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Historic Film Photos Capture Hollywood's Legacy of Exploitation

A photo show at MoMA takes a brief historic look at exploitation of gender, race, and 'second-class citizens' in film.

by Diana Shi
31 October 2016, 11:35am

Albert Popewell, Tamara Dobson, and Caro Kenyatta in Cleopatra Jones, 1973. Directed by Jack Starrett (American, 1936–1989). Warner Bros. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art. All images courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

American film industry players often revel in differences to make it big, oftentimes allowing certain Hollywood casting trends to leave devastating stains on the visual history books. A new photography exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art compiles a brief history of American film’s stereotype driven-but-aspirational progress. The show, titled Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment, is organized by Ashley Swinnerton, the Collection Specialist at MoMA, and Dessane Cassell, a curatorial fellow of the museum’s department of film. 

Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, 1932. Directed by Josef von Sternberg (Austrian, born Austria–Hungary. 1894–1969). Paramount Pictures. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art

In the 1970s, Hollywood stumbled upon the revolutionary discovery that you could use black actors to provide for a growing interest from white audiences, planting but one two-sided seed of exposure and exploitation in American film culture. The Blaxpoitation movement epitomized the film industry's modernist disregard for creating harmful stereotypes. On one hand, the films highlighted new genres of music and art, emphasizing a certain sense of affection and unity within the black community. On the other, the films blatantly portrayed black bodies as objects of sex and violence.

Isabel Sanford and Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967. Directed by Stanley Kramer (American, 1913–2001). Columbia Pictures Corporation. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art

Earlier than that, the roles of women in film suffered a similar stigma. Stars like Greta Garbo and Catherine Hepburn can be credited for the acceptance of things like seeing women wear pants, but it took decades to elevate actresses out of a “second class” status. From photos of German-American film star Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 drama, Blonde Venus, to Sidney Poitier's groundbreaking role in Guess Who's Coming to DinnerMaking Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema presents a fascinating view of cinema's complicated history of representation. Check out a few more images from the show, below:

Rita Carewe and Dolores del Rio on the set of Ramona, 1927. Directed by Edwin Carewe (American, 1883–1940). Distributed by United Artists. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art
(Original caption: “Hot Tamale Chili Pepper Love; that is the title of this picture showing Rita Carewe in Spanish dandy attire, making Mexican love to Dolores del Rio during a lull on the ‘Ramona’ set, Dolores’ forthcoming photoplay”)

Publicity image of Hattie McDaniel, 1930s–1940s. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art

Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn in West Side Story, 1961. Directed by Jerome Robbins (American, 1918–1998) and Robert Wise (American, 1914–2005). Distributed by United Artists. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art

Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema is on view now until April 30, 2017 inside the Titus Theaters at the Museum of Modern Art. Click here for more details about the show.

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Tagged:
feminism
Politics
Hollywood
New York
Gender
Photography
movies
MoMa
:(
Exploitation
Golden Age
blaxploitation
Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema