had trouble making the transition to sound because they depended on action, not talk. It did not seem that sound could add anything to Westerns, and people wanted to watch the talkies. B Westerns filled the …   Westerns in Cinema

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  • TOONES, Fred — (1906–1962)    Fred Toones was an African American actor in B Westerns of the pre civil rights era. Due to the racist culture of the time, he was cast exclusively as the comic Negro in menial, service type roles, always deferring to white… …   Westerns in Cinema

  • BEST, Willie — (1913–1962)    Born in Mississippi, Willie Best was an African American actor in Westerns of the pre–civil rights era. As with Fred Toones and Stepin Fetchit, Best was cast exclusively as the comic Negro in several films. He was often billed as… …   Westerns in Cinema

  • COMIC NEGRO —    Early silent and classic era Westerns reflected the culture’s typical racist attitudes. A common stock character was the comic Negro, a term reflecting the inherent racism of these films. Invariably these characters were servants, “menial”… …   Westerns in Cinema

  • DANDRIDGE, Ruby — (1900–1987)    Ruby Dandridge was an African American actress of the pre–civil rights era who primarily played comic Negro roles. She was the mother of the much more famous screen star of the 1950s, Dorothy Dandridge. Ruby Dandridge usually… …   Westerns in Cinema

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